Election Marathon: what they talked about

The candidates in their own words

What did candidates talk about on Marathon? National policy, local problems and also — themselves.

Some, like Sir Roland Robinson (Conservative, Blackpool South) took the whole of their first minute to put themselves over: “It is now 24 years since you first returned me…. I was a young man then, a Blackpool boy, and I was so proud of the confidence you placed in me . . .”

Others mixed it. Like Mr. Griffith H. Pierce of Wrexham, nodding into the camera as a how-d’ye-do and beaming a big smile: “Sorry if I’m breaking into your meal, your tea. You know I’m the sort of fellow the Socialists say doesn’t exist, a working man who won a scholarship to a grammar school. …I’ve worn out a pair of shoes walking round the council houses built since the Tories came in…”

Or like Dr. Edith Summerskill: “I came into the Labour Party because I saw disease and poverty. In the thirties I was one of a small group of Socialist doctors who helped plan the National Health Service…. Give us another chance to improve it”.

There was plenty, of course, about local issues. The mills in Accrington. The fish in Fleetwood. The jobs on Hull docks. Hill-farming in Staffordshire. Steel in Sheffield. Council house rents in Huyton. Schools in Middleton. Slum houses in Manchester Exchange. Pits in Wigan. And Derbyshire’s cricketing record.

How They Debated

Some candidates on Marathon were shy of debate. “I have no time in 60 seconds”, said one, “to reply to the views of my opponent. I have formed my opinion of them and I dare say you have, so I’ll let it go at that…”

But there were genuine clashes.

The Northwich Conservative candidate, a legal expert, said the threat of nationalisation still hung over ICI Northwich. The Labour man, slowly and decisively, as if reading a summons, said that this was a deliberate lie. The Conservative looked angry, and repeated the statement — adding that his opponent was afraid of the issue . . .

Sometimes it was first names: “Now look here, Harold, we know practically everyone in the world believes we were right about Suez”. Sometimes the language was not parliamentary — such as the Liberal young woman from Skipton: “With all due respect to my political opponents, both of whom I like, they don’t belong to Skipton. My two opponents, with all due respect, are nothing better than brain-washed party hacks”. They took it with a smile.

And then there were the minority candidates. What would they be like, these fierce young men from Wales under the flying banner of Plaid Cymru? All the Denbigh and West Flint candidates, not to be outdone, spoke a few words in Welsh. Wrexham’s was one of the best debates, with the handsome Nationalist with tumbling black hair one minute proclaiming “we will not cease in our fight” and the next, as if in a cosy discussion in a pub, referring to “my friend Idwal Jones”.

There was even a “Lancastrian” candidate, from Nelson and Colne, who told us that he supported “the Lancashire Development Bill and the United Nations”.

How They Came Over

This was the politics of the split second and the mercurial tongue. The wise ones started off like sprinters. Mr. Tom Brown from Ince had a page of notes on the history of National Insurance but the light flashed when he had only got to 1949. He made up for it next time round.

We had the courtly and the chummy, the aggressive and the submissive; those who prescribed like well-mannered family doctors, those who had the evangelistic manner of the pulpit (“my friends, you do not want a society based on greed”), those who talked like economists or company chairmen, the boardroom (“there are only 18 operatives in the mill under 32 years of age”).

There were Kitcheneresque apostrophes with pointing finger; and the less dramatic view of a bald head bent forward to read. Some stuck to their scripts and lost all contact with the viewers — particularly when the speech had phrases like “his/or her job”. Some read and spoke their messages as if they were telegrams, in words of one syllable. There were livelier passages, too, such as the comment of the Wigan Labour candidate: “My Communist opponent is a follower of Karl Marx, who was a 19th-century philosopher; my Conservative opponent is a follower of Mr. Macmillan, who has a 19th-century mind”.

Or Mr. Ludovic Kennedy on the Summit: “It doesn’t matter whether Mr. Macmillan or Mr. Gaitskell or whether the Mayor of Rochdale goes to the Summit, and on the whole I’d prefer the Mayor of Rochdale”.

Altogether it was a torrent of political truth and platitude, economic argument, and family detail, a deluge of promises and exhortation.

It was politics as varied in character as the north-country voters to whom it was addressed.

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