~ Posted by Robert Butler, February 13th 2013
It looked as if most of the humour from the Eastleigh by-election on February 28th, which was caused by the sudden resignation of the former cabinet minister Chris Huhne, was going to come from two sources. One was the sight of the two parties in government tearing each other apart; the other was the remarks of the Conservative candidate Maria Hutchings, who describes herself as "a straight-talking businesswoman".
On Sunday, BBC Radio 4's "The World This Weekend" ran an item where the presenter Norman Smith trailed round Eastleigh attempting to interview Hutchings, who kept finding herself unable to make the interview. The next day, Hutchings was asked, "Are you a feminist?" She replied, "I don't believe in labels. I am a Conservative."
But yesterday evening the campaign's scope for humour widened considerably when Labour selected the comedy writer John O'Farrell as its candidate. O'Farrell has been a scriptwriter on two of British television's best satirical shows, "Spitting Image" and "Have I Got News for You". Three years ago, The Economist listed his memoir "Things Can Only Get better: 18 Miserable Years in the Life of a Labour Supporter" as the number three best-selling political memoir from the previous 12 years. O'Farrell was only beaten by Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
If Hutchings's humour so far has been inadvertent, O'Farrell's has been the opposite. He is a pro. His tweets (20,000 followers and rising) have run:
Proud to have been selected as the Labour candidate for #Eastleigh
There is a great deal of hard work ahead. But first I am going to the pub
Labour's #Eastleigh by-election machine didn't actually allow me any time to get to the pub last night. I've already broken my first promise
When a Royal Navy veteran tweeted that O'Farrell would lose because of Labour's support for same-sex marriage, O'Farrell tweeted back, "Will you marry me?" At lunchtime today, the Guardian ran a piece saying why he would make "a great MP". O'Farrell tweeted:
So the papers are all building me up...Remind me what happens after that?
Is it possible to laugh all the way to the ballot box? We have two weeks to find out. But things can only get funnier.
Robert Butler is online editor of Intelligent Life