John O’Farrell: The satirist who’s suddenly being taken seriously

Comedy writer John O’Farrell is hoping to succeed Chris Huhne as the MP for Eastleigh

As political rallying cries go, it’s a little underwhelming: “I haven’t spoken to anyone yet. I’ve literally just got here and I’m making a cup of tea”.

But John O’Farrell, the comedy writer and author who was plotting his bid to succeed Chris Huhne as MP for Eastleigh today just hours after announcing his surprise candidacy on Twitter, insists he is deadly serious about winning the seat for Labour.

O’Farrell is probably best known for his quippish appearances on Have I Got News For You? and as the man who made John Major permanently grey while a writer for Spitting Image.

His bestselling books include Things Can Only Get Better: Eighteen Miserable Years in the Life of a Labour Supporter – but he is bullish about his by-election prospects on February 28.

Speaking to The Independent from Labour’s offices in Eastleigh, O’Farrell said: “I want to win it, I think I could.”

While the bookies may disagree – his odds are stacked at 16-1 – the award-winning writer hopes to pick up the votes of disillusioned Liberal Democrats in this loyal pocket of Middle England. After nearly two decades of Liberal Democrat leadership in Eastleigh, he said residents were “likely to abandon the Coalition, and I hope I’ll be where those votes would go”.

Labour won’t announce until Tuesday evening whether O’Farrell, a long-standing party member, will be confirmed as their candidate, but he has already received strong backing despite the fact that he hails from Clapham, south London.

Within minutes of using Twitter to announce his sudden decision to stand late on Saturday night (“Ed Miliband needs someone in Eastleigh with a track record of winning elections. Despite this I’m going to offer myself as Labour candidate”), he received the endorsement of Labour big beasts including Lord Adonis and former Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw.

This is not O’Farrell’s first foray into politics. He ran in Berkshire in 2001 with such dismal results that it became a BBC documentary entitled Losing My Maidenhead. But this time “it is a bit more serious. In Maidenhead I knew I could never win the candidature. This time I do want to win it and I think I could.”

The decision to fight for Eastleigh came as a result of “speaking to a few friends in the party at the end of last week”. “I felt that in this by-election – the first between two wings of the Coalition Government – Labour really had to make an impact.” With just two and a half weeks in which to make a splash, O’Farrell said that he was keen to use his standing as a minor Labour celebrity to energise local activists. “I’ve noticed a couple of members have withdrawn their nominations since I’ve announced mine, which is nice,” he added.

Today, O’Farrell was still pulling together his campaign strategy, firing out tweets to rally the troops for the first day of his canvassing campaign. He said he was yet to familiarise himself with the layout of the railway town, let alone finalise his campaign team, but it was just a matter of time. Sure enough, by mid-morning campaigners were out in force, brollies and all, to knock on doors, hand out leaflets and preach the party gospel.

O’Farrell’s candidacy threatens to turn to the battle for Eastleigh into one of the most enjoyable by-elections in memory. He is running against true blue Conservative Maria Hutchings – who infamously said “I don’t care about refugees” during her 2010 Eastleigh campaign and Liberal Democrat local councillor Mike Thornton.

“My strongest claim to a personal connection with Eastleigh is having grown up in the next-door county,” O’Farrell admitted. Yet he remains undeterred: “[Hutchings and Thornton] are the wrong people for Eastleigh, they both come from a government that is doing damage to the town.”

If he were to win the seat here, O’Farrell would start by “doing a bit of healing with the Liberal Democrat councillors,” to counteract the damage done by the Chris Huhne affair, which saw Eastleigh’s MP being forced to stand down after pleading guilty to perverting the course of justice: “I would try to make politics here a little less tribal and bring people together. I would be a Labour MP campaigning on schools in the area and health centres”.

In 2010, the Labour candidate finished a distant third behind Huhne and Hutchings, but O’Farrell said that this time around “nobody knows who is going to win.”

“What I shall be telling the people here is try me out for two years as a Labour party offering, if you don’t like me get rid of me after that. But give me a go.”

Punchlines: A life in comedy

*Born in Maidenhead, Berkshire, in 1962.

*Studied English and drama at Exeter University.

*Moved to London in 1985 to work as a stand-up comedian but soon turned to comedy writing.

*Formed a partnership with Mark Burton.

Together they won the BBC Light Entertainment Contract Award and went on to become lead writers on Spitting Image in the late 1980s.

He also co-wrote for Clive Anderson Talks Back, Room 101 and created the BBC sitcom The Peter Principle.

*In 1998 he published the No 1 bestseller Things Can Only Get Better: Eighteen Miserable Years in the Life of a Labour Supporter.

*A long-term Labour party member, he stood unsuccessfully as a candidate in the 2001 general election in his home town of Maidenhead.

*His 2002 bestselling debut novel The Best A Man Can Get was followed by This Is Your Life and May Contain Nuts, and last year’s hit The Man Who Forgot His Wife. In 2006 he launched “NewsBiscuit” a website dedicated to new comedy talent.

*His non-fiction books include 2007’s An Utterly Impartial History of Britain or 2000 Years of Upper Class Idiots in Charge.

*Lives in Clapham, south London with his wife and two children.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Head Porter / Concierge

£16000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning Property Man...

Recruitment Genius: Credit Controller

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment C...

Recruitment Genius: Interactive / Mobile Developer

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Day In a Page

Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks