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Home > Politics

Everybody Needs Good Neighbours

19 January 2007

'They fuck you up, your mum and dad / They may not mean to but they do' wrote Philip Larkin. Exactly how much they fucked up a witty and brilliant poet who also happened to be his own worst enemy is open to question, but there appears to some truth in the statement, at least if you heard what Gordon Brown had to say this week.

This is what Gordon claimed his father said to him:

'My father used to say to me, how do you want to be remembered? He said you might think you want to be remembered for status or money or wealth or owning this or that or being a celebrity or having power or whatever. But... you want it to be remembered that you were a good parent and a good son or daughter, you were a good neighbour... and that you genuinely believe led in neighbourliness.'

Did he really say that, Gordon? Even allowing for generous paraphrasing, did he really? It's about as likely as claiming that your father told you 'Character is destiny' or 'The road of excess leads to the palace of hangovers'. It's too pat, too calculated. Anyone with a dad, and that's technically all of us, is more likely to recall the following dad conversations:

'I should've put the paint brushes in a bit of turps - they've gone solid.'

'I think there's a dead bird in the water tank.'

'I'll hold the ladder - you can go up it.'

[When drunk] 'I always preferred your mum's sister.'

The moral and intellectual void in which what most dads think is in no way instructive or useful, and, as you may have guessed, Brown's speech was really about being good neighbours. New Labour loves this sort of thing; in the absence of genuine policies, they try to gee us all up with ideas about Communities and Responsibility and suchlike. It's surely only a matter of time before some New Labour wonk comes up with an initiative entitled 'The Power of Sharing'.

What gives the lie to this sort of emo waffle is the fact that no sane person actually wants any contact with their neighbours. Genuinely bad neighbours, with their bull terriers, histrionic sex and atrocious taste in loud music are the sort of people you'd happily kill with a screwdriver while feeling the same levels of remorse as Ted Bundy. The very best neighbours are the sort of people you can leave a spare set of keys with, lend the odd DVD to, and have an occasional sensible chat with, before they (hopefully) fuck off and keep themselves to themselves, just like you're trying to do.

But not according to Gordon Brown. His dad instilled in him the value of 'neighbourliness', apparently. In which case we can only feel pity; it can't be easy being raised by a New Labour think tank.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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