It's my mum's birthday today. She should have been 61, instead she is frozen in my memory at 42, the age she was when bronchopneumonia secondary to metastatic breast cancer stole her from us. She was diagnosed with cancer just a month after her 40th birthday, I was 20 and my brothers 17 and 16 respectively. We watched her undergo gruelling chemotherapy, cried with her when we learned her treatment was palliative, tried to become used to seeing her without hair, listened to her vomiting day after day in the bathroom, saw the cancer cruelly invade her bones. And finally we sat with her in that hospital cubicle as she ceased to recognise us and then thanks to the morphine drifted into a sleep that we watched over holding our breaths as we waited for her to take her last.
This November she will have been dead for 19 years, I have spent most of my adult life motherless. She knew I was engaged but missed my wedding, has never known her grand-daughters, hasn't grieved with me as I've mourned the death of aunts and uncles, my grandad and my brother (would my brother still be alive if she was?) She hasn't seen the woman I've become.
Yet she shaped me. We frequently disagreed and had she been alive I know we'd have engaged in some strong discussions. Our political views were different and I wonder what she would have made of my parenting. I suspect she may not have agreed with all my decisions and probably would have said as much, but she raised me to believe in my choices. I always knew I was unconditionally loved by her and my dad and between them they gave me the confidence and self-belief to be who I choose to be. And that's what being a parent is all about really isn't it? No matter how you choose to raise a child your ultimate aim is for that child to grow into an adult secure enough in your love and respect to make their own choices in life.
So it is that as I remember Mum I'm struck by the thought that Ralph Miliband's sons are adults raised in a loving family and given the self-belief to make decisions based on their own consciousness. The Daily Mail has been roundly and rightly criticised this week for its disgusting slur on a dead man based on a diary entry of a 17 year old. There can be no defence for this sort of gutter journalism. Ultimately though would it really have mattered if Ralph had hated Britain? Ed is not Ralph and whilst he may have been influenced by his father it's clear he's chosen a different political path. Are we all to be judged by the beliefs of our parents? We don't have to go back very far to a time when institutionalised racism and homophobia were commonplace. How many of our parents or grandparents would have supported equal marriage back in the 50s, 60s or 70s? How many casually referred to "going for a chinky", watched Love Thy Neighbour or referred to children with Down's Syndrome as mongols? We are not the same. Our parents made mistakes, we have learned from them. We should not be judged by their beliefs but by our own. Because despite their mistakes they gave us the confidence to make up our own minds.
So yes the Mail's lies are sickening and shame the free Press and I understand Ed's disgust and admire him for standing up to Dacre. Were the story true though would it have influenced my vote? Not a bit.