The Chewing Gum Election

John Lanchester · Esprit de l'escalier

Byron said that ‘it is a great affectation not to quote oneself’, but he never said anything about linking to your own pieces. Anyway, I’m going to do it here, because I wrote an op-ed in today’s Guardian revisiting some of the things I’ve written in the LRB and also on this blog. The theme is that unless the party leaders spell out some detail about the upcoming cuts, they won’t have a mandate to do the things they are going to have to do.

I mention this because I’ve had a severe case of esprit de l’escalier about the Guardian piece. In it I said this is the ‘Radio 6’ election, because people got their knickers in a gigantic twist about the planned cut to the station, in a way which makes it clear just how unprepared we all are for the scale of the havoc to come. (My knickers, by the way, are unrivalled in their twistiness. I love Radio 6.) I was groping for a metaphor for this and couldn’t quite find one, so left the piece where it was. At about four o’clock in the morning I woke up with the image in my head: in our predicament, minding about the loss of Radio 6 is like minding about having chewing gum on your shoe when you’re going into hospital to have both legs amputated.


  • 26 April 2010 at 7:24pm
    A.J.P. Crown says:
    Phantom chewing gum on the shoes can be a problem for amputees.

  • 27 April 2010 at 9:17am
    ski says:
    I see your point about the mandate. But you argue that the electorate is ready for teh truth. I wonder. I suspect the reason the party leaders are not mentioning the massive cuts is that they know that it would make them unelectable. Or in game theory: what if you declare you intention to cut but your opponent continues to promise nirvana. This may sound undemocratic, but electorates are indeed pretty stupid. I know that, I am from Ireland. We voted in the Ahern administration three times, the last time knowing the leader was mired in controvery. The electorate went into denial about the then imminent end of the celtic tiger. Now we are just one peg above Greece. Looking back further at the Irish experience. In 1987 we also faced massive fiscal correction but the winning party in the election of that year never set out their plans. They took power and began the biggest series of cuts in our history. The public quickly realised that this was a necessary evil and generally took the medicine. The same will happen inthe UK.

  • 27 April 2010 at 5:29pm
    pinhut says:
    "In it I said this is the ‘Radio 6’ election, because people got their knickers in a gigantic twist about the planned cut to the station"

    Come on! Don't compare the two. The BBC move was horrendously cynical, and was actually the opposite, it was about opposing cuts, not about where to cut. It would be equivalent to London Zoo saying they were running low on cash and so the pandas would have to be shot.

    And besides, the Tories have already run their poster, if people vote them into power behind a mandate to engage in the scourging of people on benefits, just as the economy crashes, we/they already know that they can go as low as they wish with this.

    All three parties remain committed to seeing through the successful rebuilding of the economy, the further improvement of political institutions, the promotion of women's rights and improved schools. Unfortunately, all of the above is in Afghanistan, but you can't have everything.

  • 28 April 2010 at 3:52pm
    simonpawley says:
    Initially, I thought this wasn't a very apt comparison; having thought about it, it might be, although perhaps not quite in the way you intended.

    I don't think the BBC really needed to save money (or, they didn't think they did); they were playing a different game of trying to make 'token' cuts in order to prevent having the license-fee rate slashed. If they really needed to save money, I think they could close BBC3 without much complaint at all (well, less complaint than there was about 6Music, and they'd be saving ten times as much money).

    So why might this be a good analogy after all? Well it seems to parallel the debate about government spending cuts, in some ways. We can perhaps only go on the basis that anything that hasn't been ringfenced is set to be slashed, but it seems as though Labour and the Tories are determined to cut a lot of things that people will really notice, but not something like Trident, about which I don't think there'd be much of an uproar, and would save a lot of money (admittedly in the long run). I should say that (although they would probably scrap Trident), the Lib Dems are no more convincing - yesterday's reports from the IFS show that their plans would mean fewer cuts over the next parliament, leaving more to do in 2015-2018, simply prolonging the pain (and by 2018, we could easily be in to another global economic downturn, so leaving the hard work for later might lead us in to a real mess).