OK, folks, it’s Christmas Eve eve, and the question is whether I can get away with it. There they are on the top of the fridge, a great glistening phalanx of glass pots. Inside those pots is a gibbering radioactive brown mulch, and you know what I intend to do with that nameless gunk?
At this point, my nearest and dearest should stop reading this article, because that stuff is chutney, and that chutney is about to be deployed as an all-purpose, one-size-fits-all universal Christmas present.
Yes, kiddos, Father Christmas is giving you chutney for Christmas whether you like it or not, and he’s giving the same to his brothers and sisters and his parents and his in-laws and frankly just about everybody to whom he owes festive tokens of fiefdom and fealty.
It must be about six weeks or so since we emptied the last dribblings from the huge aromatic chutney vat, and sealed the last pint of the brown ambrosia into the last jar, and ever since I have been hugging myself with Scrooge-like ecstasy.
So that’s Christmas sorted, I said to myself. That’s how to deal with the credit crunch, I gloated. Everybody will understand that this is one of those belt-tightening years, I reasoned, and for the past few weeks I have looked forward to the exchange of presents in a state of complacent glee.
Until, that is, today. Because today I am afraid to say that I have been assailed by uncharacteristic doubt. I look up at those thrifty brown pots of gloop, and then I look down at the paper, and I see that terrible things are happening on the high street of Britain, with sales down 8·4 per cent year on year. I see that Jaguar Land Rover, makers of luxury cars, are in danger of going under – and I wonder am I doing the right thing?
Is it morally, socially or economically defensible to give everyone chutney for Christmas? Let us briefly marshal the arguments.
There is no doubt that the act of making and giving chutney is in keeping with the mood of the times. The Queen has decreed that there should be a halt to the buying of new dresses; caravan holidays are apparently all the rage; the average British male is already drinking 19 per cent less alcohol; and the nation is in one of its rare fits of sobriety, asceticism and repulsion at the ostentatious display of wealth.
And can you blame us? It was binge spending that got us into this mess, wasn’t it? It was reckless lending by all those bankers, whose greed and deceit seems almost to have discredited the very idea of capitalism.
We read of the sufferings of the clients of Bernard Madoff, and I am afraid that we do not feel overwhelmed with sympathy. We see a bunch of rich people whose eyes were so full of dollar signs that they failed to spot the fraud; and in our hearts we know that we have all been participating in the vast Ponzi scheme called Gordonomics, in which the state and the citizens alike have been engaged in an orgy of consumption, and racking up huge debts, on the tacit assumption that they would eventually be met by new entrants to the scheme.
Who are the new entrants? They are our children, and taxpayers unborn, who will have to meet the cost in our borrowings through the sweat of their brows.
Yes, my friends, we are all now members of the proletariat, in the sense that our wealth is now in our children (proles – keep awake at the back of the class there).
It is in this mood of financial self-disgust, you might argue, that it is entirely fitting that an otherwise prosperous member of the middle classes should get a load of apples from the garden, boil them up, add Demerara sugar and vinegar, together with onions, walnuts, apricots and all sorts of other top-secret ingredients, and hand them round to his loved ones for Christmas. And if they are so rash as to complain that this is a bit tight-fisted, I can always point out that it is the thought that counts, eh?
Well, I am not so sure. The more I ponder the morality of chutney-giving, the greater my doubts. If I give everyone a pot of home-made relish, and everyone else goes to the shops and gets me an averagely expensive Christmas present, then I will feel embarrassed by my meanness.
And of course if everybody gives everybody else nothing but chutney, then the economy will completely seize up, and by this time next year no one will have enough money to pay even for the sugar or the vinegar, and the nation will be reduced to such a state of penury that even home-made Christmas presents will be too expensive for us to produce.
To put it another way, if no one goes out to buy a new Jaguar, then not only will Jaguar collapse, but so will all the components makers across the West Midlands, and there will be such a draining of strength from the economy that in the end hardly anyone will be able to afford a new Jag at all.
So here we are, poised on the central dilemma of British politics. Should we all be desperately scrimping and saving, or should we be investing to keep the economy moving?
The answer, of course, is both. We need to cut waste, we need to stop racking up more debts, we need to reverse the massive expansion of the state; but, in so far as we have cash available, we should not hesitate to use it sensibly.
We should continue and indeed step up our investment in infrastructure projects that will be of long-term benefit to the economy, and improve the competitiveness of the United Kingdom.
And as for domestic consumption, it would be a mistake to submit to a complete credit-crunch psychosis. I think I can probably just about afford to buy some presents, in addition to my chutney offerings, and so I should sign off now and do my patriotic duty by going to the shops.
Happy Christmas and condiments of the season to you all.
[This article by Boris Johnson was first published in the Daily Telegraph on 22 December 2008 under the heading, “Giving chutney for Christmas won’t help Britain out of recession”]