On this day in history….22nd September 1999

On this day in history : 22nd September 1999 – A two-minute “SCREAM!” is held at a pub in Ashburton, Devon by Lord Sutch’s Official Monster Raving Loony Party ~ to honour his memory….

Image credit : Joe Mabel CC BY-SA 3.0

Born in 1940 David Edward Sutch had no known connection to nobility but changed his name to Screaming Lord Sutch, 3rd Earl of Harrow on account of his musical career…. His band, becoming known as ‘Screaming Lord Sutch and the Savages’, were influenced by American singer-songwriter Screamin’ Jay Hawkins…. In 1968 Sutch officially changed his name by deed poll….

Lord Sutch began his political career in the 1960s, as a representative of the National Teenage Party…. His first parliamentary election was in 1963 when he contested the Stratford-upon-Avon by-election after the resignation of John Profumo…. He received 208 votes….

The Official Monster Raving Loony Party was formed on the 16th of June 1982 at the Golden Lion public house in Ashburton, Devon – which then became its headquarters…. The first time the party stood under this name was in 1983, in Finchley – against Margaret Thatcher…. Lord Sutch and his party contested more than 40 by-elections…. His most successful was at Rotherham in 1994 with 1,114 votes….4.2% of the share….

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Lord Sutch carried on making his music – using the money from concerts to fund his political campaigns….with the Party renowned for its bizarre policies making a deliberate satire of British politics…. Lord Sutch was instantly recognisable in his wacky, flamboyant attire – usually sporting a top hat…. He often appeared on television – and was even in the first episode of the popular ITV comedy ‘The New Statesman’, as himself…. The advertising industry liked him; Heineken had him appear as ‘PM’ outside No.10 Downing Street in one of their advertisements – and in 1999 he appeared in a Coco Pops ad….

On the 16th of June 1999 Lord Sutch was discovered dead by his fiancée at his home in Harrow, north-west London; he had hanged himself…. He had a history of manic depression…. He was to be sadly missed in the political world which he so extrovertly livened up…. A two-minute “SCREAM!” was an appropriate memorial…. The Golden Lion at Ashburton is, incidentally, no more – it has since been converted into flats….

On this day in history….18th September 1949

On this day in history : 18th September 1949 – The birth of Labour MP and former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Mo Mowlam, who was seen as one of the most popular of the New Labour politicians….

Mo Mowlam – Fair use

Born Majorie Mowlam in Watford, Mo was to grow up in Coventry, West Midlands…. She was the second of the three children of Frank and Tina Mowlam; her father was Coventry’s assistant postmaster and her mother worked as a telephonist to help make ends meet….

Mo passed her 11 Plus examination and attended Coundon Court Comprehensive School in Coventry…. She considered becoming a doctor but also developed an interest in politics at an early age…. She went on to Trevelyan College, Durham, where she studied Sociology and Anthropology…. It was whilst at college that she joined the Labour Party, working as a research centre for Tony Benn….

Following her graduation in 1973 Mo travelled to the United States – here she studied at the University of Iowa and gained a PhD in Political Science…. For a short while she lectured in Politics in Wisconsin and then Florida, before returning to the UK to lecture at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne….

Mo was elected Labour MP for Redcar, North Yorkshire in 1987 and remained in this seat until 2001…. In 1992 she joined the Shadow Cabinet under John Smith, the then opposition leader…. In 1994 she helped with Tony Blair’s campaign to become Prime Minister, who made her Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland….

In 1995, at the age of 46, Mo married artist Jon Norton, an ex-merchant banker; she became step-mother to his two children…. It was just before the general election of May 1997 that Mo was diagnosed with a benign brain tumour…. After undergoing extensive radio therapy and steroid treatment she lost her hair and gained weight – but she refused to let this interfere with her work – she became known to many as ‘Brave Mo’….

Mo Mowlam (centre) October 1997 – Image credit : plainsense CC BY-SA 3.0

After Labour had won the election Mo was appointed Secretary of State for Northern Ireland – her task being to find a peaceful solution to the ongoing troubles in Northern Ireland…. She even took the unprecedented step of talking to Loyalist prisoners in the Maze Prison, a potentially dangerous risk – but one that paid off – she was instrumental in the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998….

