I blame Bridget Jones

Bridget got me into this mess, and I’ve been waiting 14 years for her to get me out of it, writes Clémence Sebag.

This is what thirty-something looks like: a father ploughing through business contacts for an “eligible bachelor”, a grandmother muttering “you young people do it all later, dear”, and a younger sibling telling you to get a grip. Someone did this to me: I blame Bridget Jones.

Bridget got me into this mess. And I’ve been waiting 14 years for her to get me out of it. None too soon, the third book in the Bridget saga is coming out just in time for Christmas. And if anyone can "bridge" the generation gap (read: lower my family’s expectations), forty-something Bridget should do it. I’m getting the lot of them a copy. I’m not just buying a book, I’m buying myself another decade.

This is what Bridget did: she ignored Mr Right, fell for Mr Now, and somehow ended up with both of them fighting over her. Naturally, after the last “emotional fuckwit/commitment phobic” I fully expect his unpopular friend Mr Good Guy to be along any minute. I blame Bridget.

Like Bridget I wanted to write when I grew up. Like Bridget I am still waiting for one of these two things to happen. Could it be because channelling our writing self involves finding the perfect writer’s outfit – fishing out that nude bra from the dirty laundry to go under that sheer top, doing the laundry, ironing said sheer top, until, well, it’s “Chardonnay time”? I brame Blidget.

Teetering on The Edge of Reason, terrified to topple over into the age of reason, I wonder: is it time to grow out of shared houses where my first thought in the morning is “who stole my milk?” All the while laughing at those trying to suck me into the ‘breast milk vs. powdered milk’ debate. I blame Bridget.

As an entitled twenty-something I never considered the possibility that I’d still be drunk-falling out of taxis Bridget-style in my thirties. Or that I would feel the sting of “jellyfishers” who take the party out of dinner, “smug marrieds” who bring Oscar Wilde’s “True friends stab you in the front” axiom to mind as they pat pregnant bumps and aim a sententious “tick-tock” in the general direction of the only “singleton” left at the table – who, me?

Even Helen Fielding blames Bridget: “Bridget has allowed [...] women to think it's all right just to be all right [...] and sort of muddle through the complicated, overstuffed world that we live in”.  

Bridget works in insidious ways: the thirty-something landscape is here and it seems ageing gracefully will have to be left for another decade. But want to know a secret? Being a creative wannabe/adult-in-the-making/“singleton” is fun. Messy is fun. I choose Bridget’s brand of trying really hard and failing even harder.

Want to know another secret? When Fielding says Bridget, c’est moi, it’s all an elaborate cover-up. Bridget is future me. And now I want my intellectual property and my merchandising rights. Besides, I am curious to find out how life pans out as a forty-something. With Bridget still Mad About The Boy I’m preparing for another decade of “How’s your love life?” So am I a single mum? Do I make it as a journalist? Have I quit smoking? Am I fat? Either way, I know we still have Chardonnay.

Renée Zellweger in the 2001 film version of "Bridget Jones's Diary".
Matt Cardy/Getty Images
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Former MP Bob Marshall-Andrews: Why I’m leaving Labour and joining the Lib Dems

A former political ally of Jeremy Corbyn explains why he is leaving Labour after nearly 50 years.

I’m leaving home. It’s a very hard thing to do. All of my natural allegiances have been to Labour, and never had I contemplated leaving the party – not even in the gloomy years, when we were fighting Iraq and the battles over civil liberties. I have always taken the view that it’s far better to stay within it. But it has just gone too far. There has been a total failure to identify the major issues of our age.

The related problems of the environment, globalisation and the migration of impoverished people are almost ignored in favour of the renationalisation of the railways and mantras about the National Health Service. The assertion that Labour could run the NHS better than the Tories may be true, but it is not the battle hymn of a modern republic. It is at best well-meaning, at worst threadbare. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life talking about renationalising the railways while millions of people move across the world because of famine, war and climate change.

The centre left in British politics is in retreat, and the demise of the Labour Party has the grim inevitability of a Shakespearean tragedy. Ironically, history will show that Labour’s fatal flaw lay in its spectacular success.

