On Tuesday night I went to a birthday party for my father at the House of Commons. Hosted by the Labour MP Rushanara Ali, it was an enjoyable affair, full of left-wing journalists and maverick social entrepreneurs. I chatted to the Independent’s Andy McSmith, Prospect founder David Goodhart and the newly ennobled Lord Bird of Notting Hill, who set up the Big Issue.
My dad wasn’t there, unfortunately. He died in 2002 and this was an event organised by the Young Foundation, a sort of incubator for social enterprises that he set up in 1954 and which is still going strong. It was to celebrate the centenary of his birth and I couldn’t help but wonder what he would have thought of me if he were still alive.
I’m sure most people whose fathers are no longer around occasionally think about this. But I don’t have a choice because a day doesn’t go by without some wag on Twitter claiming my dad would be ‘spinning in his grave’ thanks to my latest outrage — standing up for Boris Johnson on Channel 4 News, for instance, or writing an article in the Daily Mail. Remember the abuse Hilary Benn got when he spoke in favour of Syrian airstrikes in the House of Commons? Well I get that all the time.
The first thing to be said about this kind of attack is that it’s a species of ad hominem. You’re not being criticised because your position is poorly argued or unsupported by the evidence, but because it’s a point of view your father would have disapproved of. The correct response is: ‘So what?’ Not only is that completely irrelevant from an intellectual point of view — the Labour son of a Conservative isn’t wrong because his father would have frowned upon him, so why should the opposite hold true? — it’s also a poor psychological argument.