Dig for victory Harry...

Wise words for a royal - and advice for a rainy day

Dear Marina,

Thanks to the effects of global warming we are all having a terrible wet and unsummery summer. Is it worth planning summer holidays in November time now and, if so, where would make a good destination?
Clare, Portsmouth

I am on record as taking umbrage with those who would say climate change is great if it means it’s getting warmer.

Not that many are saying that right now. And if you’ve had your home or business flooded, with all the stress and devastation that brings, you will rightly be angry beyond words at this summer’s torrents.

But can the rest of us address our attitude to rain please? If it is climate change that brings the monsoon season to Blighty, we can change our ways and help slow climate change and learn to live with the changes in the meantime.

Having always holidayed in England I was brought up never to allow the weather to dampen holiday spirits.

I cherish the hours of childhood spent stuck in a car, chomping on fish and chips, windows all steamed up, listening to the sound of rain lash the north Norfolk coast.

I still laugh at my mother who encouraged us to remove our clothes and sit on them when caught in a downpour without waterproofs.

But most of all I cherish summer rain for the sensual experience beyond the wildest imaginings of those whose only outdoor experience is the distance between their front door and their car, plus the annual trip to a foreign swimming pool with food and drinks included, where they read a book, get drunk and shagged before returning home hungover, diseased and burned to a crisp. And that’s just the pensioners…

Next time the heavens open strip off and give yourself over to the pounding on your naked flesh. Spread your arms, lift your face to the heavens, open your mouth and drink.

If your heart races off into ecstacy and you’re without a loved one to cling to in such a delicious deluge, hug a tree. Easy now, I said hug it.

Rain also plays intricately with light on the landscape. I’m no artist, but I do appreciate the way many places can look more beautiful, and have more character on rainy days as opposed to hot dusty ones. Sites popular with visitors are also less crowded in unsettled weather. No queues for ice cream. Bliss.

But where to holiday? I love the Lake District, the Peak district, Somerset, Cornwall, Devon, Norfolk and Sussex. DO NOT, REPEAT, DO NOT FLY TO FOREIGN CLIMES.

And when? According to the long range lunar forecast (I kid you not) we’re in for a dry September. This is good news for me as I’m running my first three-day festival (outoftheordinaryfestival.com). If you can get to Polegate Station in Sussex lift shares can get you to our site. Tickets are selling fast so get buying now.

Dear Marina

Despite being a babe magnet with endless squillions of pounds to my name and a noble ancestery, I’m constantly bullied by my colleagues for having red hair. When I was unable to join them for a tour of duty in Iraq they all went out and bought red wigs. I guess this could be to fool the insurgents who will give away their positions as they eagerly and mistakenly attempt to blow me up. But I still feel bullied.

I’m so depressed I just want to go clubbing, drink too much, smoke that extra strong cannabis that’s going around the cabinet and pick up unsuitable girls.

But Dad says it’s not on while the regiment squares up to death on a daily basis. What can I do?
Harry, Gloucestershire

Oh Harry, as I said to your grandmother just the other day: “Gardening is its own reward, don’t you agree?” She agreed.

Your father has many acres to toil, so do what the girls did when forced by tradition to avoid combat: they dug for victory. With your help, despite the impending crisis caused by the growing of too many biofuels instead of food crops, we shall never have to face rationing on Duchy Originals.

And don’t worry about being called ginger nut (a lower class of biscuit altogether). It’s just their way of avoiding calling you genuinely hurtful names, like “upper class twat”. Please remind your Granny she’s expected in Lewes to help with the revolution. We’ll book her a room at the White Hart. If she’s worried about being lynched by the Headstrong Club we can loan her the disguise of a red haired wig. Snigger!

Marina Pepper is a former glamour model turned journalist, author, eco-campaigner and Lib Dem politician. A councillor and former Parliamentary candidate, she lives near Brighton with her two children.
Why not e-mail your problems to askmarina@newstatesman.co.uk?
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In the 1980s, I went to a rally where Labour Party speakers shared the stage with men in balaclavas

The links between the Labour left and Irish republicanism are worth investigating.

A spat between Jeremy Corbyn’s henchfolk and Conor McGinn, the MP for St Helens North, caught my ear the other evening. McGinn was a guest on BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour, and he obligingly revisited the brouhaha for the listeners at home. Apparently, following an interview in May, in which McGinn called for Corbyn to “reach out beyond his comfort zone”, he was first threatened obliquely with the sack, then asked for a retraction (which he refused to give) and finally learned – from someone in the whips’ office – that his party leader was considering phoning up McGinn’s father to whip the errant whipper-in into line. On the programme, McGinn said: “The modus operandi that he [Corbyn] and the people around him were trying to do [sic], involving my family, was to isolate and ostracise me from them and from the community I am very proud to come from – which is an Irish nationalist community in south Armagh.”

