It is the 93rd anniversary of the birth of Oliver Postgate, creator of such children’s television programmes as “Pogle’s Wood,” “Ivor the Engine” and “Bagpuss,” but, perhaps, most famously “The Clangers.” It was “The Clangers” that gave Postgate an opportunity for social commentary, to present a vision for a world that was different. In the unlikely stories of the fluffy puppets living on their planet in outer space, there could be found insights into more terrestrial matters.
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.” Postgate made the election broadcast as a response to his hatred of organised politics.
The programme 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 was not more widely known, it might ask questions about divisive elections and referendums. Consensus might take much longer and be something very difficult to achieve, but it would prevent the polarisation that has emerged in contemporary politics and replace it with a sense of a community working for a common purpose – but maybe that’s only possible for small fluffy creatures.