Farewell, Public Order: A Musical Tribute to Gerald Kaufman 1930-2017

"He was a master of the now-forgotten art of imprisoning government bills in Committee to secure concessions for their release through their remaining stages in the House of Commons."
"He was a master of the now-forgotten art of imprisoning government bills in Committee to secure concessions for their release through their remaining stages in the House of Commons."

By Richard Heller

I worked for Gerald Kaufman from 1985 to 1987 when he was shadow home secretary under Neil Kinnock. He was a sometimes irascible, always inspirational, employer. In opposition, he was a master of the now-forgotten art of imprisoning government bills in Committee to secure concessions for their release through their remaining stages in the House of Commons. I saw this first-hand during the public order bill 1986, and composed the musical tribute below. It was based on a great song by his good friend Stephen Sondheim: "I'm Still Here" from Follies.

A few explanations may help.


The bill provided for new definitions of riot and other serious public disturbances. It introduced a fuzzy and wide-ranging new offence of "disorderly conduct": anything at all which might unsettle a person "of reasonable firmness." It introduced new controls on marches and demonstrations. It provided for football hooligans to be photographed, to prepare the way for identity cards for all football fans.

Marshalled by Gerald Kaufman, Labour's team in Committee moved 365 amendments to the bill and won major changes to the Bill, especially on "disorderly conduct" and police powers to stop and search.

The bill was introduced by the then Home Secretary, Douglas Hurd, but taken through Committee by his minister of state, the affable Giles Shaw. Also mentioned in the song are the heavy-smoking and almost silent Scottish solicitor-general Peter Fraser, and the Committee chairman, veteran Labour MP, Ted Leadbitter.



Good times and bad times,

I've sat through them all, and my dear,

I'm still here.

Been through the sparring,

Waiting for someone to cheer,

But I'm here.

Fifty amendments

To each clause:

Moved them with passion,

Bust my jaws!

Did any of them get accepted? Not this year,

So I may be a bit out of order, but I'm here.

I've been through a riot,

Practically ruined my day,

But I'm here.

Violent disorder, almost a deadly affray,

But I'm here.

I've seen twelve persons

Clench their fist,

Ten with mens rea,

Two just pissed.

But did they have common purpose? Case dismissed, so my dear,

I may be a bit out of order, but I'm here.

I'm not a hero,

But try to stay reasonably firm,

So I'm here.

I've seen certain gestures

Which forced even strong men to squirm,

But I'm here.

Once someone left me

Less than charmed,

Harassed and distressed me, made me

Quite alarmed.

Then a copper told him "You've been warned, now off, clear!"

So I may be a bit out of order, but I'm here.

I've watched the solicitor-general

Sit without speaking a word.

I've waited in vain for the home sec:

He's never seen but he's Hurd.

I've been on processions,

Marching for love or for peace,

But I'm here.

Once I got busted

When nobody warned the police

But I'm here.

I've been assembled

In the open air:

Looked for two others –

No one there.

You can't riot solo, anywhere, that's made clear,

So I may be a bit out of order, but I'm here.

I've been to football

Sick as a parrot with nerves,

But I'm here.

Watched Tottenham Hotspur

Losing to Chelsea Reserves

But I'm here.

They tried to exclude me

From the crowd:

They took my picture,

Made me proud.

But I grew a beard from my ear, to my ear,

And then walked right in through the turnstile:

Now I'm here.

The minister of state is so genial,

But knows when to lay down the law.

With notes from officials and minders,

He only speaks when he's Shaw.

Good clause and bad clause,

I've seen them all, and my dear,

I'm still here.

Brilliant amendments

I've watched them fall, with a tear,

But I'm here.

AM and PM

On our feet

Two thousand speeches

No repeat.

We've run more than fifty times longer than King Lear.

Mr Leadbitter, bring down the curtain…

It's time we're not here.

Richard Heller is an author and journalist. He was formerly chief of staff to Denis Healey. His latest book (with Peter Oborne) is White On Green celebrating the drama of Pakistan cricket.

The opinions in politics.co.uk's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners.

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