Tonight on YouTube starting at 7pm there’s a rerun of what to me is best play about politics in years – James Graham’s “This House” chronicling the period 1974 until Mrs. Thatcher’s victory in 1979.
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.
When I saw it on the stage in 2014 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.
The play also brings back personal memories. For the whole of the 1970s I was an editor with BBC national news spending long periods working at Westminster. The play gets the feel for the period just right.