After a government reshuffle in October 1999 she became Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster…. She was later to turn down the job of Health Secretary and became a cabinet office minister instead – this lower position may have been as a result of her deteriorating health…. She headed the government’s anti-drugs campaign but not without causing controversy after admitting having used cannabis in her student days….

On the 4th of September 2000 Mo announced her plans to retire and she relinquished her seat at the 2001 general election…. She was to become critical of the government’s policies on a number of issues afterwards but especially on the invasion of Iraq…. She took part in anti-war protests alongside Ken Livingstone, Tony Benn, Tariq Ali, Vanessa Redgrave and Bianca Jagger….

Her retirement from politics did not see her idle…. She set up a charity – ‘MoMo Helps’ – supporting the parents and carers of disabled children – and those completing rehab after drug addiction…. She also became an agony aunt for men’s publication ‘Zoo’…. In January 2003 she was the subject of TV show ‘This is Your Life’….

On the 3rd of August 2005 the announcement came that Mo was seriously ill in King’s College Hospital…. According to her husband she had fallen on the 30th of July and received head injuries and had not regained consciousness…. Mo had stipulated in her Will that she did not wish to be resuscitated…. On the 12th of August she was moved to Pilgrims Hospice in Canterbury, where she died on the 19th of August…. In January 2010 it was revealed by the doctor who had treated her that the tumour she had was in fact malignant – and this had been the cause of her death…. She had not wanted it to become common knowledge and had kept it even from her work colleagues….

Image credit : morebyless via Flickr

On this day in history….18th July 1872

On this day in history : 18th July 1872 – The Ballot Act is passed by Parliament – meaning that parliamentary and local government elections are no longer to be public but will be held by secret ballot….

‘The Polling’ from The Humours of an Election series, 1755 by William Hogarth – Public domain

The first secret ballot was held three weeks later, on the 15th of August 1872, in the by-election of Pontefract, West Yorkshire – where newly elected MP for Pontefract, Hugh Childers, needed to win in order to be able to serve….

The Pontefract by-election was a very different affair to what people were used to…. Up until that point voters – men only of course – declared openly to which candidate they were backing, either by a show of hands, calling out their choice or marking their paper for all to see…. Onlookers would jeer or cheer…. With it being public knowledge who voted for who the proceedings were open to bribery, coercion and intimidation….men could lose their jobs and homes if they did not vote the way their employers and landlords wanted them to…. Voters would often be bullied, with mobs brought in to persuade peoples’ opinions – sometimes full-blown fights would break out….

Other times it could be like a drunken party…. Candidates were known to ply voters with large quantities of alcohol, or even lay on lavish feasts, suppers and parties, to sway the vote their way….

‘An Election Entertainment’ from The Humours of an Election series, 1755 by William Hogarth – Public domain

With corruption so rife politicians realised a change was needed…. The Ballot Act of 1872 gave a right to privacy…. “The Act which establishes the Ballot will assist to secure alike the independence of the voter and the tranquility and purity of elections for members to serve in Parliament”….

The first voting boxes were made specially for the occasion – with a seal of wax to make sure it could not be tampered with…. The seal, which depicted a castle and an owl, was made with a liquorice stamp from the local Pontefract Cake factory…. The first box can be seen in the Pontefract Museum, complete with its wax seal….

The Ballot Box at Pontefract Museum – Image credit : ReptOn1x – CC BY-SA 3.0

The first new secret ballot was a very sober affair…. People complained the life and soul and all the fun had gone out of voting…. The Ballot Act – which also gained the name ‘The Australian Ballot’, as the system had first been used in Australia in 1856 – failed to completely erase bribery and corruption – candidates still spent liberally to attract votes…. Gladstone’s government tackled this by setting up a royal commission to look into the system which led to the ‘Corrupt and Illegal Practices Act, 1883’ – which clarified what candidates could legitimately spend election expenses on…. It criminalised attempts to bribe voters, including with food and drink….

‘Canvassing For Votes’ from The Humours of an Election series 1755, by William Hogarth – Public domain