The Returning Officer: This House

James Graham’s play This House (currently at the National Theatre) shows the whittling away of the 1974-79 Labour government’s majority. Brian O’Malley, MP for Rotherham (1963-76), who dies in the Commons during the play, had, before his election, been a teacher and run a dance band.

In the June 1976 by-election, the second-last place went to Peter Bishop of the World Grid Sunshine Room Party. Bishop had stood in the 1975 Woolwich West by-election and went on to stand at Thurrock in July 1976.

The Liverpool Edge Hill by-election came the day after the Labour government lost a vote of confidence in 1979. Joan Jonker, who was later to become a successful romantic novelist, stood as a victims of crime candidate and was described in the Liverpool Echo by Anne Robinson as “remarkably nice . . . considering her views on punishment were only slightly less severe than the Ayatollah Khomeini’s”.

 

This article first appeared in the 12 April 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Centenary Special Issue

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Theresa May knows she's talking nonsense - here's why she's doing it

The Prime Minister's argument increases the sense that this is a time to "lend" - in her words - the Tories your vote.

Good morning.  Angela Merkel and Theresa May are more similar politicians than people think, and that holds true for Brexit too. The German Chancellor gave a speech yesterday, and the message: Brexit means Brexit.

Of course, the emphasis is slightly different. When May says it, it's about reassuring the Brexit elite in SW1 that she isn't going to backslide, and anxious Remainers and soft Brexiteers in the country that it will work out okay in the end.

When Merkel says it, she's setting out what the EU wants and the reality of third country status outside the European Union.  She's also, as with May, tilting to her own party and public opinion in Germany, which thinks that the UK was an awkward partner in the EU and is being even more awkward in the manner of its leaving.

It's a measure of how poor the debate both during the referendum and its aftermath is that Merkel's bland statement of reality - "A third-party state - and that's what Britain will be - can't and won't be able to have the same rights, let alone a better position than a member of the European Union" - feels newsworthy.

In the short term, all this helps Theresa May. Her response - delivered to a carefully-selected audience of Leeds factory workers, the better to avoid awkward questions - that the EU is "ganging up" on Britain is ludicrous if you think about it. A bloc of nations acting in their own interest against their smaller partners - colour me surprised!

But in terms of what May wants out of this election - a massive majority that gives her carte blanche to implement her agenda and puts Labour out of contention for at least a decade - it's a great message. It increases the sense that this is a time to "lend" - in May's words - the Tories your vote. You may be unhappy about the referendum result, you may usually vote Labour - but on this occasion, what's needed is a one-off Tory vote to make Brexit a success.

May's message is silly if you pay any attention to how the EU works or indeed to the internal politics of the EU27. That doesn't mean it won't be effective.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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