I write this from a rented house in Southwold, the Suffolk coastal town braced for the arrival of Mr Brown – "that's Mr Brown, the Prime Minister", as I heard one quavery lady explaining to another outside the Sailors' Reading Room. Mr Brown has chosen – or been advised – to take a British seaside holiday, to show solidarity with the impoverished voters. As he walks around this pretty, historic place, relaxing and being photographed by a hundred mobile phones, what lessons might he learn?
He will quickly see why Southwold is called Hampstead-on-Sea. Around now, the City boys are checking in with the caretakers of their second homes, in the town's pubs. "Have we managed to do anything about the crows on the TV aerial, Tom?" I heard a well-spoken man ask. By "we", of course, he meant "you". Might Mr Brown see in this relationship an example of the service economy of which he is proud? Or is it the creation of another servant class? From my researches, the No 1 message that Southwold would like to send Mr Brown is: '"Will you please stop the super rich from buying up our town?"
Mr Brown will note that no 9pm youth curfew is required in Southwold. The invigorating air ensures that people of all ages spontaneously go to bed about then. And there is approximately one crime a week here, although Mr Brown may observe a young boy walking around wringing his hands, moaning, 'Not in Southwold... not in Southwold!' That will be my son, who was the victim of last week's offence. His bag was stolen from the beach, not that a friendly local policewoman could believe it: "Bound to turn up soon!" One local attributed the rarity of such events to the fact that "there's only one road into and out of this place... whereas in London there's nothing but escape roads". (And on that one exit there is a police station.)
There is certainly no 24-hour drinking in Southwold, and knife crime hereabouts is when one of the City boys puts a Sabatier in the dishwasher on the hot setting. (Does the handles no good at all, you know).
According to Pevsner, Southwold has "hardly a building that is a visual nuisance", and indeed the main aspect of public life in the town is the putting forward of tasteful planning applications, which will be stamped "rejected". Mr Brown's reform of the planning laws will fast-track the building of monstrosities. Its chief aim is to allow the building of nuclear power stations rather than obtrusive rear extensions, but it seems to be the prospect of the latter that bothers Southwold more than the threat of another nuclear power station alongside the one down the coast at Sizewell. Even so, nobody swims near Sizewell, and Mr Brown had better not raise the subject. He will also learn that the term "post office" is loaded with tension, since the closure of the one at the next village, Reydon, went down very badly. Southwold's own post office survives. He will see that it is full of jolly people sending jolly postcards, and is cacophonous with merry "Good mornings" or "Good afternoons".
"Mr Brown can't learn anything here," one local told me. "It's completely unreal." I trust the people of Southwold will not begrudge Mr Brown his respite from reality.Reuse content