Grumpy cat at the Friskies 2013. Such pets can serve a useful purpose post-owner death. Photo: Getty
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A dicky ligament, an infection of the soul – and I don’t even have a cat to eat my corpse

I just woke up with my leg like this.

Here’s a joke for you. What goes, “Ow, thump, ow, thump, ow, thump”? Answer: me, trying to get up the stairs, one at a time. Not very funny, is it? Well, you can all go and wee in your hats, because I have the hump, and I don’t care. You try going upstairs when even lying down in bed, unless you are very, very careful, is agony.

The intriguing thing is I have no idea how my leg, specifically the iliofemoral ligament, got this way. I just woke up with it like that. (It’s the bit where the leg joins the pelvis, and does a lot of load-bearing.) It may be a punishment; it certainly feels like the cherry on the cake. This has been a shit week and the pain is not making things any better.

It’s an ordure that has been slowly building up rather than one that has descended en masse, which is one thing; an unforeseen side effect of a long-distance relationship. There are people who prefer to sleep alone every night but I am not one of them and so the reluctance to go to bed has made me keep increasingly antisocial hours, to the point where I have actually gone all the way round the clock to reset matters, and this can have no good effect on one’s mental or physical health.

The only consolation is that at least I have not been given the boot and there is someone not related to me who cares very much whether I live or die. That she is 650 miles away as the Boeing flies doesn’t help, though. Last week, even before my leg decided to become my penance, I suffered one of those illnesses that leaves one unable to do anything except lie under the covers shivering and aching everywhere and listening to Debussy; that lasted two days, and I began to wonder how my body would be found if I died in my sleep. I do not even have a pussy cat that would be able to feed on my corpse should the worst happen. But I recovered, or all of me did with the exception of my upper left leg. However, I am left open to minor infections of the soul.

One of the things about being given the boot is that you are at least spared the accumulation of smaller irritations. You have only one, and it is rather all-consuming. You are too busy howling with your own grief to get depressed at Mr Grayling’s decision to stop people sending prisoners books. You certainly don’t make the mistake, as I did, of reading Allan Massie’s excellent piece for the Telegraph on why this is a mean and nasty policy, and then going on to check out the comments below the line. OK, I should hardly be surprised that these were composed by the kind of people who, as children, pulled the wings off butterflies and, as adults, think Nigel Farage Talks a Lot of Sense. The subset of what we loosely call humanity who wrote to that newspaper even before the days of online abusive anonymity weren’t exactly all sweetness, light and charity either. But this is a new order of vindictiveness manifesting itself here.

And there is plenty to be getting on with. That hump is keeping itself well stocked with bile. A quick look at the Sun while enjoying a plate of egg and chips in the local caff was an even worse idea than usual: it contained a petition, which you could sign, if you would, and send to Downing Street, urging Mr Cameron to start fracking as soon as possible. The Labour lead in the polls is vanishing. The gang of crooks and scumbags who run this country is going to be doing it for another five years. Scotland will be leaving the Union. I can’t say I blame them but I can’t pretend I’m happy about it. I can’t get to the shops and there’s nothing left to eat in the Hovel but pasta and a ten-day-old heel of wholemeal. I haven’t had the energy to go upstairs even for a shower for the past three days.

What I really need is a long hot soak in a bath, maybe with mustard in it, but even if I made it up the stairs I don’t see how I’d be able to get out of the bath once I’d sat down in it. One good friend has lost her job and another is struggling in hers, through no fault of her own, to the point of tears. You know that delight in other people’s troubles the Germans have a word for? After a while you don’t get it any more. Other people’s troubles start bothering you as much as your own. Oh, if only I were a Telegraph reader. But I’m not. Ow, thump. Ow, thump. Ow, thump.

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 10 April 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Tech Issue

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The Autumn Statement proved it – we need a real alternative to austerity, now

Theresa May’s Tories have missed their chance to rescue the British economy.

After six wasted years of failed Conservative austerity measures, Philip Hammond had the opportunity last month in the Autumn Statement to change course and put in place the economic policies that would deliver greater prosperity, and make sure it was fairly shared.

