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 Images
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Why are boundary changes bad for Labour?

New boundaries, a smaller House of Commons and the shift to individual electoral registration all tilt the electoral battlefield further towards the Conservatives. Why?

The government has confirmed it will push ahead with plans to reduce the House of Commons to 600 seats from 650.  Why is that such bad news for the Labour Party? 

The damage is twofold. The switch to individual electoral registration will hurt Labour more than its rivals. . Constituency boundaries in Britain are drawn on registered electors, not by population - the average seat has around 70,000 voters but a population of 90,000, although there are significant variations within that. On the whole, at present, Labour MPs tend to have seats with fewer voters than their Conservative counterparts. These changes were halted by the Liberal Democrats in the coalition years but are now back on course.

The new, 600-member constituencies will all but eliminate those variations on mainland Britain, although the Isle of Wight, and the Scottish island constituencies will remain special cases. The net effect will be to reduce the number of Labour seats - and to make the remaining seats more marginal. (Of the 50 seats that would have been eradicated had the 2013 review taken place, 35 were held by Labour, including deputy leader Tom Watson's seat of West Bromwich East.)

Why will Labour seats become more marginal? For the most part, as seats expand, they will take on increasing numbers of suburban and rural voters, who tend to vote Conservative. The city of Leicester is a good example: currently the city sends three Labour MPs to Westminster, each with large majorities. Under boundary changes, all three could become more marginal as they take on more wards from the surrounding county. Liz Kendall's Leicester West seat is likely to have a particularly large influx of Tory voters, turning the seat - a Labour stronghold since 1945 - into a marginal. 

The pattern is fairly consistent throughout the United Kingdom - Labour safe seats either vanishing or becoming marginal or even Tory seats. On Merseyside, three seats - Frank Field's Birkenhead, a Labour seat since 1950, and two marginal Labour held seats, Wirral South and Wirral West - will become two: a safe Labour seat, and a safe Conservative seat on the Wirral. Lillian Greenwood, the Shadow Transport Secretary, would see her Nottingham seat take more of the Nottinghamshire countryside, becoming a Conservative-held marginal. 

The traffic - at least in the 2013 review - was not entirely one-way. Jane Ellison, the Tory MP for Battersea, would find herself fighting a seat with a notional Labour majority of just under 3,000, as opposed to her current majority of close to 8,000. 

But the net effect of the boundary review and the shrinking of the size of the House of Commons would be to the advantage of the Conservatives. If the 2015 election had been held using the 2013 boundaries, the Tories would have a majority of 22 – and Labour would have just 216 seats against 232 now.

It may be, however, that Labour dodges a bullet – because while the boundary changes would have given the Conservatives a bigger majority, they would have significantly fewer MPs – down to 311 from 330, a loss of 19 members of Parliament. Although the whips are attempting to steady the nerves of backbenchers about the potential loss of their seats, that the number of Conservative MPs who face involuntary retirement due to boundary changes is bigger than the party’s parliamentary majority may force a U-Turn.

That said, Labour’s relatively weak electoral showing may calm jittery Tory MPs. Two months into Ed Miliband’s leadership, Labour averaged 39 per cent in the polls. They got 31 per cent of the vote in 2015. Two months into Tony Blair’s leadership, Labour were on 53 per cent of the vote. They got 43 per cent of the vote. A month and a half into Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, Labour is on 31 per cent of the vote.  A Blair-style drop of ten points would see the Tories net 388 seats under the new boundaries, with Labour on 131. A smaller Miliband-style drop would give the Conservatives 364, and leave Labour with 153 MPs.  

On Labour’s current trajectory, Tory MPs who lose out due to boundary changes may feel comfortable in their chances of picking up a seat elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.