Tuesday, 20 April 2010

The Squeaking Gate - a Parable for the UK Election

Once upon a time there was a woman who lived in a house in North London. Unlike many houses in London, which had had their railings removed to melt down in the First World War, her house still had its railings – and a little front gate through which visitors had to pass before mounting the steps to her front door. Each time the little front gate was opened it made a loud squeaking sound. The woman liked this noise very much. It acted as a warning to her that someone was approaching the house. Whenever she heard it, she would look out the window to see who was coming and, if she didn’t want to see that particular visitor, she would lie down on the floor and stay hidden there until they went away.

One morning the woman saw a removal van draw up to the house next to hers. A new family was moving in. A couple of days later her new neighbours introduced themselves. They seemed very friendly. The woman was leaving for a short break away that afternoon and still had a lot to organise. She did not give any further thought to the conversation they had.

Arriving back from her holiday, the woman was surprised by the feeling that something was not quite right, although she couldn’t put her finger on precisely what it was that was wrong. Everything in the house was just as it had been before she went away. No-one had broken in. Nothing struck her as obviously different. It was not until she saw her neighbour in the street about a week later that she realised what exactly had been bothering her. ‘Hello’, the neighbour called as the woman set off towards Sainsburys, ‘I hope you had a good trip.’ The woman nodded and smiled, but the neighbour persisted. ‘I'd noticed your gate was squeaking,’ she told the woman, ‘so I oiled it for you while you were away.' So that was it – the gate was absolutely silent now; she'd known there was something, 'It only needed a couple of drops,’ the neighbour beamed.

She was a Liberal Democrat, of course, the new neighbour. Hers was precisely the kind of action – well-meaning, interfering and replete with unintended consequences - that Lib Dems adore. Had she been a Labour supporter, her attitude would have been similar but her approach would have been more bureaucratic. Instead of acting for herself, she would have contacted the local Residents’ Association and got them to send a notice round, instructing the occupant to oil the squeaking gate in the interests of community noise abatement – and if that failed, there would always be the ASBO route. And had she been Tory, she would have left the whole thing alone, understanding that the world is strange and complex and that if the gate squeaked it was up to the woman who owned it to decide whether she wanted to do anything about it.

Who you vote for: it all comes down to how you feel about other people's squeaking gates.


  1. Ah. Somewhat reminiscent of things that Chauncey Gardiner said in the film Being There! I still haven't decided who I'll vote for, and can't see any of the election debates on TV, so keep these coming :-)

  2. Excellent parable, which I'm sure applies to the parties' traditional attitudes. I feel though that today's Tories would probably provide a tax break to people with squeaky gates - purchases of WD40 might be deductible, perhaps. It might not be material enough to make any difference to behaviour but it would send a message about how society felt about squeaky gates.

  3. V good analogy (though I like to think that a nice conservative, as opposed to a nasty one, would one day ask if you'd like your gate oiled, since he happens to be out with his can anyway).

  4. I think the Labour neighbour would take down your elitist gate, allow a public footpath to go through your front garden, set up a quango at great expense to think about making a more inclusive gate and finally install a shoddy version designed by a commitee of 50 that doesn't open and that they bought at twice cost price. Meanwhile the Liberal neighbour would be looking over his shoulder saying 'Ooh, I would have done that!'

    Meanwhile the new Tory neighbour was peering out from behind their John Lewis curtains, taking notes.

  5. Gadjo - the Guardian says Nick Clegg is the new Tim Henman, if that helps
    Gaw - I know the Tories do silly things, but my feeling is that this is not the moment to focus on how much better they could be (and I agree they could be much better) but on who got Britain into this unbelievable mess and whether they are capable of sorting things out without making everything three times worse
    Brit - my husband agrees with you but I think that would be the absolute thin end of the wedge
    Worm - and once the shoddy version had been installed a man from UKIP would come along and explain that it was all the EU's fault.