Labour is, in essence, a party of the 20th century, and in those 100 years it did more to advance the freedom and well-being of working people and the disadvantaged than any other political movement in history. The aspirations of the founding fathers – access to education, health and welfare; equality before the law; collective organisation; universal franchise – have all to a large extent been achieved. The party’s record of racial and religious tolerance has been a beacon in a century of repression. These achievements have been enshrined in the fabric of British society and reproduced across the world.

The success brought deserved, unprecedented power and created political fortresses across the industrial heartlands of Britain. But with power, the party became increasingly moribund and corrupt. The manipulation of the union block vote at party conferences became a national disgrace. The Labour heartlands, particularly Scotland, were treated like rotten boroughs, and were too often represented by union placemen.

Instead of seeking a new radicalism appropriate to the challenges of the age, New Labour sought to ambush the Tories on the management of market capital and to outflank them on law and order: a fool’s errand. It inevitably succumbed to another form of corruption based on hubris and deceit, resulting in attacks on civil liberty, financial disaster and catastrophic war.

The reaction has been to lurch back to the status quo. The extraordinary fall from a massive majority of 179 in 1997 to a political basket case has been blamed on the false dichotomy between Blairism and the old, unionised Labour. Both have contributed to the disaster in equal measure.

I believe desperately in the politics of the 21st century, and Labour is at best paying lip service to it – epitomised in its failure to engage in the Brexit debate, which I was horrified by. The Liberal Democrats are far from perfect, but they have been consistent on Europe, as they were in their opposition to the Iraq War and on civil liberties. They deserve support.

But it’s a serious wrench. I’m leaving friends, and it hurts. Jeremy Corbyn was a political ally of mine on a number of serious issues. We made common cause on Tony Blair’s assaults on civil liberty and the Iraq War, and we went to Gaza together. He has many of the right ideas, but he simply has not moved into addressing the major problems.

To be blunt, I don’t think Corbyn is leadership material, but that is aside from politics. You need skills as a leader, and I don’t think he’s got them, but I was prepared to stick it out to see what happened. It has been a great, gradual disappointment, and Brexit has brought it all to the fore.

Frankly, I was surprised that he announced he was a Remainer, because I know that his natural sympathies have lain with a small cadre within Labour – an old-fashioned cadre that holds that any form of trade bloc among relatively wealthy nations is an abhorrence. It’s not: it’s the way forward. Yet there are people who believe that, and I know he has always been sympathetic to them.

But by signing up and then doing nothing, you sell the pass. Labour was uniquely qualified to confront the deliberate falsehoods trumpeted about the NHS – the absurd claims of massive financial dividends to offset the loss of doctors
and nurses already packing their bags – and it failed. Throughout that campaign, the Labour leadership was invisible, or worse.

At present, there is a huge vacuum on the centre left, represented in substantial part by an angry 48 per cent of the electorate who rejected Brexit and the lies on which it was based. Politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum. There is no sign from Labour that the issue is even to be addressed, let alone actively campaigned on. The Labour leadership has signed up to Brexit and, in doing so, rejected the principles of international co-operation that Europe has fostered for half a century. That is not a place I want to be.

The failure to work with, or even acknowledge, other political parties is doctrinaire lunacy. And it will end very badly, I think. The centre left has an obligation to coalesce, and to renege on that obligation is reneging on responsibility. Not to sit on the same platform as other parties during the Brexit debate is an absurd statement of political purity, which has no place at all in modern politics.

The Liberal Democrats have grasped the political challenges of the 21st century as surely as their predecessors in the Liberal Party failed to comprehend those that faced the world a century ago. For that reason, I will sign up and do my best to lend support in my political dotage. After nearly 50 years as a Labour man, I do so with a heavy heart – but at least with some radical hope for my grandchildren.

Bob Marshall-Andrews was the Labour MP for Medway from 1997 to 2010.

As told to Anoosh Chakelian.

This article first appeared in the 27 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Cool Britannia 20 Years On

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