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

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Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Andrea Leadsom as Environment Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

A little over a week into Andrea Leadsom’s new role as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and senior industry figures are already questioning her credentials. A growing list of campaigners have called for her resignation, and even the Cabinet Office implied that her department's responsibilities will be downgraded.

So far, so bad.

The appointment would appear to be something of a consolation prize, coming just days after Leadsom pulled out of the Conservative leadership race and allowed Theresa May to enter No 10 unopposed.

Yet while Leadsom may have been able to twist the truth on her CV in the City, no amount of tampering will improve the agriculture-related side to her record: one barely exists. In fact, recent statements made on the subject have only added to her reputation for vacuous opinion: “It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies,” she told an audience assembled for a referendum debate. No matter the livelihoods of thousands of the UK’s hilltop sheep farmers, then? No need for butterflies outside of national parks?

Normally such a lack of experience is unsurprising. The department has gained a reputation as something of a ministerial backwater; a useful place to send problematic colleagues for some sobering time-out.

But these are not normal times.

As Brexit negotiations unfold, Defra will be central to establishing new, domestic policies for UK food and farming; sectors worth around £108bn to the economy and responsible for employing one in eight of the population.

In this context, Leadsom’s appointment seems, at best, a misguided attempt to make the architects of Brexit either live up to their promises or be seen to fail in the attempt.

At worst, May might actually think she is a good fit for the job. Leadsom’s one, water-tight credential – her commitment to opposing restraints on industry – certainly has its upsides for a Prime Minister in need of an alternative to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); a policy responsible for around 40 per cent the entire EU budget.

Why not leave such a daunting task in the hands of someone with an instinct for “abolishing” subsidies  thus freeing up money to spend elsewhere?

As with most things to do with the EU, CAP has some major cons and some equally compelling pros. Take the fact that 80 per cent of CAP aid is paid out to the richest 25 per cent of farmers (most of whom are either landed gentry or vast, industrialised, mega-farmers). But then offset this against the provision of vital lifelines for some of the UK’s most conscientious, local and insecure of food producers.

The NFU told the New Statesman that there are many issues in need of urgent attention; from an improved Basic Payment Scheme, to guarantees for agri-environment funding, and a commitment to the 25-year TB eradication strategy. But that they also hope, above all, “that Mrs Leadsom will champion British food and farming. Our industry has a great story to tell”.

The construction of a new domestic agricultural policy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Britain to truly decide where its priorities for food and environment lie, as well as to which kind of farmers (as well as which countries) it wants to delegate their delivery.

In the context of so much uncertainty and such great opportunity, Leadsom has a tough job ahead of her. And no amount of “speaking as a mother” will change that.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.