Show Hide image

Should I give up and marry a banker?

Alice O'Keeffe's "Squeezed Middle" column.

I mean, it makes me think – should I just give up and marry a bloody banker?” Lizzie furrows her brow and swirls her wine furiously around the glass. I almost choke on my moussaka. These are not words that I ever expected to hear issuing from my best friend’s lips. This is the girl who shares her squatted studio space with a shaman; who stays true to her anti-private-property principles by constantly nicking my clothes. The day Lizzie marries a banker is the day the final nail is banged into the coffin of the hippie dream.

I have cooked Lizzie a wholesome meal because her heart is broken. She has just split up with her boyfriend – a glorious, penniless man with whom she spent several happy years hitchhiking around India, skinny-dipping in reservoirs and attending festivals wearing fully anatomically correct monkey suits. But she’s 33 now and she’s begun to feel the fear.

“I know I should want to bring up my family in a tepee in Wales,” she sniffs. “But the older I get, the more I realise . . . I just don’t.” The problem with the hippie dream is that at some point it bumps up against the hippie reality, which is often cold, wet and poor. Even that might be all right for a while, as long as you were fairly confident that you’d be warm, dry and rich sometime in the future. You just really, really don’t want chilliness and poverty to become permanent features of your lifestyle choice.

Over dinner we are tackling the big question: who next? Does she bail completely on the hippie shit and plump for a stockbroker with a detached house in Surrey and a nice line in shiny suits? Or follow the path of true love, regardless of material considerations? I have had a couple of glasses of wine and find myself full of practical advice.

“If I had my time again,” I say philosophically, “I’d put money much further up the wish list. Of course, it’s nice to be in love, blah blah. But you might as well admit that a relationship is not just about soppy stuff, it’s an economic arrangement. Read Jane Austen: at least in those days they were upfront about it. Nowadays we are made to feel ashamed of wanting to marry a man who will take care of us materially.”

No sooner have the words left my mouth than a hideous thought occurs to me. What if Lizzie follows my advice and finds some stinking-rich sugar daddy who sorts her out with a terraced house in Islington with an open-plan kitchen and wisteria over the door? What if her kids get to go to private school and learn debating and Latin, while my state-educated brood is left semi-literate and unemployable?

What if she’s able to give up paid employment and dedicate her time to art and charitable works?

It would be more than I could bear. The comforting knowledge that Lizzie is even broker than me is fundamental to my sanity.

I take another gulp of red and clear my throat. “On the other hand . . .”

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 01 April 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Easter Special Issue

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

David Cameron's speech: a hymn to liberalism from a liberated PM

The Prime Minister spoke with the confidence of a man who finally has a full mandate for his approach. 

At every one of his previous nine Conservative conference speeches, David Cameron has had to confront the doubters. Those Tories who rejected his modernisation of the party from the start. Those who judged it to have failed when he fell short of a majority in 2010. Those, including many in his own party, who doubted that he could improve on this performance in 2015. Today, rather than confronting the doubters, he was able to greet the grateful. As the first majority Conservative prime minister for 18 years, he rightly savoured his moment. "Why did all the pollsters and pundits get it so wrong?" he asked. "Because, fundamentally, they didn't understand the people who make up our country. The vast majority of people aren't obsessives, arguing at the extremes of the debate. Let me put it as simply as I can: Britain and Twitter are not the same thing." Labour should pin that line to its profile. 

With a full mandate for his approach, Cameron went on to deliver his most unashamedly liberal speech to date. Early on in his address, he spoke with pride of how "social justice, equality for gay people, tackling climate change, and helping the world's poorest" were now "at the centre of the Conservative Party's mission". A lengthy section on diversity, lamenting how "people with white-sounding names are nearly twice as likely to get call backs for jobs than people with ethnic-sounding names", was greeted with a standing ovation. Proof, if needed, of how Cameron has changed his party beyond recognition. The former special adviser to Michael Howard, who avowed that "prison works", told his audience that prison too often did not. "The system is still not working ... We have got to get away from the sterile lock-em-up or let-em-out debate, and get smart about this." From now on, he declared, the system, would "treat their [prisoners'] problems, educate them, put them to work." 

There were, of course, oversights and lacuna. Cameron reaffirmed his commitment to a budget surplus but glossed over the unprecedented, and many believe undeliverable, that will be required to achieve it (and which may fail to do so). He hailed the new "national living wage" with no mention of the tax credit cuts that will leave the same "strivers" worse off. His "affordable" starter homes will be unaffordable for average-earning families in 58 per cent of local areas. But it is a mark of Cameron's political abilities that it was easy to forget much of this as he spoke. Like George Osborne, he deftly appropriated the language of the left ("social justice", "opportunity", "diversity", "equality") to describe the policies of the right. Cameron is on a mission to claim ownership of almost every concept associated with Labour. The opposition should not sleep easily as he does so. 

There was little mention of Labour in the speech, and no mention of Jeremy Corbyn by name. But when the attack came, it was ruthlessly delivered. "Thousands of words have been delivered about the new Labour leader. But you only really need to know one thing: he thinks the death of Osama bin Laden was a 'tragedy'". The description of Corbyn as the "new Labour leader" shows the Tories' ambition to permanently contaminate the party, rather than merely the man.

There are plenty of potential landmines ahead for Cameron. The comically lukewarm applause for his defence of EU membership was a reminder of how divided his party is on this issue. But today, he spoke as a man liberated. Liberated by winning a majority. Liberated by not having to fight an election again. Like a second-term US president, he was able to speak of how he was entering "the second half of my time in this job". Tributes to Osborne (the "Iron Chancellor) and Boris Johnson (greeted with a remarkable standing ovation) alluded to the contest to come. But whoever succeeds him can be confident of assuming a party in good health - and more at ease with the modern world than many ever thought possible. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.