Tag Archives: 1979

Parliamentary psychodrama, knife edge votes, dependent on Northern Irish Unionist votes…

Sound familiar.

I’m not describing the current tense parliamentary situation.

Forty years ago tonight, at 10pm, a vote of no confidence in Jim Callaghan’s Labour Government was called.

It was always going to be a knife edge.

This evening, BBC Parliament broadcast a programme, A Parliamentary Coup, describing the events surrounding that vote, the referendum which led to it (the Scottish devolution referendum) and the very human stories behind it.

One particular story brought to mind the dishonourable breaking of Jo Swinson’s pair by Conservative Party Chairman Brandon Lewis. It was an opportunistic breaking of an agreement.

Compare and contrast with a conversation between the Labour and Conservative whips Walter Harrison and Bernard Wetherill, who would later become Commons Speaker.

They had a gentleman’s agreement that they would always pair sick MPs. On this occasion, Wetherill said that he couldn’t offer a pair for the gravely ill Labour MP Doc Broughton, but to honour the agreement, he wouldn’t vote himself. Harrison wouldn’t let him take that career-ending step.

I hope that the programme will appear on iPlayer soon. 

David Steel was the Liberal Leader at that time. You can read his whole speech in which he explained why he would be voting against the Government here.

In doing so he made the case for fixed term Parliaments, which were, of course, introduced the the Liberal Democrats in the Coalition Government.

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