16th October, 2012
‘A Conservative government always eventually falls because they believe themselves entitled to power, and Labour governments always fall because they don’t.’
Can one make a satirical play centred on the fragile coalition politics of the 1970s? These were the years of industrial unrest, spiralling inflation, but an absence of spin doctors and 24 hour news. James Graham’s drama emerges as a result of a National Theatre commission soon after the 2010 election delivered a hung Parliament. At just 30 years old, Graham wasn’t born until three years after the events of the play, yet with thorough research he creates his own version of the political playground tribalism.
Most of the action takes place in the Labour and Conservative Whips’ offices, where much of the wheeling and dealing goes on – the dark arts of politics. This is a time when the Labour government’s precarious ability to survive a hung parliament and a wafer-thin majority creates most of the play’s dynamics. The Labour Party whips have to fight for every single vote to pass legislation and win over as many as they can, including those MPs from minority parties. Eventually, every MP is required to be present in Parliament for every division to avoid losing a vote of No Confidence. The absurd lengths to which Whips go to ensure that their party members appear on the floor to vote is a fault line of our parliamentary system.
So, Philip Glenister as the formidable Labour Deputy Chief Whip, Walter Harrison, needs a controversial pairing of MPs, to save the Labour majority. For the uninitiated, pairing simply means that if, for example, a Tory MP is known to be unable to appear for a vote on a given day, a Labour member agrees by gentleman’s agreement not to attend the session and therefore sit out the vote. Continue reading This House