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Kirk Houghton

Author of The Dividing Lines and Bad Things to Good People

Click here for a more comprehensive plotline for The Dividing Lines. WARNING: This will reveal major developments in the novel.

Extract

Richard’s parents were the stereotypical ‘squeezed middle’ that would have voted for Europe’s fascist parties in the inter war years if they’d lived in any other European country other than Britain or the Scandinavian nations. Both of them had a good education and were comfortable in their position as an elite grouping in the parsimonious middle classes. As firm believers in law and order, they were also exponents of the virtues of hard work. Any threat to their bourgeois lives, such as hyper inflation, would have had them running for cover to the nearest nationalist demagogue.

But they were born in the optimistic age of the Welfare State, when the government was active in expanding into areas of life formerly left to the whims of providence and charity. It pleased them that a Labour Government had taken the courage to tackle poverty and ignorance with a re-distributive tax system at the heart of its economic policies. The mixed-economy of the post-war age served them well, and Harold Wilson’s vision of Britain entering a new era of technological prowess encapsulated the confidence of their generation. The belief that nobody should be left behind in this courageous bid for posterity was well in tune with their Methodist upbringing; they saw state intervention as an enlightened way of dealing with the exigencies of poverty and want.

Nonetheless, an instinctive dislike for ostentatious displays of wealth always remained with the Farnworth family. Money was something you had to be prudent with and it should not be taken for granted. Richard’s upbringing was therefore very frugal despite the respectable salaries his parents brought in through their impeccably respectable professions. He had to earn his pocket money by performing regimented household chores, each one checked at the end of the week by his mother.

Yet even with a heritage like this he could have been a Tory; and it’s no coincidence that both Labour and the Conservatives produced Prime Ministers in the post-war era from the same non-conformist background. A Tory friend once asked him why he was Labour and he pinpointed the exact moment in his teens when he knew he could never be a Conservative: it was the forlorn sight of the long queue of unemployed people waiting for the Job Centre to open on a Monday morning.