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This House: The play at the National that knocks on the head the notion of minority government

March 31st, 2013

It might be about 1974-79 but the lessons are contemporary

A couple of weeks ago I went to see what for me was best play about politics in years – James Graham’s “This House” chronicling the period 1974 until Mrs. Thatcher’s victory in 1979. It is enjoying a second sell-out run at the Olivier at the National Theatre.

It is set in the whips offices of both Labour and Tories from the February 1974 election being called through to 1979. We watch first the period when Labour tried operate without a majority and then as it tries to govern with a majority of 3 after the October 1974 election.

Death, defections and by-elections soon whittle that down to zero and we see some of the apparently crazy measures taken to keep the ship afloat when Labour didn’t have the numbers. The need to bring even critically ill MPs into the Palace of Westminster for major votes is a major part of the drama.

The Callaghan government, of course, fell on March 28th 1979 when it failed to win a confidence motion by the smallest of margins – just one vote.

It’s wonderfully funny but also very contemporary illustrating the huge difficulty party managers have in working with “the odds and sods” – the other parties who might help.

    I came away very struck that Cameron was completely right in 2010 to enter into a coalition with all the limitations that placed on the party. A minority government might not even have survived the first Queen’s speech vote.

A supply and confidence deal with the Lib Dems could have been harder to negotiate than the coalition.

If you get the chance too see it, and it’s on next month as part of the NT Live programme in cinemas throughout the UK, you won’t be disappointed.

Mike Smithson

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