It really is great news that the Eastleigh Labour Party has selected John O’Farrell as their candidate at the upcoming by-election. They couldn’t have made a better choice.
It was 30 years ago when John asked if I could do with any voluntary help in the House of Commons; at the time he was an active member of the Battersea Labour party. I quickly realised how lucky I was to have his help.
Most people today know John for his books and his cutting sense of humour, but back then I saw first-hand how serious and effective a politician he was. His day to day advice was invaluable. I was a junior front bencher at the time, dealing with a Bill on fire safety. I sent John off to talk to the Fire Brigades Union, The Tailors and Garment Workers, and the Fire Service. He came back with four amendments for Report stage, three of which were accepted. A real success!
John once stood as a candidate for Wandsworth Council, in an unwinnable ward. He was great on the doorstep and on one occasion disconcerted someone who asked why he should vote for him. John’s quick answer was “because I am the nicest of the candidates”. True, but he then went on to put the political case for Labour.
After I lost my parliamentary seat, John went on to earn his living in the media, and through his writing. I once asked where he got the ideas from for the ‘Spitting Image’ programmes he worked on, which featured lots of politicians – and not always in a good light. John’s reply was that he remembered many of them from when they came into my office at Westminster, which I shared with Frank Dobson.
Above all, John is a serious and committed politician. He believes in our values and has a good sense of how we should engage with the voters. I feel very proud to be his friend, and to have known him for many years. John’s book Things Can Only Get Better describes his early political life and includes much about the Battersea Labour Party. It is still a great read today.
John will really shake up this by-election, and he is already making an impact. Both of the Coalition parties is desperate to win the seat but, with John in place and our party resurgent in the polls, this contest is no longer a two-horse race. To deliver a sensational win however, party members must get down to Eastleigh and give our brilliant candidate the support he deserves.
Lord Alf Dubs is a backbench Labour Peer and the former MP for Battersea. This piece was first posted on the Labour Lords blog