All political life should start with a bang. Mine did with a whimper. Born in Glasgow to a Pole and a Scottish-Irish woman, politics meant nothing to me for the first two decades of my life. At the outbreak of the Second World War my father, Jan Matyjaszek, was a newly commissioned second lieutenant from a poor farming family in a remote corner of Poland. He took a bullet in the shoulder leading his men against a nationalist army from Germany. The bullet went on to kill his corporal behind him. German efficiency. One bullet, two Poles knocked out of the war.
My father left Poland and via Romania came to France with other Polish soldiers and pilots to carry on the fight the xenophobic nationalism of the Nazis. The Poles fought longer in 1939 against the Germans than the French did in 1940.
The Polish army was based in Scotland, where my father met my mother Isabel McShane, whose mother came from Donegal. For the Irish Catholic families of Lanarkshire the arrival of all these dashing exotic officers, who always kissed the hand of a woman of every age, could dance with a devil-may-care brio and were devout mass-going Catholics was proof that the ill-winds of war could blow some good.
Politics for me began in Birmingham in the 1970s when I joined The Labour Party in response to the racism of Enoch Powell
My father died when I was 10 and I cannot remember any politics in the house in Kenton, North-West London. On Sundays the Sunday Express was bought and I devoured the comment columns by AJP Taylor. I was a paper boy at 13 and liked reading all the papers but not really making a distinction between them.
At Oxford I wrote and edited student papers and in those crazy 1968 days enjoyed the sex, drugs, drink and rock’n’roll and occupying hallowed Oxford University buildings like the Sheldonian.
Politics for me began in Birmingham in the 1970s when I joined The Labour Party in response to the racism of Enoch Powell and his attacks on immigrants and Europe. I was a BBC news trainee. For the first time, I heard and saw casual racism in the streets, while canvassing for Labour or just a having drink after reporting on Wolverhampton Wanderers.