The Queen today hosted a diamond jubilee lunch for the present prime minister and his predecessors. It doesn’t seem likely that over coffee there was a discussion of legitimacy of the parliamentary system.
On 10th October 1974, the day of the general election, the second to be held in Britain that year, just before the evening news, in the slot that might be filled by the ‘Magic Roundabout’ or ‘Captain Pugwash’, there came an edition of The Clangers.
The Clangers ran from 1969 until 1972 and had not appeared on screen for a while, so it was a surprise to see them that autumn evening. Wikipedia says:
The final Clangers programme, however, was a four-minute election special, broadcast on October 10, 1974. This special episode has not been seen since its original broadcast, although it still exists in the BBC archive. A short clip is available at the BBC’s website.
Searching the BBC website brings one to a page that offers two links. One is to a Radio 4 discussion of the programme, the other to the Clangers’ election special itself, but follow the links and a page appears saying that the requested page cannot be found. The Radio 4 page explains the programme:
Oliver Postgate, the creator of the children’s programme, who died in 2008, made the election broadcast as a response to his hatred of organised politics.
The programme, from memory, concerned an election being held on the small planet on which the mouselike Clangers lived happily with the Soup Dragon, who supplied their food, and her family. There were two candidates, a clanger and the Soup Dragon. The Clangers having a numerical preponderance, their candidate won the election. The Soup Dragon, aggrieved that the Clangers had simply voted for one of their own, then went on strike. Confronted with a lack of food, the Clangers decided that peaceful coexistence and co-operation were preferable to elective democracy.
Postgate’s hatred of the politics he encountered was not unreasonable. Democracy, as manifested in Britain, could allow an elective dictatorship.
The real situation was to develop in a way worse than that imagined in ‘The Clangers’. In the 2005 British general election, Tony Blair gained a 66 seat parliamentary majority with just 35% of the votes cast and a mere 21.6% of the total electorate, the turnout being just 61.4%. Had the Soup Dragon been faced with such a situation, it might well have gone on a protracted strike.
It is noteworthy that the one place in the United Kingdom where elective dictatorship is least likely is Northern Ireland, the place which has experienced the greatest political instability; the D’Hondt system of forming a government ensures that every significant party gains a place in the power-sharing administration.
It’s a pity ‘The Clangers’ election special is not available. The Queen might have enjoyed it.