Episode Eight: Unicorns

John Lanchester

I’m having trouble suspending my disbelief at the Labour manifesto. The party promises that it will:

Cut the deficit every year
Raise the state pension by whichever is the highest of inflation, average earnings or 2.5 per cent
Protect spending on health, education and foreign aid
Hire an additional 8000 GPs, 20,000 nurses and 3000 midwives
‘Guarantee people a GP appointment within 48 hours, and on the same day for those who need it’
Reduce tuition fees
Not raise basic or higher rate income tax, or VAT, or National Insurance
Give every child a free unicorn
Make rich people, tax avoiders and non-doms pay for it all

I made up one of those promises. If you’re trying to guess which is fictional, here’s a clue: not the most unlikely.


  • 14 April 2015 at 12:30pm
    Phil Edwards says:
    I think it is the most unlikely, considering that it's a factual impossibility.

    Anything about economic growth in there? As I understood it Labour's secret weapon was going to be a quiet return to Keynes, on the basis that five years of X% of Y will pay for an awful lot more if Y is larger every year. Shame if they're keeping it so quiet they're not going to tell anyone.

    But "we can't afford decent services" is and always has been a Tory line, adopted for public consumption to justify an ideologically-driven attack on the public sector. The question isn't whether it's possible for Labour to deliver, it's whether they will the means.

    • 14 April 2015 at 2:07pm
      Colin says: @ Phil Edwards
      Well I liked the joke...

  • 14 April 2015 at 6:52pm
    streetsj says:
    Can the unicorn go in a junior ISA?

  • 15 April 2015 at 2:04pm
    rupert moloch says:
    Well it'll certainly attract the support of unicorn breeders. Their industry has been in the doldrums for years.

  • 15 April 2015 at 2:05pm
    rupert moloch says:
    Better yet, why not nationalise unicorn breeding?

  • 15 April 2015 at 3:05pm
    Timothy Rogers says:
    How does "protecting spending on foreign aid" fit into the overall idea of protecting spending on existing domestic programs designed "to share the wealth" and produce more fairness and social justice? I just don't get it. "Justice at home" may have to mean parsimony abroad.
    Also, how much would the defense budget have to be cut in order to fund the health-care hiring expansion and the reduction of tuition? If it can be done, it should be done, though it would violate phony pieties that cluster around the holiest of holies ("national security", of course) like flies on dung.

  • 16 April 2015 at 2:17pm
    gcsmith says:
    maybe they're not going to renew trident? that would pay for a few unicorns

  • 19 April 2015 at 12:03pm
    Olaf Olsen says:
    The fantasy of making the rich pay is very droll, but the word Lanchester wants is fictitious, not fictional. Sorry to be petty.

  • 19 April 2015 at 9:10pm
    John-Albert says:
    Making the rich pay? There's an idea. We've never done that on this side of the water.

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