Competition - Win vouchers to spend at any Tesco store

Competition No 3706

Set by John Crick, 5 November

You were asked for Christmas gifts suitable for your favourite literary characters.

Report by Ms de Meaner

Yes, R Ewing was correct: Richard III got lots of horses. And there were many people whose future was irrevocably altered by getting a mobile phone for Christmas, not least that tragic pair, Romeo and Juliet. And poor old Achilles and Lady Macbeth: so many stout boots and tubes of vanishing cream. The way I chose the winning ideas was a) they had to be funny, and b) I didn't read them over and over, which seemed fair. The singletons and doubletons get £5 tokens. The rest get £15 and the vouchers go to G M Davis.

Robinson Crusoe: scuba-diving kit and fish spear

Mrs Danvers: HRT pills and a subscription to the Penzance tea-dancing club

Mother Goose: pump-action shotgun and 2002 calendar

Tom and Maggie Tulliver: life jackets and rubber dinghy

Cock Robin: helmet and chain mail

Anne Du Croz

King Lear: The Good Hotel Guide

Macbeth: membership of the Woodland Trust

Hamlet: a hawk. Or a handsaw. He can choose which

Desdemona: a dress with pockets

Julius Caesar: Old Moore's Almanack (also sent in by Derek Morgan)

Nicholas Hodgson

Robinson Crusoe: Woman Friday

Macbeth: a large jar of Quiet Life

Thomas Gradgrind: the speeches of Chris Woodhead

Krapp: an answering machine

Scrooge: a Christmas present

Flashman: some Bacofoil

Kurtz: a headstand

Portnoy: handkerchiefs

Dracula: a Virgin voucher

Dr Faustus: This Is Soul Music Vol. 2

Heathcliff: Cathy Come Home video

D'Artagnan: four muskets

Juliet: an Alfa Romeo

Silas Marner: a chequebook

Lady Bracknell: an Accessorize voucher

Sherlock Holmes: a deer

Will Bellenger

Sherlock Holmes: a commission from the White House to find and capture Osama Bin Laden, world master criminal

James Bond: a commission from the Prime Minister to find and exterminate Osama Bin Laden, global megalomaniac threatening world civilisation

Philip Marlow: a photograph of Osama Bin Laden, plus fifty dollars a day and expenses

Inspector Morse: a special one-man police operation to discover if Osama Bin Laden is hiding out in an Oxford pub or college

G M Davis

Icarus: sunblock

Winston Smith: a 1985 diary

The Jabberwock: a slithy tove

Oliver Twist: a larger bowl

Cool Hand Luke: a jar of mayonnaise

Rip van Winkle: a can of Red Bull

Great Uncle Bulgaria: a wheelie bin

Ben Gunn: nothing (hard cheese)

Paul Brummell

Romeo: a stethoscope

Julius Caesar: The Big Book of Team-Building Games

Duke Orsino of Illyria: Gray's Anatomy

Hamlet: Effective Delegation

King Lear: The Little Book of Calm

Titus Andronicus: Delia Smith's Complete Cookery Course

Desdemona: a box of Kleenex

Ulysses: The Rough Guide to Greece

Phileas Fogg: air tickets

Frankenstein: a box of Lego, an Airfix model aeroplane kit

Sisyphus: a lifetime's supply of high-energy Lucozade, or some very strong elastic, or a copy of How to Say No Without Feeling Guilty

Prometheus: a cigarette lighter

Clifford Chatterley: a ground-floor flat, a window box and a trowel

David Silverman

Bridget Jones: vodka, cigarettes, chocs, shampoo and the morning-after pill

Basil Ransome-Davies

Miss Havisham: a marriage certificate

Barbara Smoker

Richard III: some stables for all the horses he'll (probably) get as a result of this week's competition

Sherlock Holmes: a week at the Priory

R Ewing

Ophelia: waterwings

Estragon and Vladimir: Scrabble

Katie Mallett

Estragon and Vladimir: Godot

R J Pickles

Leda: bird repellent

Ian Birchall

Long John Silver: a parrot with an extensive vocabulary

J Seery

Yossarian: a sicknote

W J Webster

Sisyphus: a forklift truck

Philip A Nicolson

No 3709 Set by George Cowley

Jason Cowley recently wrote in the NS: "Modern travel writing is in crisis, too often no more than an indulgence of ego." Could we have an excessively egocentric piece of travel writing in which the well-known itinerary/ destination takes a decided second place.

Max 200 words by 6 December (to appear in issue dated 17 December) E-mail:

This article first appeared in the 26 November 2001 issue of the New Statesman, The New Statesman Special Report - The SAS story they want to suppress

David Young
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The Tories are the zombie party: with an ageing, falling membership, still they stagger on to victory

One Labour MP in Brighton spotted a baby in a red Babygro and said to me: “There’s our next [Labour] prime minister.”