Needless to say, the Labour leader’s office has continued to deny any such thing, but while we may nurture some suspicions about his behaviour, McGinn was also indulging in a little airbrushing when he described south Armagh as an “Irish ­nationalist community”. In the most recent elections, Newry and Armagh returned three Sinn Fein members to the Northern Ireland Assembly (as against one Social Democratic and Labour Party member) and one Sinn Fein MP to Westminster. When I last looked, Sinn Fein was still a republican, rather than a nationalist, party – something that McGinn should only be too well aware of, as the paternal hand that was putatively to have been lain on him belongs to Pat McGinn, the former Sinn Fein mayor of Newry and Armagh.

According to the Irish News, a “close friend” of the McGinns poured this cold water on the mini-conflagration: “Anybody who knows the McGinn family knows that Pat is very proud of Conor and that they remain very close.” The friend went on to opine: “He [Pat McGinn] found the whole notion of Corbyn phoning him totally ridiculous – as if Pat is going to criticise his son to save Jeremy Corbyn’s face. They would laugh about it were it not so sinister.”

“Sinister” does seem the mot juste. McGinn, Jr grew up in Bessbrook during the Troubles. I visited the village in the early 1990s on assignment. The skies were full of the chattering of British army Chinooks, and there were fake road signs in the hedgerows bearing pictograms of rifles and captioned: “Sniper at work”. South Armagh had been known for years as “bandit country”. There were army watchtowers standing sentinel in the dinky, green fields and checkpoints everywhere, manned by some of the thousands of the troops who had been deployed to fight what was, in effect, a low-level counter-insurgency war. Nationalist community, my foot.

What lies beneath the Corbyn-McGinn spat is the queered problematics of the ­relationship between the far left wing of the Labour Party and physical-force Irish republicanism. I also recall, during the hunger strikes of the early 1980s, going to a “Smash the H-Blocks” rally in Kilburn, north London, at which Labour Party speakers shared the stage with representatives from Sinn Fein, some of whom wore balaclavas and dark glasses to evade the telephoto lenses of the Met’s anti-terrorist squad.

The shape-shifting relationship between the “political wing” of the IRA and the men with sniper rifles in the south Armagh bocage was always of the essence of the conflict, allowing both sides a convenient fiction around which to posture publicly and privately negotiate. In choosing to appear on platforms with people who might or might not be terrorists, Labour leftists also sprinkled a little of their stardust on themselves: the “stardust” being the implication that they, too, under the right circumstances, might be capable of violence in pursuit of their political ends.

On the far right of British politics, Her Majesty’s Government and its apparatus are referred to derisively as “state”. There were various attempts in the 1970s and 1980s by far-right groupuscules to link up with the Ulster Freedom Fighters and other loyalist paramilitary organisations in their battle against “state”. All foundered on the obvious incompetence of the fascists. The situation on the far left was different. The socialist credentials of Sinn Fein/IRA were too threadbare for genuine expressions of solidarity, but there was a sort of tacit confidence-and-supply arrangement between these factions. The Labour far left provided the republicans with the confidence that, should an appropriately radical government be elected to Westminster, “state” would withdraw from Northern Ireland. What the republicans did for the mainland militants was to cloak them in their penumbra of darkness: without needing to call down on themselves the armed might of “state”, they could imply that they were willing to take it on, should the opportunity arise.

I don’t for a second believe that Corbyn was summoning up these ghosts of the insurrectionary dead when he either did or did not threaten to phone McGinn, Sr. But his supporters need to ask themselves what they’re getting into. Their leader, if he was to have remained true to the positions that he has espoused over many years, should have refused to sit as privy counsellor upon assuming his party office, and refused all the other mummery associated with the monarchical “state”. That he didn’t do so was surely a strategic decision. Such a position would make him utterly unelectable.

The snipers may not be at work in south Armagh just now – but there are rifles out there that could yet be dug up. I wouldn’t be surprised if some in Sinn Fein knew where they are, but one thing’s for certain: Corbyn hasn’t got a clue, bloody or otherwise. 

Will Self is an author and journalist. His books include Umbrella, Shark, The Book of Dave and The Butt. He writes the Madness of Crowds and Real Meals columns for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser