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My Vote in History
Come election day every voter plays their part in shaping history.

Katharine Millar, 39, comes from a conservative rural community in North Yorkshire. Living in a safe Tory constituency has informed her voting choices. A dairy farmer and poet, Mrs Millar witnessed the mad cow and foot-and-mouth crises at first hand.

Dolores Dilley

John Dunlop

Katharine Millar became a farmer in 1985

The SDP and the Liberals formed an Alliance party in 1981

Blair Victory
In 1997 Labour returned to power with a parliamentary landslide

Help the Homeless
Katharine Millar believes more should be done to help the homeless

Katharine Millar

Katharine Millar, farmer

Open quote marks In 1979, I was 17. The only thing in my diary says: 'Mock election at school. Conservative win.' Looking back I can't quite reconcile that win, it seems odd. What I remember of the sixth form at Richmond School was quite a liberal, socialist sort of atmosphere. I didn't vote. I suspect I was overcome by apathy and teenage depression.

My parents were Conservative voters. I'm 99% sure they were. During my childhood there was this spectre of land nationalisation, and a more general fear of communism.

My family didn't actually own the farm. My father managed one, then in the sixties he opened a small haulage firm. I suppose he had this Conservative ideal of individual enterprise, and made quite a success of his business.

So how did I come from this Conservative background and then not turn out a Conservative? Maybe it was rebellion. Somewhere in my adolescence was instilled this post-colonial shame and realisation of the failings of capitalism. This was perhaps thanks to a couple of English teachers and the fact I went to a comprehensive rather than a private school, as my dad had intended.

The Greenham Common women react to the 1983 arrival of Cruise missiles

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Campaigning for peace

On the first day, my new best friend who announced she was an atheist. Her dad was a communist, I think. He would certainly give me a lecture on how bad the capitalist system was whenever I went around for tea. He even went as far as to ridicule my background.

I was heavily influenced by my contemporaries who were into CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament). I'd wear the badges and went to so-called 'Peace Meetings' in Richmond - the thinking being that the nearby Catterick Barracks would be a target for Russian missiles.

I was at York University at the time of my first vote in 1983. I was aware of student politics, but I wasn't really involved. I do remember going home once with a 'Reagan-Free Caribbean' badge, and my brother went absolutely bananas. He was horrified.

Miner's wife Joy Watson calls for an end to the 1984 strike

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I actually voted for the Liberal Alliance, but negatively rather than postively. I wasn't particularly excited by them. I couldn't really make my mind up. I'd like to think that if Richmond had been a marginal seat, rather than a safe Tory one, I'd have voted Labour. My diary entry for the day after reads: 'Conservatives re-elected. Tory MPs for York, Richmond and Darlington (!)' I must have been quite surprised that Darlington wasn't a Labour stronghold.

Liberal Alliance years

By the 1987 election, I'd married Harold. I was two years into farming life and domesticity. It was farm, farm, farm I didn't even keep a diary. I think voted Liberal Alliance again, whatever meant not making my mind up and being middle of the road. I supposed it must have seemed like the Tories would never lose power, but I wasn't able to make such a clear observation at the time.

The first few years of farming were absolutely dire, not answering the phone in case it was the bank manager. When you're in a really difficult situation you don't tend to look beyond the immediate. To actually make some political comment would take considerable effort when you're bogged down in practicalities. The miners' strike and City yuppiedom were over yonder.

The BBC reports on PM Thatcher’s third election victory in 1987

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I did stamp and rage around saying 'bloody Thatcher', like everybody else, but I didn't actually do anything. Again, I like to think if it had been a marginal seat I'd have voted Labour.

By 1992 I was friends with a Liberal Democrat. I handed out leaflets for Jane because she was my friend, but I can't have been totally without sympathy for the party. My diary says: 'By midnight it looked like the Conservatives would have most seats, but not the required 326. Voted Lib Dem at 9.40pm.' I must have been really busy on the farm to have left it so late to cast my vote. The next day I wrote: 'Conservative majority of 21 against all predictions, swingometer, etc. Hague [Richmond's MP] increased percentage of vote.'

I didn't think Labour would win. Everything said Labour would, but I had a suspicion some people were doing too well to give up their Conservative vote. They'd say they were going to vote Labour, and tell the pollsters: 'We want a change', but when they got into the booth they pause and tick Conservative.

Shifting to Labour

I voted for a Labour candidate I'd never even heard of in the 1997 general election. That was the first time I'd ever voted Labour and I'm afraid to say I was carried along with the enthusiasm and fell for Tony Blair. For a few weeks I fell in love with him. The good weather might have been to blame too.

I knew Labour wouldn't get in at Richmond. But it was a gush of enthusiasm, and even though my vote would make no difference, I was determined to vote Labour. That's where my heart was. It wasn't so much about what I was hoping to gain for a new government, but rather what I was hoping to get rid of.

Farmers hit by BSE protest outside the 1996 Tory Party conference

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In 1997 we lost a lot of animals to the BSE cull. We had loads of cases on this farm. It was a fiasco. The Conservative government handled the crisis badly and from a farming standpoint Labour couldn't do any worse. Thinking of the wider country I assumed they'd be slightly more altruistic and improve the public services. Education, education, education.

I don't vote as a farmer. I hate the idea of urban/country divide. I refuse to admit there is one, I think that's very dangerous. During the foot-and-mouth crisis, some city-dwellers have grasped what's going on and been sympathetic, while some from the countryside don't seem to understand the stress we're going through. There's no empathy.

The thing that finished me off regards Tony Blair was an urban issue, the zero tolerance stance towards beggars. You may not be able to solve the problem of homelessness by throwing money at it, it's highly complex, but that shouldn't stop people giving money to beggars. To imply people shouldn't do that seems inhuman. I've fallen out with politicians in general, it's the manipulation, clumsy manipulation, makes me feel insulted and extremely uneasy. Closed quote marks

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