New Times,
New Thinking.

  1. Diary
2 July 2024

As the campaign draws to an end, it’s time to lay down my pen

Also this week: The far right’s rabid dogs, and Labour vs my garden trowel.

By Sasha Swire

How am I feeling? Not that any of you reading this really care. I feel like a big fat turkey, wings clipped, rendering me flightless and forlorn. I am aware of my fate yet unable to escape my looming destiny, which is to be plucked and prepared for Labour’s upcoming Budget banquet; someone or something is about to enter my coop and take everything I’ve got.

One of Labour’s flirtations is with a land-value tax, more commonly known as the “garden tax”. They clearly consider access to land or owning it a privilege, and a garden an unfair extravagance. I have spent ten years nurturing my Devon walled garden in what I thought was a neutral, politically free space. No more, it seems. Very soon, as they do now in Wales, drones instead of bees will be buzzing over my dahlias so that property values can be calculated through mathematical and statistical modelling based on data inputs, including plot sizes – or do I mean pot sizes?

“There’s no other way,” my husband tells me. “We will have to turn the garden into farmland and plant potatoes instead of peonies so we can feed the deserving masses.”

Look, I know “half of” Labour “don’t know what a woman is”. What they really don’t know is what will befall them if they come between an Englishwoman of a certain age and her garden trowel. If they thought managing JK was challenging, just wait! The whole of the RHS’s membership will soon be raining down on them as well.

A mansion commune

Mansion tax is another fear. My elderly parents live in London like the dispossessed members of a 1918 Russian family, huddled around a brazier in one of the few rooms allocated to them within their grand, now communal, mansion. My father was a banker in the Eighties when London was turned into a global financial hub; he bought the house decades ago, and we all piled in. He is now in his nineties and lives like a shadow of his previous self, enduring the noise and chaos of three generations of his family who can’t afford their own mortgages. He tries very hard to cling to remnants of his lost status and dignity amid all the revolutionary upheaval in his home. An ex-politician himself, he tells me he already gives about 70 per cent of his income to the state in various forms. It doesn’t surprise him that it will soon be coming for his house as well; it’s about all he’s got left.

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X-rated material

I did dip my big toe into what can only be described as the dirty pond of X during the election campaign. Just one tweet, one. It was a caption to a picture with strong Peaky Blinders vibes featuring a triangle of hard-looking men led by Nigel Farage. My caption read: “White, men, elections, Reform.” Half an hour later, I had 80,000 views, 86 likes and 278 retweets, which is a record for me as I’m not very active on the platform. The response was as if all the online far right’s snarling rabid dogs had been let loose, and their frenzied howls were echoing through the dark tunnels of social media, driven by a terrifying, uncontrollable xenophobic rage. St George flags were waving, men calling me racist (yes, me!), and it just went on and on and on, all through the night and the next day.

“White boy summer.” 

“Let’s f**king go.”

“White, women, ruin, everything.”

“Race traitor.”

“Hard times create strong men.”

“Cool, now do Africa.”

“England for the English.”

“F**k yes! Let’s goooooo!”

By the evening, I was so sick of it I had put out another tweet to stop them: “Just captioning a picture. Calm down, chaps! Pub’s open.”

And still, they came for me…

“Women shouldn’t have opinions about politics.”

“Shut up, bitch.”

Back in Reform HQ, it appeared their officers were getting concerned about what my tweet had unleashed and told some of their keyboard warriors to help rein it in. Suddenly, a lot of people were writing the same thing: “That’s a cool photo thanks for sharing.” Modern campaigning is scarily all about hidden voices now, like the wind, shaping the landscape without ever being seen.

A Bridgerton too far

Once the election campaign is over, I’m giving up political diary writing. I’ve charted the fall then rise and fall again of the Conservative Party since 1997, and the time has finally come to lay down my pen. The upside?

My husband can now stop calling me Lady Whistledown.

[See also: As anti-Semitism surges, tolerance resurfaces at unexpected moments]

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This article appears in the 02 Jul 2024 issue of the New Statesman, Labour’s Britain