Brighton beach. Photo: Getty
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Squeezed Middle: It's time to move on from London

“The idea is that we won’t have to move again. Not for a long time.”

We’re standing on top of Kite Hill, with London spread out before us like a grubby blanket. A layer of fine smog hangs over the skyline, punctured here and there by the new City skyscrapers, a defiant cluster of one-fingered salutes. I narrow my eyes against the spring sunlight and say goodbye to it all, bit by bit.

Goodbye to Holloway Road, ungentrified and ungentrifiable; to the popcorn-smelling, sticky-carpeted Odeon where I went on my first-ever date. Goodbye to the Highbury Fields playground and the football pitches where my sister and I used to roller-skate on a Saturday morning. Goodbye to the Homerton hospital, where I first looked into my babies’ eyes, and to Buckingham Palace, which I have not visited once in 34 years. Bella phoned this morning to tell us that she would accept our offer on her house in Brighton.

“Jesus!” said Curly, staring at me in disbelief. “Are we actually going to do it?”

“I think we really are.”

For some reason I laugh each time I think about it: Curly and I, the owners of a grown-up house. I try to imagine us strolling nonchalantly from room to capacious room; sitting at a proper kitchen table; pottering about in the garden on a Sunday. But I can’t do it, any more than I can picture a miniature poodle performing Swan Lake.

Larry is also having some trouble getting his head around the idea. “But what if we get to Brighton and make new friends and then we have to move again?” he asked, with a worried frown, when I told him the news. Like most children, Larry is deeply conservative. Even the most minor deviation from his daily routine – a cheese sandwich cut in the wrong way, or served on the wrong plate – can throw him into a spin. Fortunately he has no idea what an upheaval lies before him.

“The idea is that we won’t have to move again. Not for a long time.”

“But how do you know?”

I don’t know, of course. It may well all be a disaster. We have no friends in Brighton, no childcare and no jobs. To say we are taking a punt on this is to put it mildly. Nevertheless, I feel quietly sure that it is the right thing to do. Looking back on the past few years I can see that London and I have been going through a protracted divorce, characterised by all the usual stages of relationship breakdown: denial, rage, grief and finally acceptance. We are no longer right for each other. It’s time to move on.

“It’ll still be here, you know,” says Curly. He takes my hand and I take Larry’s. Moe stirs in his buggy, swept awake by the chilly breeze. It’s nearly teatime. We walk, hand in hand, back to the station, where a train is waiting to take us home.

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 03 April 2014 issue of the New Statesman, NEW COLD WAR

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Tom Watson rouses Labour's conference as he comes out fighting

The party's deputy leader exhilarated delegates with his paean to the Blair and Brown years. 

Tom Watson is down but not out. After Jeremy Corbyn's second landslide victory, and weeks of threats against his position, Labour's deputy leader could have played it safe. Instead, he came out fighting. 

With Corbyn seated directly behind him, he declared: "I don't know why we've been focusing on what was wrong with the Blair and Brown governments for the last six years. But trashing our record is not the way to enhance our brand. We won't win elections like that! And we need to win elections!" As Watson won a standing ovation from the hall and the platform, the Labour leader remained motionless. When a heckler interjected, Watson riposted: "Jeremy, I don't think she got the unity memo." Labour delegates, many of whom hail from the pre-Corbyn era, lapped it up.

Though he warned against another challenge to the leader ("we can't afford to keep doing this"), he offered a starkly different account of the party's past and its future. He reaffirmed Labour's commitment to Nato ("a socialist construct"), with Corbyn left isolated as the platform applauded. The only reference to the leader came when Watson recalled his recent PMQs victory over grammar schools. There were dissenting voices (Watson was heckled as he praised Sadiq Khan for winning an election: "Just like Jeremy Corbyn!"). But one would never have guessed that this was the party which had just re-elected Corbyn. 

There was much more to Watson's speech than this: a fine comic riff on "Saturday's result" (Ed Balls on Strictly), a spirited attack on Theresa May's "ducking and diving; humming and hahing" and a cerebral account of the automation revolution. But it was his paean to Labour history that roused the conference as no other speaker has. 

The party's deputy channelled the spirit of both Hugh Gaitskell ("fight, and fight, and fight again to save the party we love") and his mentor Gordon Brown (emulating his trademark rollcall of New Labour achivements). With his voice cracking, Watson recalled when "from the sunny uplands of increasing prosperity social democratic government started to feel normal to the people of Britain". For Labour, a party that has never been further from power in recent decades, that truly was another age. But for a brief moment, Watson's tubthumper allowed Corbyn's vanquished opponents to relive it. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.