Now is the time to see how the Slack Parenting approach has paid off. Photo: Getty
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I never wept with pride when I held my newborns. But I’m thrilled they still want to see me

That my children actually want to see me, after years of my not even remotely bursting into tears of pride whenever I contemplated them, is one of the nicest surprises that this existence has granted to me.

An email from M--- at the Independent on Sunday. M--- used to be my editor on that paper until I got a phone call from the Actual Editor, John Mullin, telling me he had “gone over the figures” and decided that, after ten years of living high on the hog as its radio critic, I had driven the paper to the very edge of bankruptcy and only replacing me with the guy who brought round the sandwiches was going to restore its AAA credit rating. (Now that the paper is owned by a billionaire, I suppose these days the sandwiches are brought round on silver salvers by liveried flunkies, and that even the flunkies have flunkies to actually hand the sandwiches over. That’s what it’s like, right, when you’re owned by a billionaire?)

But I digress. I always liked M--- and never tainted him by association with the Mullin regime. What he wants is for me to do something for them for Father’s Day about my children. For many years I wrote a column for another paper called Slack Dad, in which I offered anti-parenting advice for its family pages, the idea being that there were quite enough writers offering idealised advice to be getting on with, and that there was surely room for the kind of person who did not, upon holding his newborn infant, burst into tears and declare this the proudest day of his life.

Note: I am being gender-specific here. Men who are proud of having done little more than ejaculated into someone nine months beforehand, and have had zero influence so far on the resulting baby, have a funny idea of what pride means. And for what it’s worth, my time in the delivery room during Mrs Lezard’s first labour was spent just out of reach of her nails – which had been beginning to dig into my thigh painfully – reading the cricket reports from Australia and wondering if I could get away with calling the child Darren if it was a boy. (Footnote for non-sporty people: there was a bowler in the England team called Darren Gough, who was one of the few players that supporters weren’t in some way ashamed of.)

Since then I have had time to see how the Slack Parenting approach has paid off. The experiment is nearing its close – or rather, the close of its first stage, when the children reach majority. They are evenly spaced in age – 13, 17 and 19 – which may give the impression that some kind of master plan was at work, but as far as I’m concerned, they are all acts of God.

As it is, the children have been featuring more, rather than less, in my life recently. One of the things about depression, or the low-level version of it that I have, which might as well be called “melancholy”, is that you don’t go out and see anyone any more. But you can’t, thank goodness, get out of seeing your children. So it turns out that they’re the people I’ve been seeing the most of ever since the B went off to Sweden.

The youngest didn’t want to go on a holiday with the others so elected to stay with me in the Hovel. It was great, and I learned that Star Trek II: the Wrath of Khan is an even better film than I remember it being. The middle one pops in every week after classes round the corner and gives me sage advice on the unwisdom of using this column to settle scores or nurse grudges. And the eldest just turns up when she feels like it, because at least she knows when she comes here she’ll have someone to sit up chatting with until 2am with a glass of wine or two to help the conversation. My, how tall the middle child is!

So, that my children actually want to see me, after years of my not even remotely bursting into tears of pride whenever I contemplated them, is one of the nicest surprises that this existence has granted to me. It also represents a salve to the bitterness of the past few years. There are many cruelties involved in divorce, or separation, or whatever you want to call it or define it as: and the cruellest is seeing your children only every two weeks.

It is a matter of deep grief and pain, to the point where I forcibly shrug the thought away the second it occurs to me, that the youngest is coming to an age when he will have been alive longer with me as a distant parent than as someone living in the same home as him.

Then again, it is maybe this lack of continual presence that has contrived to present me, to their minds, as a desirable occasional alternative to the official family home. Perhaps; but at what a price.

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 14 May 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Why empires fall

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Why isn't Labour putting forward Corbynite candidates?

Despite his successes as a candidate, the organisational victories have gone the way of Corbyn's opponents. 

The contest changes, but the result remains the same: Jeremy Corbyn’s preferred candidate defeated in a parliamentary selection. Afzhal Khan is Labour’s candidate in the Manchester Gorton by-election and the overwhelming favourite to be the seat’s next MP.

Although Khan, an MEP, was one of  the minority of Labour’s European MPs to dissent from a letter from the European parliamentary Labour party calling for Jeremy Corbyn to go in the summer of 2016, he backed Andy Burnham and Tom Watson in 2015, and it is widely believed, fairly or unfairly, that Khan had, as one local activist put it, “the brains to know which way the wind was blowing” rather than being a pukka Corbynite.

For the leader’s office, it was a double defeat;  their preferred candidate, Sam Wheeler, was kept off the longlist, when the party’s Corbynsceptics allied with the party’s BAME leadership to draw up an all ethnic minority shortlist, and Yasmine Dar, their back-up option, was narrowly defeated by Khan among members in Manchester Gorton.

But even when the leadership has got its preferred candidate to the contest, they have been defeated. That even happened in Copeland, where the shortlist was drawn up by Corbynites and designed to advantage Rachel Holliday, the leader’s office preferred candidate.

Why does the Labour left keep losing? Supporters combination of bad luck and bad decisions for the defeat.

In Oldham West, where Michael Meacher, a committed supporter of Jeremy Corbyn’s, was succeeded by Jim McMahon, who voted for Liz Kendall, McMahon was seen to be so far ahead that they had no credible chance of stopping him. Rosena Allin-Khan was a near-perfect candidate to hold the seat of Tooting: a doctor at the local hospital, the seat’s largest employer, with links to both the Polish and Pakistani communities that make up the seat’s biggest minority blocs.  Gillian Troughton, who won the Copeland selection, is a respected local councillor.

But the leadership has also made bad decisions, some claim.  The failure to get a candidate in Manchester Gorton was particularly egregious, as one trade unionist puts it: “We all knew that Gerald was not going to make it [until 2020], they had a local boy with good connections to the trade unions, that contest should have been theirs for the taking”. Instead, they lost control of the selection panel because Jeremy Corbyn missed an NEC meeting – the NEC is hung at present as the Corbynsceptics sacrificed their majority of one to retain the chair – and with it their best chance of taking the seat.

Others close to the leadership point out that for the first year of Corbyn’s leadership, the leader’s office was more preoccupied with the struggle for survival than it was with getting more of its people in. Decisions in by-elections were taken on the hop and often in a way that led to problems later down the line. It made sense to keep Mo Azam, from the party’s left, off the shortlist in Oldham West when Labour MPs were worried for their own seats and about the Ukip effect if Labour selected a minority candidate. But that enraged the party’s minority politicians and led directly to the all-ethnic-minority shortlist in Manchester Gorton.

They also point out that the party's councillor base, from where many candidates are drawn, is still largely Corbynsceptic, though they hope that this will change in the next round of local government selections. (Councillors must go through a reselection process at every election.)

But the biggest shift has very little to do with the Labour leadership. The big victories for the Labour left in internal battles under Ed Miliband were the result of Unite and the GMB working together. Now they are, for various reasons, at odds and the GMB has proven significantly better at working shortlists and campaigning for its members to become MPs.  That helps Corbynsceptics. “The reason why so many of the unions supported Jeremy the first time,” one senior Corbynite argues, “Is they wanted to move the Labour party a little bit to the left. They didn’t want a socialist transformation of the Labour party. And actually if you look at the people getting selected they are not Corbynites, but they are not Blairites either, and that’s what the unions wanted.”

Regardless of why, it means that, two years into Corbyn’s leadership, the Labour left finds itself smaller in parliament than it was at the beginning.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.