It’s that time of year when children agonize over their present list. The lucky ones get to visit Santa’s grotto to tell him in person what they want for Christmas. Our party leaders have been especially keen to meet Santa this year with a General election coming up. Their conversations have not gone quite as they hoped. When Santa came to Westminster he was in an argumentative mood. I have obtained a transcript for greater accuracy.
First to arrive was Nicola Sturgeon. She thought Christmas was going to be early this year so she did not want to miss her big ask. As so often, the person who had the furthest to travel got there before the start. When Santa saw her, she said:
” What I would like for Christmas is an increased SNP membership, clear leadership in the Scottish polls, and the certainty that we can win all the seats in Scotland in the General Election. That’s all I want for Christmas. It’s not asking a lot, as I lead the only party that has Scottish in its name, and the only party which really cares about my country. We need this to stop all those English MPs going back on their word over Home Rule.”
Santa looked cross, and replied:
“Last year I gave you the wonderful present you had been asking for, a referendum on Scottish independence. You didn’t look after that present and managed to lose the vote. What you are now proposing is I should give you effectively the same present again this year in the hope that you could look after it better.
“If I grant your wish all your SNP MPs will claim they now have every right to independence because they have just won an election campaigning for Out. I have to ask you to think again, and try and find a present you would like which matches with the settled will of the Scottish people to stay within the Union”
Next to arrive, fresh from a pub in Thanet, was Nigel Farage. He had decided to be moderate in his requests in the hope that Santa would be kindly to him. As he spoke, however, the significance of the moment and the opportunity started to overtake him:
“Hi there Santa. You’re doing a great job. I don’t want to make your life too difficult. So all I want for Christmas is momentum going in to the General election. You know the sort of thing – a few good opinion polls, the odd Tory defection. You see I reckon I need just 30 seats in the Commons to make me the third largest party. Then I can decide who the Prime Minister should be, and require him to hold a referendum, and then get us out of the EU and then we can close our borders, and then everyone will be so grateful to UKIP we will be on a roll…”
Santa was dumbfounded by the gap between the ambition and the current polls and Parliamentary forces of Mr Farage. So he said in a friendly but slightly patronising way:
“Well Mr Farage last year I gave you exactly that same present. You have had two defections, some good opinion polls and you came first in the European elections which I thought were your best opportunity to make your point. What have you and your colleagues managed to do for the UK now you are the largest UK party at Brussels?
“What single law have you stopped or expenditure have you cancelled? What progress have you made on changing the UK’s border arrangements? If I granted your wish, how do I know that you would be any part of a new government, and that you could carry out the things you promise? I think you need to choose a more suitable present, that is not the same as last year.
By now The Deputy Prime Minister was getting angry, because he was having to wait outside whilst Santa talked to Mr Farage . It seemed like salt in the wounds of the Clegg/Farage debates, which some had dared say Mr Farage had won. His wait came on top of poll after poll showing UKIP well ahead of the Lib Dems in the fight for one of the minor places in the next Parliament. At last he was told Santa would see him. Mr Clegg asked
“I don’t want to ask for much for myself this Christmas. I would just like you to make sure the British people understand how difficult it has been for my party in this coalition. You know, we are not the sort of people who believe in cutting welfare or other spending. We do not like having to keep public sector pay and pensions down.
“We would be much happier imposing new taxes on the rich, but the Tories wouldn’t let us do any of these things, We only went along with all this because we thought it was grown up and responsible to help form a government, but we do think it would be very unfair if people thought we were to blame for anything the public thought was wrong.”
Santa appeared dismissive as he came to reply. “I cannot possibly give you such a valuable present. Of course all political leaders would dearly love to be absolved of all blame for what they and their parties have done, but the whole point of democracy is they have to stand or fall by what they did. It certainly helps them if what they did squares with what they said, but that is all too rare these days.It was your Dr Cable that put through the unpopular tuition fees proposal when you had all promised the opposite in the election.
“It was your Mr Davey who pressed on with dear energy, making it difficult for families to pay their power bills. It was you yourself who wasted so much time on constitutional changes which the public did not want. Your whole party said they would help get the deficit down, now they all want to distance themselves from any difficult decisions. Think again, Mr Clegg, about a present appropriate to your straitened circumstances”
Ed arrived just as Nick was being shown the door by Santa’s helpers. They exchanged a nervous hello as Ed checked to make sure he was next.
In the grotto Ed said:
“Thanks for seeing me today Santa. I have had a rough few weeks, what with a difficult visit to Scotland and then that photo of all those English flags. I just want you to know we are a good lot really, and just want to get back into power so we can make everything just right again with some proper public spending. So my present is not really for me, it’s for the public. You see I would like my Christmas present this year to be having a go as Prime Minister. Can you fix it for me?”
