I have always considered swimming a left-wing activity, probably because it's cheap (potentially cheaper than not swimming, since you don't need clothes), and because our public swimming pools represent municipal virtue.
Certainly my local pool was, in my mid-teens, an oasis of healthiness amid a litter of crisp packets, stubbed out Embassy Regals, and other manifestations of my sordid adolescence. This pool was overseen by a monosyllabic lifeguard who was about the most suntanned man in York (not saying much, admittedly) and patrolled the pool in what I believe is called a singlet – anyhow, a garment custom-made to show off his superb physique. I found it highly impressive that any creature so exotic could be on the council payroll.
A public pool is one place where we really are "all in it together", whereas a private pool is the ultimate symbol of personal wealth. Some rich people near us have their own pool, so a feature of any beautiful summer's day in all the gardens roundabout is the sound of their excited dive bombing, splashing and screaming.
I therefore found it disturbing that the coalition Government should have announced last week the end of free swimming for pensioners and the under-16s. Actually no: "disturbing" is the wrong word. The two right ones would be more like... secretly gratifying. Still more gratifying was the announcement, in the same package of spending cuts, of the cancellation of a loan of £80m to Sheffield Forgemasters, a 200-year-old company that would have used the money to expand into the business of making castings for the new generation of nuclear power stations.
Allow me to explain.
When David Cameron and Nick Clegg gave that press conference in the Downing Street garden to announce the formation of the coalition, and Cameron was reminded that he'd once called Clegg his "favourite joke", he (Cameron) very winningly blushed and laughed, and so did I, watching him on television, at which point I immediately looked around the room to make sure nobody had seen me do it.
Here was I, Old Labour since the age of four, apart from a short stint in the Young Communist League when I was 15 (I was Wolfie Smith, basically)... and there was a Conservative leader, and I was practically falling in love with him. He seemed to be set on consummating the affair as well, because his government immediately announced the cancellation of ID cards (I was certainly against them), and of Home Information Packs, and the third runway at Heathrow. (To explain further, I was worried about HIPs because we were thinking of selling our house, partly to get out from under the Heathrow flightpath before the new runway was built.)
But I would now like the gossip columnists to know that it's all off between me and Cameron. It wasn't so much the free swimming as the Forgemasters business. If there's one thing more romantic to a man of my mind than a municipal swimming pool, it's a heavy industrial concern in the North of England. At the word "Forgemasters", the Cameron spell was broken, and I suddenly saw that he runs a government of over-privileged PR men who are going to inflict pain on the North, on public services, on the less well-off in general, in order to fund cuts in income tax.
Last month, I was musing that Ed Balls had a much worse haircut than Clegg or Cameron; that he was a relic of an era of graceless, over-wrought government. An hour ago, I signed his petition against a VAT rise. If anyone sees me smiling at Cameron again, they have my permission to clout me smartly on the back of the head.Reuse content