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
Show Hide image

On Brexit, David Cameron knows exactly what he's doing

It's not a dead cat - it's about disarming the Leave campaign. 

If you’re explaining, you’re losing. That’s the calculation behind David Cameron’s latest entry into the In-Out (or Remain-Leave in new money) battle. The Prime Minister has warned that were Britain to leave the European Union, the migrant camp at Calais – popularly known as “the Jungle” – could move to Britain. But Eurosceptic campaigners have angrily denounced the remarks, saying that there’s little chance of it happening either way.  

Who’s right? My colleague Henry Zeffman has written a handy explainer of the ins and outs of the row, but the short version is: the Eurosceptic campaigners are broadly right.

But the remarks are very far from a gaffe by Downing Street or Cameron, and they aren’t a “dead cat” strategy – where you say something offensive, prompting a debate about that instead of another, trickier issue – either.

Campaigners for Remain have long been aware that immigration remains their glass jaw. The line wheeled out by Cameron has been long-planned. Late last year, senior members of the In campaign discussed what they saw as the danger points for the campaign. The first was a renegotiation that managed to roll back workplace rights, imperilling the support of the Labour party and the trade unions was one – happily avoided by Cameron’s piecemeal deal.

That the deal would be raked over in the press is not considered a risk point. Stronger In has long known that its path to victory does not run through a sympathetic media. The expectation has long been that even substantial concessions would doubtless have been denounced by the Mail, Telegraph and Sun – and no-one seriously expected that Cameron would emerge with a transformative deal. Since well before the general election, the Prime Minister has been gradually scaling back his demands. The aim has always been to secure as many concessions as possible in order to get an In vote – but Downing Street’s focus has always been on the “as possible” part rather than the “securing concessions” bit.

Today’s row isn’t about deflecting attention from a less-than-stellar deal, but about defanging another “risk point” for the In campaign: border control.

Campaign strategists believe they can throw the issue into neutral by casting doubt on Leave’s ability to control borders any better. One top aide said: “Our line is this: if we vote to leave, the border moves from Calais to Dover, it’s that simple.” They are also keen to make more of the fact that Norway has equally high levels of migration from the European Union as the United Kingdom. While In will never “own” the issue of immigration, they believe they can make the battle sufficiently murky that voters will turn to the areas that favour a Remain vote – national security, economic stability, and keeping people in their jobs.

What the row exposes, rather than a Prime Minister under pressure is a politician who knows exactly what he’s doing – and just how vulnerable the lack of a serious heavyweight at the top makes the Leave campaign(s). Most people won't make a judgement based on reading up the minutinae of European treaties, but on a "sniff test" of which side they think is more trustworthy. It's not a fight about the facts - it's a fight about who is more trusted by the public: David Cameron, or Iain Duncan Smith, Chris Grayling or Priti Patel? As one minister said to me: "I like Priti, but the idea that she can go against the PM as far as voters are concerned is ridiculous. Most people haven't heard of her." 

Leave finds itself in a position uncomfortably like that of Labour in the run-up to the election: with Cameron able to paint himself as the only option guaranteeing stability, against a chaotic and muddled alternative. Without a politician, a business figure or even a prominent celebrity who can provide credibility on the level of the Prime Minister, any row about whether or not Brexit increases the chances of more migrants on Britain’s doorsteps helps Remain – and Cameron. 

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