Beside the seaside: sun-soakers on Brighton pier during the 2013 heatwave
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Squeezed Middle: should we sell up and move to Brighton?

A town where my fantasy of Georgian terrace and Ottolenghi expense account can finally intersect with Curly’s rural idyll.

I heave the buggy out of the station and stop to inhale the complementary fragrances of stale chip fat and fresh sea air. Gulls swoop overhead and I think to myself: hmmm, Brighton. In days of old I came here on many a student bender. More recently, it has been the site of several jolly family days out.

But today Brighton is not about fun. It is Serious. Moe and I have come to look around a house. It is time, Curly has informed me, that I started thinking seriously about moving out of London. There is only so long we can bring up two boys in a slightly-too-small flat; our downstairs neighbours have suffered enough. Besides, there must be more to life than this grubby, overcrowded, overpriced city. Larry is starting school in September, so if we’re going to move, we should do it now.

Curly has in mind a rural idyll in which he will brew beer and fashion wooden spoons out of sticks and where the years on end he has spent sitting in a dark room doing data entry will seem nothing but a long-distant nightmare. I’m holding out for the lucrative, high-profile media job, wisteria-clad Georgian terrace and Ottolenghi expense account. Brighton, we’ve concluded, is the very place to reconcile these two wildly irreconcilable visions.

Moe points at things as we walk along the seafront, which has put on its Sunday best for us. Look! The sun glinting off the sea! A row of dinky pastel-painted houses! It’s all so lovely, bracing and fresh. We approach the house. So far, so good. It is on a pleasant street not far from the centre of town. It is of an ample size, and not noticeably derelict. A little flight of steps leads up to a nice green front door. Is it possible that Curly and I could live somewhere like this?

Inside, the pleasant surprises just keep on coming. The house has a fully functional kitchen and bathroom. It has enough bedrooms for the whole family. It has an almost leak-free roof and double glazing. It is, in other words, a fully fledged Family Home. The owner, a friend of a friend, escorts Moe and me to the local park, where a selection of ruddy-cheeked children are feeding the ducks. Am I getting carried away, or do they actually look healthier than children do in London?

Afterwards, Moe and I sit and throw stones into the sea. We eat some deliciously soggy chips and I turn the Brighton plan over in my mind.

There are two discernible flaws. One: neither Curly nor I have any means of earning money here, though perhaps that is not insurmountable. Two: Brighton does not have the people I love in it. Could I survive without them? It’s a terrifying question. I pop another chip into my mouth. Food for thought. 

Alice O'Keeffe is an award-winning journalist and former arts editor of the New Statesman. She now works as a freelance writer and looks after two young children. You can find her on Twitter as @AliceOKeeffe.

This article first appeared in the 26 February 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Scotland: a special issue

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Commons Confidential: Fearing the Wigan warrior

An electoral clash, select committee elections as speed dating, and Ed Miliband’s political convalescence.

Members of Labour’s disconsolate majority, sitting in tight knots in the tearoom as the MP with the best maths skills calculates who will survive and who will die, based on the latest bad poll, observe that Jeremy Corbyn has never been so loyal to the party leadership. The past 13 months, one told me, have been the Islington rebel’s longest spell without voting against Labour. The MP was contradicted by a colleague who argued that, in voting against Trident renewal, Corbyn had defied party policy. There is Labour chatter that an early general election would be a mercy killing if it put the party out of its misery and removed Corbyn next year. In 2020, it is judged, defeat will be inevitable.

The next London mayoral contest is scheduled for the same date as a 2020 election: 7 May. Sadiq Khan’s people whisper that when they mentioned the clash to ministers, they were assured it won’t happen. They are uncertain whether this indicates that the mayoral contest will be moved, or that there will be an early general election. Intriguing.

An unguarded retort from the peer Jim O’Neill seems to confirm that a dispute over the so-called Northern Powerhouse triggered his walkout from the Treasury last month. O’Neill, a fanboy of George Osborne and a former Goldman Sachs chief economist, gave no reason when he quit Theresa May’s government and resigned the Tory whip in the Lords. He joined the dots publicly when the Resolution Foundation’s director, Torsten Bell, queried the northern project. “Are you related to the PM?” shot back the Mancunian O’Neill. It’s the way he tells ’em.

Talk has quietened in Westminster Labour ranks of a formal challenge to Corbyn since this year’s attempt backfired, but the Tories fear Lisa Nandy, should the leader fall under a solar-powered ecotruck selling recycled organic knitwear.

The Wigan warrior is enjoying favourable reviews for her forensic examination of the troubled inquiry into historic child sex abuse. After Nandy put May on the spot, the Tory three-piece suit Alec Shelbrooke was overheard muttering: “I hope she never runs for leader.” Anna Soubry and Nicky Morgan, the Thelma and Louise of Tory opposition to Mayhem, were observed nodding in agreement.

Select committee elections are like speed dating. “Who are you?” inquired Labour’s Kevan Jones (Granite Central)of a stranger seeking his vote. She explained that she was Victoria Borwick, the Tory MP for Kensington, but that didn’t help. “This is the first time you’ve spoken to me,” Jones continued, “so the answer’s no.” The aloof Borwick lost, by the way.

Ed Miliband is joining Labour’s relaunched Tribune Group of MPs to continue his political convalescence. Next stop: the shadow cabinet?

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 27 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, American Rage