Santa looked grave. He replied:
“I do not fix things for people. That idea came to a sticky end. I have to decide what presents to bring people. They can ask me for their favourites, but it is not always right or possible to give them what they want. I don’t suppose you will be the only one this Christmas who wants to be Prime Minister. I’m not saying it is impossible, but it’s not going to be easy. It would help me if you would ask for a more realistic present which I could give.”
Ed stumbled: “Well let’s say Dave wants to be it again, is it fair that he should have two goes when I don’t get one? You see they will get rid of me if I don’t get the PM job”
“Well” said Santa ” you have been lucky so far. Not so long ago you asked for the same Christmas present as your brother, to be Leader of the Labour party, and I gave it to you. Just last year you privately told me the absolute must for your Christmas was to have a No vote in Scotland, which you got. I can tell you I upset some others who wanted the opposite in their stockings. You can’t expect to win the best present every year.
Now you tell me you are ready to be Prime Minister and want to spend some more money, yet you are also telling everyone you will get the deficit down. I don’t see how that works. Your tax rises will bring in peanuts at best and may even lose you revenue. So I say, go home and think again. If there is something else less contentious you want then drop me a line.”
A little while after Ed had left the Prime Minister turned up. “I’m not late, Santa, am I” asked Dave. Before he got an answer he went on “You see there was another of these dreadful meetings about Europe which just went on and on and I wasn’t allowed to leave.
” I did tell Mrs Merkel it was important to be here with you, but she seemed to think EU regulations on derivatives were more important. I did tell her that all this banging on about Europe is not a good idea, but she keeps doing it and sending me the bills.”
He flowed on perfectly with Santa speechless. “What I want for Christmas Santa is the continued delivery of my long term economic plan. More jobs, more growth, you know what George is up to. It’s all clever stuff. . That means I just have to be PM for a bit longer – nothing personal, difficult job, gets in the way of the family a bit. I’m sure you will see it’s a simple choice, and I am afraid it just has to be me again just to get us to the sunlit uplands”
Santa decided he did not need more explanation of the long term economic plan. He interrupted and said:
“I have given you your preferred present every year for the last five years. You have been Prime Minister. You have kept a coalition going. You got your economic recovery and all those jobs you insisted on. Your critics did not want those you know. You have seen off challengers for your job. Last year you asked to win the referendum on Scotland which I gave you.
“Fortunately more than one of you wanted that, so it was a present which helped several. It made it a cheap and easy option for me. This year you are asking for something others also want but only one can have. That’s not so easy for me. Isn’t there something else you would rather be sure of having? How about a really good international job on a much bigger salary?”
“No” said Dave, “that won’t do I’m afraid. I’ve made them all a promise. I don’t think they could manage without me yet. I never like to let people down”
“Well I am pleased to hear that” said Santa. “When are you planning to get immigration down to tens of thousands? How’s the deficit coming along? I’ve had a very difficult day. I will let you know later what I propose to do”
Santa was still getting over Ed and Dave’s performances. He sat down and weighed it all up. He had to think about staying popular himself. How he hated having to decide what presents to give the politicians, when they all made such a mess of being friendly to enough people. Why this year was there no clear winner with a majority of the vote in the polls?
Last year had been easy looking back. Nigel wanted to win the European elections, and none of the others bothered to ask for that, so he got what he wanted. Nick, Dave and Ed all wanted the same thing, a Yes vote in Scotland. Alex said he was none too happy, but he did get the present he used to ask for, more devolution, so in a way they were all happy. This year they all seemed to want the same thing, but only one could have it.
Santa could see no way out. Back any party leader for Prime Minister and he would alienate more than two thirds of the country on current party polls. Back Nicola or Nigel having strong influence over the new government and again he would annoy far more than he satisfied. In an age of facebook and twitter Santa ruminated that one false present and his brand could be instantly damaged in an orgy of tweets or electronic comments.
So here is what Santa decided to do. He wrote back to all the Leaders and said they might like to reconsider their present requests. They should understand how limited their popularity was, and ask for things that the public would accept. He was not saying Dave or Ed were wrong to ask be PM, but would they just check that with the public mood as the winner had to show enough support.
In the meantime the answer to his conundrum was to give no one of them presents this Christmas. Far from coming early as Nicola hoped, Christmas is being postponed. In May Santa will reconsider, when he sees how the public think about it all. As far as Santa is concerned, giving no presents to any political leader on December 25th is a win win. After all, the polls that matter to Santa are the ones showing how popular he is. The polls show giving no leader a present this December would be a very popular call. Santa mustn’t damage his eternal brand with a rash decision.