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There’s no way I’ll be jamming in the small hours with that Tory MP again

Today I am in frisky mood, for I am packing my bags to go on holiday for the first time since a long weekend in Paris at the beginning of May. The last time I had been on holiday before that was to Cornwall, two years ago almost to the week; it was one of those great relationship-wrecking vacances that make you question the wisdom of leaving your postcode, let alone London, for months afterwards. And the time before that? A year earlier, another long weekend in Paris. So, in other words, I have had about 20 days of holidays in three years. And as I had had no holiday since being kicked out by the wife in 2007, make that 20 days in five years.

“So what?” I hear you yawn. “Why are you telling us this?” And some of the more perceptive and nasty-minded among you may be thinking: “Hang on, it’s not as if your days in London are days of unrelieved and mis­- erable toil.”

Good morning blues

Look, it’s the principle of the thing, OK? And the reason I am thinking about the principle of the thing is that the place I am going to, the castle in Scotland I mentioned last December, is also the place where I met the Conservative MP for Kingswood, Mr Chris Skidmore, and, to my lasting mortification, jammed with him on guitar in the small hours of the morning, when we were both, it must be admitted, in drink to a certain degree.

Now, I am sure that Mr Skidmore (whose name, it must be said, lends itself with almost indecent ease to vulgar parody but I shall try to resist the impulse) is probably as embarrassed at having consorted with me as I am at having played a fumbling version of the 12-bar blues with him. It is an episode we would both happily consign to the oubliette of our respective consciences.

But I couldn’t do this once his name popped up in the London Evening Standard a couple of weeks ago, as one of five Tory MPs who have written a book called Britannia Unchained, which makes, among other ludicrous claims, the offensive and easily refuted suggestion that British workers are “among the worst idlers in the world”. “We work among the lowest hours, we retire early and our productivity is poor,” they write.

A nice try, with that “we”, to let us imagine that they consider themselves part of the problem, too. But no: that “we” means “you”. Or, perhaps, “they”. (Then again, it begs a certain question when you consider that it has taken five of them to write a book, when, most of the time, one author is considered sufficient.)

Elsewhere in this magazine I am confident that there are commentators who have taken the disgusting and blinkered position that these self-seeking, unwitting self-parodists have chosen to adopt and torn it a new hole. It is not the job of this column, after all, to take on political battles except to wave a supportive flag from the sidelines from time to time. (Very tangential note: I noticed, beside the queue for the tills at Waitrose the other day, a basket filled with plastic Union Jacks. The packs say they contain “four waving flags”. Why is this so upsetting? The idea that someone thinks that the public might, instead of waving them, flap them in a languorous and melancholy manner or stick them up their bottoms?) But now: this is personal.

Digging the dirt

My first joke was to say: so, Chris Skidmore has said we’re lazy, has he? I’ll fix his wagon, when I can be arsed. Well, I now can be arsed, so I asked around to see if anyone had any dirt on him. I didn’t have to ask very far: the Beloved went to university with him but he seems to have got a double First and has, since then, written a couple of books – on his own, even. Close personal observation suggests that he shines his shoes, without the aid of a valet, with greater assiduity and frequency than I shine mine. He brushes his hair and ties his tie more neatly than I do mine. His parliamentary record, if you ignore the things that come out of his mouth and the side of the building he sits on, is exemplary.

This, in the end, is not the point. Even if British workers were idle – which they’re not; it’s their employers who ease their lives by paying less tax and fewer British employees – his remarks would be offensive, for the nature of most of their jobs demands a certain amount of disdain simply for the preservation of their human dignity. So if he thinks he’ll ever get to jam with me in the wee hours of the morning in a Tayside castle, Chris Skidmark MP can ruddy well think again.

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.