A few columns of meaningless names and numbers pop up on screen. Photo: Getty
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The night the Estranged Wife and I decided to take a look at our investments

I’m not planning on retiring, but sometimes the world has other ideas, so it is wise to make plans.

Once again, we come to that time of year when the last Test match has been played, the first proper chill of autumn seeps into summer, and I celebrate, if that is the word, the anniversary of my moving into the Hovel. Seven years. Jesus. Not for the first time, I think about moving somewhere else, only now it is not so much in the way one wants to change an itchy jumper, but with the urgency of someone who smells smoke when there shouldn’t be any. A new lodger will be joining me: a young woman called Daisy, who, as one of my children observed, looks more like someone called “Daisy” than anyone else who has ever been given that name. She dresses, by her own admission, in the style of a hippie and is studying music at Soas. Oriental or African music? I asked. I wanted to prepare myself for whichever style of percussion instrument was going to haunt my evenings. Both, she said.

I think I could afford to live in Kettering, I realise after doing some research. There is always the possibility of moving to Gothenburg but although there would be the presence there of someone I really want to be with, the Swedes have a very different approach to breakfast from mine. It involves yoghurt and muesli, and a couple of slices of cheese, strictly rationed, if you’re lucky. Some establishments choose to serve the muesli in decorative bowls, but as far as I’m concerned tipping the contents of a bird feeder into a heart-shaped ramekin does nothing to alter the essential nature of the food. I also fail to see how I could persuade every publisher in the country to start mailing the books they think I’d like to review to Sweden.

Things are looking grim, then, so when the Estranged Wife calls to say she’s coming round to help me sort out my pension, I do not have the strength to say no.

A little word about pensions. As everyone in the country has worked out by now, these are things into which one pays a sum – generally around £100 a month – to a company that invests the money with all the expertise and cunning at its disposal, so that when the time comes for you to retire you will have a guaranteed income of about 50p a year.

I’m not planning on retiring, but sometimes the world has other ideas, so it is wise to make plans. The problem is, as the EW understands all too well, I have the financial acumen of a bumblebee. And not one of those brainy, hard-nosed bumblebees who have been to business school and got an MBA, but the dreamy, vacant kind of bumblebee who cares for little more than buzzing from flower to flower in search of nectar for his little ones.

In my case, my pension pot has been managed with all the skill one might expect, and I am the kind of customer (or, strictly speaking, “mug”) that a callous, neoliberal, grasping financial firm dreams of. I simply give them the money and hope for the best. But the EW, who has a 50 per cent stake in anything I own, has spotted that something is amiss in the way the sums are being invested, and has been nagging at me for something like four years now to Do Something about it.

Luckily, relations between us have reached the point where the proportion of laughter to recriminations has been reversed, and we get on well, although I am aware that if anything is going to put a strain on things, it is going to be this. I once changed the master password to my account in a panic when I feared she was going to do something unilateral, but I had misjudged her. I now know it is safer for her to have the password because invariably I forget it.

So, fortified with wine, we go down the rabbit hole and look at the eerie world of my personal long-term finance. A few columns of meaningless names and numbers pop up on screen. (Annoyingly, I had remembered the password.)

“I see our holdings in Venetian Tarmac seem to be underperforming somewhat,” I say, “although not as badly as our shares in Tongan Aerospace plc.” We stare glumly at the screen, then turn away and drink some more wine. When we look back again, we have been timed out, and I have to re-enter the password. “Damn, it worked,” I say.

In the end, we decide that we should swap some money around from one useless stock to another one that seems to be marginally less useless. God, these things are, excuse my language but it’s necessary here, such a f***ing con. I suggest, by way of a last feeble, desperate throw of the dice, taking the lot out and investing it in fine wine. And then, I do not add aloud, drinking myself to death with it. 

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 27 August 2014 issue of the New Statesman, The new caliphate

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What Jeremy Corbyn gets right about the single market

Technically, you can be outside the EU but inside the single market. Philosophically, you're still in the EU. 

I’ve been trying to work out what bothers me about the response to Jeremy Corbyn’s interview on the Andrew Marr programme.

What bothers me about Corbyn’s interview is obvious: the use of the phrase “wholesale importation” to describe people coming from Eastern Europe to the United Kingdom makes them sound like boxes of sugar rather than people. Adding to that, by suggesting that this “importation” had “destroy[ed] conditions”, rather than laying the blame on Britain’s under-enforced and under-regulated labour market, his words were more appropriate to a politician who believes that immigrants are objects to be scapegoated, not people to be served. (Though perhaps that is appropriate for the leader of the Labour Party if recent history is any guide.)

But I’m bothered, too, by the reaction to another part of his interview, in which the Labour leader said that Britain must leave the single market as it leaves the European Union. The response to this, which is technically correct, has been to attack Corbyn as Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Norway and Iceland are members of the single market but not the European Union.

In my view, leaving the single market will make Britain poorer in the short and long term, will immediately render much of Labour’s 2017 manifesto moot and will, in the long run, be a far bigger victory for right-wing politics than any mere election. Corbyn’s view, that the benefits of freeing a British government from the rules of the single market will outweigh the costs, doesn’t seem very likely to me. So why do I feel so uneasy about the claim that you can be a member of the single market and not the European Union?

I think it’s because the difficult truth is that these countries are, de facto, in the European Union in any meaningful sense. By any estimation, the three pillars of Britain’s “Out” vote were, firstly, control over Britain’s borders, aka the end of the free movement of people, secondly, more money for the public realm aka £350m a week for the NHS, and thirdly control over Britain’s own laws. It’s hard to see how, if the United Kingdom continues to be subject to the free movement of people, continues to pay large sums towards the European Union, and continues to have its laws set elsewhere, we have “honoured the referendum result”.

None of which changes my view that leaving the single market would be a catastrophe for the United Kingdom. But retaining Britain’s single market membership starts with making the argument for single market membership, not hiding behind rhetorical tricks about whether or not single market membership was on the ballot last June, when it quite clearly was. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.