Summer is here, with its insufferable rich people and A-level results

Nicholas Lezard's "Down and Out" column.

Afriend of mine announces on Facebook that the other day the cashier at the bank shoved over a slip of paper that indicated he was £96,900 in credit. “Just for a few seconds I had a glimpse into what it must be like to have £96,900 in your current account. Unequivocally marvellous sums it up. The purest ecstasy,” he wrote. I wonder.

Naturally the mistake was rectified very quickly and the true figure, he went on to tell us, was exactly £100,000 less than that, so I can see why his heart might have leapt, but casual acquaintance with the wealthy has taught me that the they are never satisfied with the amount they have and every so often some wizened creep like Bernie Ecclestone will let slip in an interview that all this money-gathering is simply a joyless exercise in ringing up some other plutocrat and saying “as of today, I now have more money than you”, thus making said plutocrat choke on his platinum-plated cornflakes and try to reverse the situation by immiserating a further tranche of the world’s population.

This is how it works and we’ve known it since Basil of Caesarea in the 4th century AD said: “If each one would take that which is sufficient for his needs, leaving what is superfluous to those in distress, no one would be rich, no one poor . . . The rich man is a thief.”

This is not invariably the case. The other day I was at a sweltering barbecue lunch where one of the guests informed me that he was doing a little bit of wealth creation of his own: he was not only having his own children educated privately but also lining the pockets of an estate agent by buying – “for a song” – a four-bedroom ex-council property so that said children could, when they reached their estate, have somewhere to live. The song he mentioned had a chorus which went “four hundred thousand pounds”, which sounds like rather a lot to me. I mean not even an imaginary £96,900 is going to cover that.

The interesting thing about this information is that it was conveyed to me in terms that strongly suggested I was meant to applaud. As the man does not know me very well, he is not expected to know that I wear an invisible T-shirt whose slogans, which are visible in the right light, say “I loathe the rich” and “abolish private education now”, but surely the gathering scowl on my face should have tipped him off.

I wandered off morosely and thought about my own children’s future. The eldest has recently finished her A-levels and is awaiting the results. Being far cleverer than I was at her age, she should be a shoo-in for any university she chooses, but Cambridge have already said “no way”, which strikes me as a bit silly of them, for they let me in for some reason.

Now I come to think of it, it may have been the strong suspicion that my daughter is related to me that may have put them off in the first place. The dog may return to his vomit as the fool to his folly, but Cambridge U isn’t that foolish. There also seems to be a regression to earlier times – by which I mean the 1930s – going on in the higher education system, so that the privately-educated continue to stuff the top universities. Well, maybe there’ll be a world war in a decade, and 20 years after that a social revolution comparable to the 1960s, but by then I’ll be 80 and, even if alive, in no real position to enjoy it.

The only thing that seems to be getting better is the cricket. For six years now I have been unable to watch it on the telly and so have had to resort to listening to it on the radio. This is no hardship and the tension towards the end of the first Ashes Test still managed to communicate itself over Radio 4 Long Wave quite effectively. As the Australians inched towards what had once seemed like an impossible fourth-innings target I found myself feeling sicker and weaker and more comprehensively frazzled. There are still some people out there who think Test cricket is a dull affair but they know not whereof they speak.

I, and anyone else who was listening, was a nervous wreck by the end and I have still not recovered the full use of my legs. It also means that, what with the nice weather we’re having, it looks as though we’re going to have a real summer. I have just voted in the Guardian’s “is it too hot?” poll and am delighted to say that so far the “no” vote is almost twice the “yes” vote. The only problem with the sunshine is it brings the insufferably wealthy out, like wasps.

The traditional "girls leaping" A level results picture. Photograph: Getty Images

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 22 July 2013 issue of the New Statesman, How to make a saint

Photo: Getty
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Like it or hate it, it doesn't matter: Brexit is happening, and we've got to make a success of it

It's time to stop complaining and start campaigning, says Stella Creasy.

A shortage of Marmite, arguments over exporting jam and angry Belgians. And that’s just this month.  As the Canadian trade deal stalls, and the government decides which cottage industry its will pick next as saviour for the nation, the British people are still no clearer getting an answer to what Brexit actually means. And they are also no clearer as to how they can have a say in how that question is answered.

To date there have been three stages to Brexit. The first was ideological: an ever-rising euroscepticism, rooted in a feeling that the costs the compromises working with others require were not comparable to the benefits. It oozed out, almost unnoticed, from its dormant home deep in the Labour left and the Tory right, stoked by Ukip to devastating effect.

The second stage was the campaign of that referendum itself: a focus on immigration over-riding a wider debate about free trade, and underpinned by the tempting and vague claim that, in an unstable, unfair world, control could be taken back. With any deal dependent on the agreement of twenty eight other countries, it has already proved a hollow victory.

For the last few months, these consequences of these two stages have dominated discussion, generating heat, but not light about what happens next. Neither has anything helped to bring back together those who feel their lives are increasingly at the mercy of a political and economic elite and those who fear Britain is retreating from being a world leader to a back water.

Little wonder the analogy most commonly and easily reached for by commentators has been that of a divorce. They speculate our coming separation from our EU partners is going to be messy, combative and rancorous. Trash talk from some - including those in charge of negotiating -  further feeds this perception. That’s why it is time for all sides to push onto Brexit part three: the practical stage. How and when is it actually going to happen?

A more constructive framework to use than marriage is one of a changing business, rather than a changing relationship. Whatever the solid economic benefits of EU membership, the British people decided the social and democratic costs had become too great. So now we must adapt.

Brexit should be as much about innovating in what we make and create as it is about seeking to renew our trading deals with the world. New products must be sought alongside new markets. This doesn’t have to mean cutting corners or cutting jobs, but it does mean being prepared to learn new skills and invest in helping those in industries that are struggling to make this leap to move on. The UK has an incredible and varied set of services and products to offer the world, but will need to focus on what we do well and uniquely here to thrive. This is easier said than done, but can also offer hope. Specialising and skilling up also means we can resist those who want us to jettison hard-won environmental and social protections as an alternative. 

Most accept such a transition will take time. But what is contested is that it will require openness. However, handing the public a done deal - however well mediated - will do little to address the division within our country. Ensuring the best deal in a way that can garner the public support it needs to work requires strong feedback channels. That is why transparency about the government's plans for Brexit is so important. Of course, a balance needs to be struck with the need to protect negotiating positions, but scrutiny by parliament- and by extension the public- will be vital. With so many differing factors at stake and choices to be made, MPs have to be able and willing to bring their constituents into the discussion not just about what Brexit actually entails, but also what kind of country Britain will be during and after the result - and their role in making it happen. 

Those who want to claim the engagement of parliament and the public undermines the referendum result are still in stages one and two of this debate, looking for someone to blame for past injustices, not building a better future for all. Our Marmite may be safe for the moment, but Brexit can’t remain a love it or hate it phenomenon. It’s time for everyone to get practical.