This House, or when whips served the Party

I went to see “This House” earlier today. It’s the story of the Labour Whips who kept the Wilson and Callaghan government in power for 4½ years, without a majority for much of the time, from 1974 to 1979. It brought back many memories as I had joined the Labour Party in 74 and of course much of my politics was learned and established in the next 10 years.

 

It’s not actually very political, although it rehearses the Stonehouse affair, the Nationalisation of Shipbuilding and Aircraft Manufacture, when Heseltine waved the Mace and got his nickname of Tarzan. It also mentions the Rooker/Wise rebellion which led to the indexation of income tax allowances and Audry Wise’s arrest at the Grunwick picket line. Reg Prentice and the Militant get a small piece as Prentice crossed the floor to obscurity, reducing Labour’s Majority by two.

It reminded me of the importance and divisiveness of Scottish and Welsh devolution on British and Labour politics over the decade. Ultimately, it didn’t have time to deal well with Gerry Fitt & Frank MacGuire, two Nationalist and in the case of Fitt, Socialist MPs representing Northern Irish seats; while the drama around Alf Broughton’s condition, made a better story, it was the failure (over the previous 5 years) to address Northern Ireland that led to the Nationalists failing to support the Labour Government in the Vote of Confidence that ended the Government. Macguire was a rare attendee at the House of Commons, who flew over to abstain.

The scenes in Parliament around the furore caused by the passage of the Nationalisations further reminded me of the Wilson speech to Labour’s Conference in 1975 broadcast by the BBC in it’s Harold Wilson retrospective earlier this year. I only heard the first 10 minutes or so, but he cataloged the achievements of the first year and half in Government, which even today are substantial. They changed people’s lives, for the better, and weren’t reduced to resolutionary impotence. I meant to capture the speech so I could revisit it and share with people but despite being a big IT consultant, my personal IT isn’t good enough to rip iplayer streams. It’s a disgrace that as a tax payer; I paid for it to be made, I paid for it to be broadcast, but I can’t use it when I want because the BBC won’t put their owned content online for us all. They say it’s to protect foreign revenue but the real reason is that Murdoch & Sky can’t compete with free and forever.

It’s our history, we shouldn’t put up with it.

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