Competition - Win a bottle of champagne

No 3578 Set by Leonora Casement

You were asked for poetry or prose that reused beautiful-sounding and evocative words in a new way.

Report by Ms de Meaner

A huge entry, as this one appeared in the New Statesman supplement that went into the Guardian. Not as easy as it looked, hein? The best entrants made me feel as if the cuckoos in the nest had some right to be there. Simply inserting brand-names didn't quite do it for me.

Welcome to all the first-time-ever compers (who often wrote to point this out) and well done Barney Trench, one of the novices who made it into the winners' box. Hon menshes to Basil Ransome-Davies, Gerard Benson, Mary Holtby, John O'Byrne, Barbara Burge, Jean Leyland (who wrote to tell me her age - no need, unless you're under ten or over 90, when it might make a difference), Christine McIntosh, Pat Ludlow and Anna Knowles. £15 to the winners; the bottle goes to Nicholas Hodgson.

We parked the Motorola a hundred metres from a casserole, where herds of reebok and gazebos were grazing contentedly. A few tippex, a pair of anelka and one or two quangos were there, too, with their distinctive stripes. To think that such huge and magnificent animals were once hunted for their feltz. A wysiwyg and a crested quorn were feeding nearby. Over in the trees, a colourful lycra bird stirred. Sometimes called a veldt crow (or velcro in colloquial Afrikaans), the lycra's garish plumage made it very obvious to predators such as the deadly paraquat. Its mating call didn't help much either. "Ikea! Ikea!" it squawked. The tranquil scene was disturbed as three oflot appeared in the distance. Tofu, my guide, broke the silence: "Isa, wannabe lego," he whispered. I knew enough of the Mata Hari language to grout his meaning. We were off.

Greatest of all antiseptic philosophers, Savlon's famous principle, "Ikea Kylie Benetton" was first expounded at the Council of Nivea in 470BC in the magnificent setting of the Pantechnicon of Herpes, dedicated to the Goddess Isa. He was heavily criticised by the Roman thinker Sennacot of Enema, who dismissed Savlon's philosophy as unworkable in his vicious satire Hic fax modem vivarium?, but later apologised in his Apologia Pro Ryvita Sua.

David Silverman

The nimby maid Cortina rose at dawn,

More frisbee now and zimmer than before,

Looked out - and on th'aerobic breeze was borne

The scent of pink samosas, as of yore.

Then someone came gazumping o'er the field

Towards her valium-surrounded tower,

"Awacs!" the sentry cried, but had to yield,

The ancient gulag held him in his power.

Cortina watched amazed as the old clone

Flung off his honcho, standing nuke and tall,

Her pixels shook, her head began to sloane

As he, with glitch and futon, scaled the wall.

And now the Prince of Tesco holds her near

And sweetly whispers "Sushi!" to his dear.

Nicholas Hodgson

The Hormones loomed above us now, catching the last light as the stars began to glimmer in an alphanumerical stratocaster. There was a faint aroma of swarfega trees and caramac. The quark of a wave-skimming timeshare echoed off crags of rich launderette, where colonies of pixels, already sleepy, looked down from clumps of polyester at a lone wannabe chewing alcopops on the shore. Alusuisse streamed in the liposuction as we gazed silently at the digital velcro of the approaching islands.

"Do you have to present your credentials to the Voicemail tonight?"

"Darling Dyslexia . . . " I drew her to me, and her skin was balsamic under the synchromesh visa we had picked up in Dotcom only a week before. How praline England seemed! She was aerobic in the breeze, her yuppies taut under the cashpoint. I held her touchtone quietly, feeling synergised by an almost transgenic sense of euro. Soon we could hear music, the unmistakable sob of a nine-stringed mandelson, from a waterfront cellulite. "No, not tonight." Then it was time to downsize. As I hydrated the teleprompt and lyophilised the websites, I saw her smiling at me with a look of pure virgin halogen.

Barney Trench

Feng Shui wears polyurethane tonight,

A boot-cut calpol glitters at her throat.

The roquettes in her hair are coulis- bright;

Her pyrex eyes, black holes of creosote.