Instead, he chose to continue with cuts to public services and in-work benefits while failing to deliver the scale of investment needed to secure future prosperity. The sense of betrayal is palpable.

The headline figures are grim. An analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that real wages will not recover their 2008 levels even after 2020. The Tories are overseeing a lost decade in earnings that is, in the words Paul Johnson, the director of the IFS, “dreadful” and unprecedented in modern British history.

Meanwhile, the Treasury’s own analysis shows the cuts falling hardest on the poorest 30 per cent of the population. The Office for Budget Responsibility has reported that it expects a £122bn worsening in the public finances over the next five years. Of this, less than half – £59bn – is due to the Tories’ shambolic handling of Brexit. Most of the rest is thanks to their mishandling of the domestic economy.

 

Time to invest

The Tories may think that those people who are “just about managing” are an electoral demographic, but for Labour they are our friends, neighbours and the people we represent. People in all walks of life needed something better from this government, but the Autumn Statement was a betrayal of the hopes that they tried to raise beforehand.

Because the Tories cut when they should have invested, we now have a fundamentally weak economy that is unprepared for the challenges of Brexit. Low investment has meant that instead of installing new machinery, or building the new infrastructure that would support productive high-wage jobs, we have an economy that is more and more dependent on low-productivity, low-paid work. Every hour worked in the US, Germany or France produces on average a third more than an hour of work here.

Labour has different priorities. We will deliver the necessary investment in infrastructure and research funding, and back it up with an industrial strategy that can sustain well-paid, secure jobs in the industries of the future such as renewables. We will fight for Britain’s continued tariff-free access to the single market. We will reverse the tax giveaways to the mega-rich and the giant companies, instead using the money to make sure the NHS and our education system are properly funded. In 2020 we will introduce a real living wage, expected to be £10 an hour, to make sure every job pays a wage you can actually live on. And we will rebuild and transform our economy so no one and no community is left behind.

 

May’s missing alternative

This week, the Bank of England governor, Mark Carney, gave an important speech in which he hit the proverbial nail on the head. He was completely right to point out that societies need to redistribute the gains from trade and technology, and to educate and empower their citizens. We are going through a lost decade of earnings growth, as Carney highlights, and the crisis of productivity will not be solved without major government investment, backed up by an industrial strategy that can deliver growth.

Labour in government is committed to tackling the challenges of rising inequality, low wage growth, and driving up Britain’s productivity growth. But it is becoming clearer each day since Theresa May became Prime Minister that she, like her predecessor, has no credible solutions to the challenges our economy faces.

 

Crisis in Italy

The Italian people have decisively rejected the changes to their constitution proposed by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, with nearly 60 per cent voting No. The Italian economy has not grown for close to two decades. A succession of governments has attempted to introduce free-market policies, including slashing pensions and undermining rights at work, but these have had little impact.

Renzi wanted extra powers to push through more free-market reforms, but he has now resigned after encountering opposition from across the Italian political spectrum. The absence of growth has left Italian banks with €360bn of loans that are not being repaid. Usually, these debts would be written off, but Italian banks lack the reserves to be able to absorb the losses. They need outside assistance to survive.

 

Bail in or bail out

The oldest bank in the world, Monte dei Paschi di Siena, needs €5bn before the end of the year if it is to avoid collapse. Renzi had arranged a financing deal but this is now under threat. Under new EU rules, governments are not allowed to bail out banks, like in the 2008 crisis. This is intended to protect taxpayers. Instead, bank investors are supposed to take a loss through a “bail-in”.

Unusually, however, Italian bank investors are not only big financial institutions such as insurance companies, but ordinary households. One-third of all Italian bank bonds are held by households, so a bail-in would hit them hard. And should Italy’s banks fail, the danger is that investors will pull money out of banks across Europe, causing further failures. British banks have been reducing their investments in Italy, but concerned UK regulators have asked recently for details of their exposure.

John McDonnell is the shadow chancellor


John McDonnell is Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington and has been shadow chancellor since September 2015. 

This article first appeared in the 08 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brexit to Trump