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Newham South Bye Election 40 years on ..

16 May

The 23rd of May marks the 40th anniversary of the Newham South Bye Election. It is notable for two main reasons , firstly it was the only Bye Election of the 1974 short Parliament and secondly it was a major electoral coup for the National Front . The irony of a constituency with a similar sounding name going to the polls trying to get an electoral coup for a bunch of racists and petty nationalists is surely just coincidence.

Newham South was caused by the elevation ( if that’s the right way to look at it of Elwyn Jones, to the Lord Chancellorship and creating what was seen as a safe contest as Harold Wilson bumbled on in his minority administration. Labour chose ,

Labour chose a retread from the February 74 election and all other parties the same candidate as had stood in Newham South just weeks before.

The seat was in some ways a bellweather for the October election , Labour remaining where they were, The Liberals and Tories going ever so slightly backwards. All candidates bar the winner lost their deposit on a low turnout.
The interesting thing is that the seat gave the National Front its first ever finish ahead of a major party, in coming third they finished marginally ahead of the Conservative candidate. Luckily it didn’t herald any great electoral breakthrough for them although many of their potential supporters drifted to Thatcherism in 1979.

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The Feb 74 election

28 Feb

Not a turning of the tide …more a nibble at the edges …

The General Election of Feb 74 was held 40 years ago today. Its been on my mind recently , and I have posted some other comments on it before. The first post war election to result in a hung parliament , one of the few winter elections, a dissolution that seemed to come from siege. The surge in votes for ” others”

Heath had called the election over ” who governs Britain” an attempt to get a mandate for his strong industrial policy. Oddly most polls showed the electorate agreed with his policies and approach. They still didn’t vote for them, and indeed the election never really reflected this issue to the extent you would have thought.

It wasn’t a watershed result , this cant be seen like 45 or 79 as a time when things changed because of firm decisions to do something different. It was a yukky result, one with little for mainstream politicians to take comfort from. As one remarked “There was a loser , but it wasn’t clear who the winner was”. With hindsight there appear to be many winners.
With the drop in support for the two main parties , the revival of the Liberals, the ignition of the Scottish Nationalists , a few strong Independents and the anti-Westminster centric result in Ulster, Feb 74 is a seed ground.
Think of many of the events in the last 40 years which were birthed in that election.Of course not in the result but the issues and actions that manifested in that result.

The disparity between the Liberal vote and seats in Feb 74 leads to the 2011 referendum on electoral reform. The Despair in Heaths policies by his own party created the oxygen of Thatcherism. The rise of Celtic nationalism leads to the creation in 1999 of the Parliament and Assembly. The breaking of the consensus in Ulster politics is the start of a 20 year journey to its own Assembly ( one with popular support this time )The breakdown in the the two party system , though something that has never completely broken has given rise to the likes of the SDP, UKIP and others. A less capricious relationship between voters and parties.

However analysis showed that a swing of 1.5% either way would have given one of the major parties a majority …would it have mattered. Would the Liberals have seemed so hard done by if they hadn’t looked like they could hold the balance of power ? If Heath had won would it have written off the Thatcherite agenda. International perspectives would probably say no, but the timing and architecture might have been different. If Heath had got past the security questions and party dynamics and made Thorpe Home Secretary would this have worked ? They still would have been a minority Government and would have needed to go back to the electorate at some point. That may have given both of them a kicking and who knows how that might have impacted on the 80s. Perhaps the SDP would have been a Tory breakaway.

However there’s no point in the what ifs. Its interesting as to why ? Why did the electorate throw up this strange result. It was perhaps a throwback to the 10 or 15 years that proceeded it. A general relaxing in some attitudes , an attempt at industrial democracy. Heath and Wilson , a failed attempt at being the new Disraeli and Gladstone ( though they did appear in an episode of Captain Pugwash ). Punch and Judy were asked to accommodate the Policeman , the sausage and the dog.

An election no one seemed to win , only added to a media sense that there was a breakdown in governance. 40 years on , it is remarkable how much has changed and yet how much stays the same.

Was Heaths Government the dodgiest ever ?

27 Feb

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Was it ?

Maudling – Home Secretary during bloody Sunday. Director of Poulson architects , a corrupt firm. Lobbied foreign governments on its behalf.
Lampton- Defence Minister. Drug user who was blackmailed by prostitute.
Jellicoe – Lord Privy Seal and Leader of House. Admitted to drug use and prostitute use. One of first ever people caught and fined for drink driving.
Hailsham – Lord Chancellor, once seen as a Nazi appeaser. Called Homosexuality corrupt.
Whitelaw – became Thatchers Home Secretary and introduced military justice for young offenders.
Walker – part of Slater Walker dodgy failed asset strippers.
Joseph – The poor shall not have children. Advocated the managed run down and exit of Liverpool.
Rippon- Monday Club member.
Campbell – ignored evidence to contrary and left an innocent man in prison for murder.
Noble – presided over the last execution under UK law.
Scott- found in gutters of Chelsea. Campaigner against disability rights.
Amery – friend of Walter Walker , 70s madman and coup leader.

And then there was Maples. Outside the Government but still on the benches. Maples should be known as the man who introduced premium bonds and the MOT. But no he will forever be known for corruption. He held 80% of the shares in a road building company when Minister of Transport , responsible for road building. His name came up in the Profumo prostitution ring . He fled to Monaco in 75, with several million in notes. Wanted for Tax fraud by the Inland Revenue and for repairs by the tenants in his slum houses.

11 things I didnt know about the Feb 74 election

14 Feb

Seriously. I am only interested because in recent years the seventies have been merged with Dominic Sandbrooke, all history now moves through him. I have read quite a bit around the Feb 74 election before ( Butler and Kavanagh , Labour memoirs etc ) but from a recent look at the papers from the time here are 11 things I didn’t know

1. BBC staff were told not to be flippant in reports.

2. The Communist Party complained about a TV program ” The perils of Pendragon ” which portrayed Welsh communists robbing a bank to fund their guns. A Conservative MP successfully had a program banned “The other side of the valley ” as it showed his constituencies economic performance as poor.

3.Canvassers in Peterborough found 2 dead pensioners and 1 in a coma ( and no it wasn’t after they spoke to them )

4. The Government gave polling stations an exemption from heating restrictions up to 63 degrees.

5. Harold Wilson filled a Welsh hall with seating for 1,000 and even had 200 waiting outside ! 800 students shouted seig heil at Willie Whitelaw ( perhaps they didn’t see Hogg )

6. Oswlad Mosley called Thorpe ” charming”. Thorpe tried to charm the officials by over paying his deposit.

7.John Fraser ( Lab ) was attacked¬† by a heckler at a meeting in Brixton and had 2 fingers poked into his eye(left). ” Just before the attack he yelled out in an Irish accent that he wanted to poke my eye out”

8. Labour and Liberal stood against the speaker Selwyn Lloyd claiming the new boundaries caused a rethink.

9. The Liberals wanted to tax inflation.

10. Tony Benn was refused entry to the Wills Tobacco canteen

11. William Williams Wynne standing in Montgomery shire had the slogan ” William Williams Wynne Will Win “