Five scoredraws form her road-rage brooch, and small

Cholesterols secure its in-wash pin;

With fanzine rings she hypnotises all

The benylins of yuppiedom to sin.

A priceless paracetamol adorns

Her cashback lycra navel, which cavorts

Above a string of piritons. She scorns

The panadols of chastity. She sports

A worldwide web where e-mail should not be.

But who would dare cook-chill that cavity?

Andrew Gibbons

No 3581 Set by George Cowley

Geoffrey Wheatcroft recently wrote: "Great writers have always been open to widely differing readings and interpretations . . . " We would like two contrasting interpretations (max 100 words each) of any great writer of your choice. Entries to be in by 3 June. (Please note: we mistakenly set comp no 3579 as 3577 in the 10 May issue.)


This article first appeared in the 24 May 1999 issue of the New Statesman, Luvvies, stop moaning

Photo: Getty Images
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How can Britain become a nation of homeowners?

David Cameron must unlock the spirit of his postwar predecessors to get the housing market back on track. 

In the 1955 election, Anthony Eden described turning Britain into a “property-owning democracy” as his – and by extension, the Conservative Party’s – overarching mission.

60 years later, what’s changed? Then, as now, an Old Etonian sits in Downing Street. Then, as now, Labour are badly riven between left and right, with their last stay in government widely believed – by their activists at least – to have been a disappointment. Then as now, few commentators seriously believe the Tories will be out of power any time soon.

But as for a property-owning democracy? That’s going less well.

When Eden won in 1955, around a third of people owned their own homes. By the time the Conservative government gave way to Harold Wilson in 1964, 42 per cent of households were owner-occupiers.

That kicked off a long period – from the mid-50s right until the fall of the Berlin Wall – in which home ownership increased, before staying roughly flat at 70 per cent of the population from 1991 to 2001.

But over the course of the next decade, for the first time in over a hundred years, the proportion of owner-occupiers went to into reverse. Just 64 percent of households were owner-occupier in 2011. No-one seriously believes that number will have gone anywhere other than down by the time of the next census in 2021. Most troublingly, in London – which, for the most part, gives us a fairly accurate idea of what the demographics of Britain as a whole will be in 30 years’ time – more than half of households are now renters.

What’s gone wrong?

In short, property prices have shot out of reach of increasing numbers of people. The British housing market increasingly gets a failing grade at “Social Contract 101”: could someone, without a backstop of parental or family capital, entering the workforce today, working full-time, seriously hope to retire in 50 years in their own home with their mortgage paid off?

It’s useful to compare and contrast the policy levers of those two Old Etonians, Eden and Cameron. Cameron, so far, has favoured demand-side solutions: Help to Buy and the new Help to Buy ISA.

To take the second, newer of those two policy innovations first: the Help to Buy ISA. Does it work?

Well, if you are a pre-existing saver – you can’t use the Help to Buy ISA for another tax year. And you have to stop putting money into any existing ISAs. So anyone putting a little aside at the moment – not going to feel the benefit of a Help to Buy ISA.

And anyone solely reliant on a Help to Buy ISA – the most you can benefit from, if you are single, it is an extra three grand from the government. This is not going to shift any houses any time soon.

What it is is a bung for the only working-age demographic to have done well out of the Coalition: dual-earner couples with no children earning above average income.

What about Help to Buy itself? At the margins, Help to Buy is helping some people achieve completions – while driving up the big disincentive to home ownership in the shape of prices – and creating sub-prime style risks for the taxpayer in future.

Eden, in contrast, preferred supply-side policies: his government, like every peacetime government from Baldwin until Thatcher’s it was a housebuilding government.

Why are house prices so high? Because there aren’t enough of them. The sector is over-regulated, underprovided, there isn’t enough housing either for social lets or for buyers. And until today’s Conservatives rediscover the spirit of Eden, that is unlikely to change.

I was at a Conservative party fringe (I was on the far left, both in terms of seating and politics).This is what I said, minus the ums, the ahs, and the moment my screensaver kicked in.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.