Mum wants to buy a million-pound flat - that's not fair, right?

Alice O'Keefe's "Squeezed Middle" column.

‘‘Darling, I just had to tell you.” Mum sounds slightly breathless. “The Old Flat is for sale!” “Oh yeah?” For a moment I fail to register the symbolic importance of the words.
 
The Old Flat is where my family lived until I was 15. Funnily enough, it was slightly too small for two kids – oh, how history repeats itself – and eventually Mum sold it and moved around the corner. With its prime central location and its big windows looking out over the park, it is a lovely place, imbued with many cherished memories.
 
“What, are you thinking of buying it back?”
 
“I am considering it seriously, yes.”
 
I haven’t heard Mum sound this excited about anything for ages. She became a Buddhist a few years ago, and it’s really calmed her down. She meditates every morning, and once a week she goes to sweep the floor of the Buddhist centre. My mum is big on becoming a better person. I think that’s where I get it from – but she’s way further along the road than me. I feel tired just thinking about all the meditation and sweeping I would have to do to become as calm as her.
 
But right now she sounds stoked, like Larry does when he talks about opening his Christmas presents. “Well, that’s exciting!”
 
It’s only after I hang up that I realise it is not exciting. I hate the thought of it. For a start, the past is the past. We moved on. Trying to turn back the clock is never a good idea.
 
But there is another reason, too, one so shameful that I can barely acknowledge it to myself. I had always assumed that once Mum sold her current house – central London, four bedrooms, worth a fortune – she would move somewhere smaller and cheaper, freeing up some cash for us.
 
It’s not as if she hasn’t helped us out already. We could never have bought our slightlytoo- small flat without an unspeakably generous donation from her.
 
Nevertheless, our only real hope of ever being able to afford somewhere family-sized and not in Hull resides in the sale of her house. That or a Lottery win, which Curly confidently predicts will happen within months, if not weeks.
 
To buy back The Old Flat, Mum will need every penny of her money. Of course I want her to be happy. I want her to have everything she could possibly wish for. But . . .
 
I phone Curly at work to let off steam.
 
“Hello, Domino’s Pizza.”
 
“?”
 
“Only joking. Worthy Causes ‘R’ Us.”
 
“Curly, it’s me.”
 
“I know.”
 
“Mum wants to buy a million-pound flat.”
 
“Great. Good for her.”
 
“Don’t you think it’s a little bit unfair?”
 
“How do you mean?”
 
“Well, I mean what about us?”
 
Silence on the line.
 
“Curly, are you still there?”
 
“Yes.”
 
“What do you think?”
 
“What do you mean what do I think?”
 
“Don’t you think it’s unfair?”
 
“I think it’s her money and it’s her life. And anyway, I think we are doing fine.”
 
God damn Curly and the way he makes me feel like a selfish cow. It’s out of order. 
Alice O'Keeffe's "Squeezed Middle" column appears weekly in the New Statesman.

Alice O'Keeffe is an award-winning journalist and former arts editor of the New Statesman. She now works as a freelance writer and looks after two young children. You can find her on Twitter as @AliceOKeeffe.

This article first appeared in the 23 September 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Can Miliband speak for England?

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Theresa May gambles that the EU will blink first

In her Brexit speech, the Prime Minister raised the stakes by declaring that "no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain". 

It was at Lancaster House in 1988 that Margaret Thatcher delivered a speech heralding British membership of the single market. Twenty eight years later, at the same venue, Theresa May confirmed the UK’s retreat.

As had been clear ever since her Brexit speech in October, May recognises that her primary objective of controlling immigration is incompatible with continued membership. Inside the single market, she noted, the UK would still have to accept free movement and the rulings of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). “It would to all intents and purposes mean not leaving the EU at all,” May surmised.

The Prime Minister also confirmed, as anticipated, that the UK would no longer remain a full member of the Customs Union. “We want to get out into the wider world, to trade and do business all around the globe,” May declared.

But she also recognises that a substantial proportion of this will continue to be with Europe (the destination for half of current UK exports). Her ambition, she declared, was “a new, comprehensive, bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement”. May added that she wanted either “a completely new customs agreement” or associate membership of the Customs Union.

Though the Prime Minister has long ruled out free movement and the acceptance of ECJ jurisdiction, she has not pledged to end budget contributions. But in her speech she diminished this potential concession, warning that the days when the UK provided “vast” amounts were over.

Having signalled what she wanted to take from the EU, what did May have to give? She struck a notably more conciliatory tone, emphasising that it was “overwhelmingly and compellingly in Britain’s national interest that the EU should succeed”. The day after Donald Trump gleefully predicted the institution’s demise, her words were in marked contrast to those of the president-elect.

In an age of Isis and Russian revanchism, May also emphasised the UK’s “unique intelligence capabilities” which would help to keep “people in Europe safe from terrorism”. She added: “At a time when there is growing concern about European security, Britain’s servicemen and women, based in European countries including Estonia, Poland and Romania, will continue to do their duty. We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe.”

The EU’s defining political objective is to ensure that others do not follow the UK out of the club. The rise of nationalists such as Marine Le Pen, Alternative für Deutschland and the Dutch Partij voor de Vrijheid (Party for Freedom) has made Europe less, rather than more, amenable to British demands. In this hazardous climate, the UK cannot be seen to enjoy a cost-free Brexit.

May’s wager is that the price will not be excessive. She warned that a “punitive deal that punishes Britain” would be “an act of calamitous self-harm”. But as Greece can testify, economic self-interest does not always trump politics.

Unlike David Cameron, however, who merely stated that he “ruled nothing out” during his EU renegotiation, May signalled that she was prepared to walk away. “No deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain,” she declared. Such an outcome would prove economically calamitous for the UK, forcing it to accept punitively high tariffs. But in this face-off, May’s gamble is that Brussels will blink first.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.