Between the Lines started in 2019. At the time, Theresa May was desperately trying to ram her Withdrawal Agreement Bill through parliament, no-one had a damn clue what was going on, and faith in and understanding of politics in the UK was at an all-time low.
I hoped at the time that I could help people understand the seismic changes that were happening to their livelihoods through a dash of reality, a healthy dollop of facts, and a cheery little sprinkle of heavy, heavy sarcasm. Turns out that’s harder than it sounds.
But rather than get stuck into all the hows and whats of where we are, I wanted to write a short piece about why I started Between the Lines.
The short answer is: my dad, who died five years ago tonight.
I idolised my dad. Desperately so.
Despite dad going to boarding school from the earliest possible moment and being from private-school stock, he never once considered himself to be above others. Despite his successes, no-one was beneath him, in his eyes.
One of the most vibrant memories of my childhood was going to an extended-family birthday party when I was thirteen and feeling small, angry and vulnerable. Some of my family members who were around the same age as me were playing rounders with their (in my mind) ostensibly cooler, better-dressed friends from the local comprehensive school. Meanwhile, I, recently accepted to public school and feeling cock-a-hoop, hung around the drinks table, choosing a cool glass of apple juice with a soda chaser as my tipple.
I cannot tell you how much I resented those kids. They struck me as confident, handsome and better than me. And by the way, I was wearing a beige, roll-neck Gap jumper – realistically, on the fashion sense at least, I stood no chance. But rather than face my anxieties of being a chubby little tween, I diverted my ire to those who made me feel small by channelling my privilege.
It would be the first and last time I did so.
A couple of days later, dad was driving me home from seeing a friend, and I decided to speak about those people who I’d met at the party as though they weren’t even worth my time – because, one day, when I was at public school, I’d be better than them.
After I’d said my piece, the silence in the car wasn’t so much as deafening as it was soul-destroying. I felt the palpable disappointment in my dad through the silence.
He didn’t say anything for the rest of the journey. He just let my words reverberate around the car.
When we got home, he cornered me. He told me that what I had said was absolutely disgraceful, and that he was incredibly disappointed in me. In the space of three minutes, my dad taught me that there was no-one, no-one, regardless of upbringing, creed, or colour, who is better or worse than any other. We are all equal.
This conversation, nigh-on twenty years ago, made me the man I am today. I felt so disgusted, so ashamed of myself for falling back on the easy way to define myself, that I never did it again.
It defined who I am, what I stand for, and why I am trying, slowly but surely, to make people more aware of who they are and, especially, to listen to those who disagree with them.
And that’s the way to make politics palatable.
In the last five years, we’ve seen Brexit, Trump, populism, nationalism and a plethora of worrying trends emerge. We might, just, be on the other side of Trumpism, but the sentiment behind it all is still going to be there.
If we agree that the culture war isn’t finished (which it absolutely isn’t), we will not eventually win by hoping that the other side will recognise they’re wrong.
We have to listen. We have to engage.
There is something palpable in the hearts of those who have been ignored by politics for generations – it’s something real, something that cannot be ignored, and something that cannot be “solved” be the sheer willpower of “my ideology being better than yours”.
While we might see Biden as a leading light for what comes next in the UK, we should bear in mind that we are still at least three years away from another general election, and Brexit isn’t done yet. We as a nation are nowhere close to being done with COVID-19, despite the vaccines.
The real change doesn’t come from being lucky that Oxford University created a vaccine, especially given the offerings from Pfizer and Moderna. It comes from being world leaders in thought, ethics, and law.
Which the Britain I know, love and celebrate, is, at its heart.
I have had an immensely privileged life. I am slowly, but surely, trying to turn that privilege into something positive. Between the Lines will continue to play a major part in it.
But, five years on, all I can do tonight is raise another glass of Famous Grouse in honour of my dad.
If nothing else, I know he would be proud of the sentiment (despite the 3.30am writing time).
Where we go from here, we’ll have to wait and see. We would all do well, however, at this time of some hope, to listen to those who we don’t agree with. Even if we don’t agree, we might at least understand our arguments for next time.
And, as my dad instilled in me from a young age – our arguments are no better than anyone else’s at face value. We have to earn trust in our own through hard work and understanding.
Otherwise, we won’t change anything.
God rest you, Dad. You would have found this world that you left behind absolutely fascinating.
Thank you all so much for your readership and support.
Something more on-brand and irreverant to follow (soon).
Founder and Editor