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Black Holes


Yesterday I mentioned some of the various bizarre, horse-tradey outcomes which might arise from a super-close electoral result. Here’s one of my favourites: that the Tories win either 323 or 324 seats. This result would leave them one or two short, because there are 650 seats so the winning line for a majority is 325. Except that because the five current (and presumably future) Sinn Féin MPs don’t take up their seats in Westminster, the winning line for a majority in the Commons is in fact 323 seats. 1991, IRA lands a mortar in the garden of Downing Street during Cabinet meeting; 2010, political wing of IRA ensures that the Tories have a functioning Parliamentary majority. That strange ghostly noise is Michael Collins and Éamon de Valera either laughing or turning in their graves, it’s hard to tell.

In other news, both the Guardian and the Observer have come out with editorials endorsing the Lib Dems. The Sunday Times has an editorial endorsing the Tories, and in the process pays a tribute to Labour’s ‘achievements’:

It stood shoulder to shoulder with America when the world was threatened by terrorism; it gave the Bank of England independence; it did not cave in to the unions and reverse Margaret Thatcher’s reforms; it recognised the importance of entrepreneurial culture and handled the banking crisis well.

That list, I suspect, will remind quite a few people why they can’t face voting for Labour again.

The one I’m most interested in is the FT. The paper has done more than any other to expose the gap between the parties’s announced fiscal plans and what they are going to have to do in office. It puts the gap, for all three parties, at around £30 billion. That amount is a black hole, one which is going to suck in all surrounding political life for the entire course of the Parliament. So if and when the FT comes out with an endorsement, it will be picking which particular flavour of black hole it prefers. Or maybe black holes don’t have flavours?

Comments on “Black Holes”

  1. LorenzoStDuBois says:

    Just want to thank Mr. Lanchester for his wonderful coverage of the election. This American has only been to England once and has a very tenuous grasp on British politics, but I find that by checking in at this blog by now I feel very conversant.

    And as I discovered not so long ago, Mr. Lanchester sure knows how to write.

  2. A.J.P. Crown says:

    According to the MOD, Britain’s defence spending is around £36.9 billion this year. Norway’s is about £3.6 billion. What does Britain get for the extra money? Nothing, as far as I can see. Norway even has soldiers getting killed in Afghanistan for its £3.6 billion. If Britain just scaled back its military spending to slightly above Norwegian levels (what do you need besides the changing of the guard and a few young men with assault rifles at the airports?), there’s your £30 billion.

  3. Camus123 says:

    Agree with Lorenzo! I’ve been reading you commentaries on the banks and their games with great interest. Must buy that book. What A.J.P. Crown (Do the initials give us a hint – the crown bit stumps me though.) writes is logical enough – you just don’t understand OUR role as guardians of the world peace along with our friends in America. That’s why Clegg is dead right on the nuclear ‘Deterrent’ – who the hell it’s supposed to deter – or was it meant to scare Hussian?

  4. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Agree with Lorenzo too. Thank you very much for doing this, John Lanchester, you are the absolute best & I’m going to buy all your books.

    123 — or may I call you Camus? — call me Arthur; the initials don’t have anything to do with AJP Taylor. Anyway, thank you very much for noticing my comment. If I were in England I’d vote for Clegg, and I’m not joking about the £30 billion. Thirty billion divided by a population of sixty million is five hundred pounds for every man, woman and child in the country per year. If you asked people “Do you want Britain to be a world power?”, they might say yes. If you then asked them and every member of their family to pay five hundred quid for it, every year, they might say they’d rather spend the money on something more useful.

  5. Paul Taylor says:

    Re Black Holes: in case any LRB readers have been missing the election commentary provided by http://twitter.com/reelmolesworth, this quote is one of my favourites:

    CLEGG also want govt to come clene on the dimensions of the BLACK HOLE. it hav 1 dimension it is a singularite as any fule kno

  6. Thomas Jones says:

    The FT’s come out in favour of the Tories:

    Britain needs a stable and legitimate government to navigate its fiscal crisis and punch its weight abroad. On balance, the Conservative party best fits the bill.

    The Institute for Fiscal Studies, however, suggests that the Tories will increase inequality and socio-economic hardship without doing any more than the other parties to fill the black hole:

    The Conservatives propose to offset about a third of Labour’s pre-announced net ‘takeaway’ with tax cuts, paid for predominantly by deeper cuts to spending on public services than planned by Labour.


    The Conservative proposals would make the net ‘takeaway’ somewhat less progressive, reducing the losses of households at the top of the income distribution proportionately more than those at the bottom.

    And yet:

    The Conservative plans imply total borrowing of £604 billion over the next seven years, compared with £643 billion under Labour or the Liberal Democrats. Assuming no further change in borrowing beyond 2017–18, we project that the Conservative plans would return government debt below 40% of national income in 2031–32, the same year as it would under Labour or the Liberal Democrats.

  7. marshmallow says:

    So that’s the FT and the Economist voting Tory. I had lunch with a Blairite Economics professor last week and even he is voting Tory. It seems that they have ‘won’ the economic argument.

    Ladbrokes are offering evens on the Conservatives winning an overall majority so not much value there.

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