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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After Richmond Park, Labour MPs are haunted by a familiar ghost

Labour MPs in big cities fear the Liberal Democrats, while in the north, they fear Ukip. 

The Liberal Democrats’ victory in Richmond Park has Conservatives nervous, and rightly so. Not only did Sarah Olney take the votes of soft Conservatives who backed a Remain vote on 23 June, she also benefited from tactical voting from Labour voters.

Although Richmond Park is the fifth most pro-Remain constituency won by a Conservative at the 2015 election, the more significant number – for the Liberal Democrats at least – is 15: that’s the number of Tory-held seats they could win if they reduced the Labour vote by the same amount they managed in Richmond Park.

The Tories have two Brexit headaches, electorally speaking. The first is the direct loss of voters who backed David Cameron in 2015 and a Remain vote in 2016 to the Liberal Democrats. The second is that Brexit appears to have made Liberal Democrat candidates palatable to Labour voters who backed the party as the anti-Conservative option in seats where Labour is generally weak from 1992 to 2010, but stayed at home or voted Labour in 2015.

Although local council by-elections are not as dramatic as parliamentary ones, they offer clues as to how national elections may play out, and it’s worth noting that Richmond Park wasn’t the only place where the Liberal Democrats saw a dramatic surge in the party’s fortunes. They also made a dramatic gain in Chichester, which voted to leave.

(That’s the other factor to remember in the “Leave/Remain” divide. In Liberal-Conservative battlegrounds where the majority of voters opted to leave, the third-placed Labour and Green vote tends to be heavily pro-Remain.)

But it’s not just Conservatives with the Liberal Democrats in second who have cause to be nervous.  Labour MPs outside of England's big cities have long been nervous that Ukip will do to them what the SNP did to their Scottish colleagues in 2015. That Ukip is now in second place in many seats that Labour once considered safe only adds to the sense of unease.

In a lot of seats, the closeness of Ukip is overstated. As one MP, who has the Conservatives in second place observed, “All that’s happened is you used to have five or six no-hopers, and all of that vote has gone to Ukip, so colleagues are nervous”. That’s true, to an extent. But it’s worth noting that the same thing could be said for the Liberal Democrats in Conservative seats in 1992. All they had done was to coagulate most of the “anyone but the Conservative” vote under their banner. In 1997, they took Conservative votes – and with it, picked up 28 formerly Tory seats.

Also nervous are the party’s London MPs, albeit for different reasons. They fear that Remain voters will desert them for the Liberal Democrats. (It’s worth noting that Catherine West, who sits for the most pro-Remain seat in the country, has already told constituents that she will vote against Article 50, as has David Lammy, another North London MP.)

A particular cause for alarm is that most of the party’s high command – Jeremy Corbyn, Emily Thornberry, Diane Abbott, and Keir Starmer – all sit for seats that were heavily pro-Remain. Thornberry, in particular, has the particularly dangerous combination of a seat that voted Remain in June but has flirted with the Liberal Democrats in the past, with the shadow foreign secretary finishing just 484 votes ahead of Bridget Fox, the Liberal Democrat candidate, in 2005.

Are they right to be worried? That the referendum allowed the Liberal Democrats to reconfigure the politics of Richmond Park adds credence to a YouGov poll that showed a pro-Brexit Labour party finishing third behind a pro-second referendum Liberal Democrat party, should Labour go into the next election backing Brexit and the Liberal Democrats opt to oppose it.

The difficulty for Labour is the calculation for the Liberal Democrats is easy. They are an unabashedly pro-European party, from their activists to their MPs, and the 22 per cent of voters who back a referendum re-run are a significantly larger group than the eight per cent of the vote that Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats got in 2015.

The calculus is more fraught for Labour. In terms of the straight Conservative battle, their best hope is to put the referendum question to bed and focus on issues which don’t divide their coalition in two, as immigration does. But for separate reasons, neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats will be keen to let them.

At every point, the referendum question poses difficulties for Labour. Even when neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats take seats from them directly, they can hurt them badly, allowing the Conservatives to come through the middle.

The big problem is that the stance that makes sense in terms of maintaining party unity is to try to run on a ticket of moving past the referendum and focussing on the party’s core issues of social justice, better public services and redistribution.

But the trouble with that approach is that it’s alarmingly similar to the one favoured by Kezia Dugdale and Scottish Labour in 2016, who tried to make the election about public services, not the constitution. They came third, behind a Conservative party that ran on an explicitly pro-Union platform. The possibility of an English sequel should not be ruled out.  

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