All football clubs have “ultras” – and, increasingly, political parties do, too: although, in the case of political parties, their loudest and angriest supporters are mostly found on the internet. The SNP got there first: in the early days of email, journalists at the Scotsman used to receive bilious missives complaining about its coverage – or, on occasion, lack of coverage – of what the Scottish National Party was up to. The rest soon followed, with Ukip, the Labour Party and even the crushed Liberal Democrats now boasting a furious electronic horde.

The exception is the Conservative Party. Britain’s table-topping team might have its first majority in 18 years and is widely expected in Westminster to remain in power for another decade. But it doesn’t have any fans. The party’s conference in Manchester, like Labour’s in Brighton, will be full to bursting. But where the Labour shindig is chock-full of members, trade unionists and hangers-on from the charitable sector, the Conservative gathering is a more corporate affair: at the fringes I attended last year, lobbyists outnumbered members by four to one. At one, the journalist Peter Oborne demanded to know how many people in the room were party members. It was standing room only – but just four people put their hands up.

During Grant Shapps’s stint at Conservative headquarters, serious attempts were made to revive membership. Shapps, a figure who is underrated because of his online blunders, and his co-chair Andrew Feldman were able to reverse some of the decline, but they were running just to stand still. Some of the biggest increases in membership came in urban centres where the Tories are not in contention to win a seat.

All this made the 2015 election win the triumph of a husk. A party with a membership in long-term and perhaps irreversible decline, which in many seats had no activists at all, delivered crushing defeats to its opponents across England and Wales.

Like José Mourinho’s sides, which, he once boasted, won “without the ball”, the Conservatives won without members. In Cumbria the party had no ground campaign and two paper candidates. But letters written by the Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, were posted to every household where someone was employed making Trident submarines, warning that their jobs would be under threat under a Labour government. This helped the Tories come close to taking out both Labour MPs, John Woodcock in Barrow and Furness and Jamie Reed in Copeland. It was no small feat: Labour has held Barrow since 1992 and has won Copeland at every election it has fought.

The Tories have become the zombies of British politics: still moving though dead from the neck down. And not only moving, but thriving. One Labour MP in Brighton spotted a baby in a red Babygro and said to me: “There’s our next [Labour] prime minister.” His Conservative counterparts also believe that their rivals are out of power for at least a decade.

Yet there are more threats to the zombie Tories than commonly believed. The European referendum will cause endless trouble for their whips over the coming years. And for all there’s a spring in the Conservative step at the moment, the party has a majority of only 12 in the Commons. Parliamentary defeats could easily become commonplace. But now that Labour has elected Jeremy Corbyn – either a more consensual or a more chaotic leader than his predecessors, depending on your perspective – division within parties will become a feature, rather than a quirk, at Westminster. There will be “splits” aplenty on both sides of the House.

The bigger threat to Tory hegemony is the spending cuts to come, and the still vulnerable state of the British economy. In the last parliament, George Osborne’s cuts fell predominantly on the poorest and those working in the public sector. They were accompanied by an extravagant outlay to affluent retirees. As my colleague Helen Lewis wrote last week, over the next five years, cuts will fall on the sharp-elbowed middle classes, not just the vulnerable. Reductions in tax credits, so popular among voters in the abstract, may prove just as toxic as the poll tax and the abolition of the 10p bottom income-tax rate – both of which were popular until they were actually implemented.

Added to that, the British economy has what the economist Stephen King calls “the Titanic problem”: a surplus of icebergs, a deficit of lifeboats. Many of the levers used by Gordon Brown and Mervyn King in the last recession are not available to David Cameron and the chief of the Bank of England, Mark Carney: debt-funded fiscal stimulus is off the table because the public finances are already in the red. Interest rates are already at rock bottom.

Yet against that grim backdrop, the Conservatives retain the two trump cards that allowed them to win in May: questions about Labour’s economic competence, and the personal allure of David Cameron. The public is still convinced that the cuts are the result of “the mess” left by Labour, however unfair that charge may be. If a second crisis strikes, it could still be the Tories who feel the benefit, if they can convince voters that the poor state of the finances is still the result of New Labour excess rather than Cameroon failure.

As for Cameron, in 2015 it was his lead over Ed Miliband as Britons’ preferred prime minister that helped the Conservatives over the line. This time, it is his withdrawal from politics which could hand the Tories a victory even if the economy tanks or cuts become widely unpopular. He could absorb the hatred for the failures and the U-turns, and then hand over to a fresher face. Nicky Morgan or a Sajid Javid, say, could yet repeat John Major’s trick in 1992, breathing life into a seemingly doomed Conservative project. For Labour, the Tory zombie remains frustratingly lively. 

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

This article first appeared in the 01 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory tide