Lords v Commons Boat Race: Parliamentary Upset

Tim Koch writes:

What do members of the House of Commons do worse than running the country? After today some would say ‘rowing’ (though I think that may be a little unfair).

Their Lordships make their way to the start.

The All Party Parliamentary Rowing Group was established in 2006 to run an annual Lords v Commons boat race in order to raise funds for charity and to support the sport of rowing. After today the score is five wins to the Commons and three to the Lords. The event includes three other ‘two boat races’, one each for invited men’s and women’s clubs crews and one for two crews from London Youth Rowing. For the first time there was also an indoor rowing event for adaptive and special needs rowers.

Stroke of the Commons, Dan Byles MP and cox, Julia Headley.

The Commons crew were:
Stroke: Dan Byles MP
7: Andrew Cusack (A Parliamentary Researcher)
6: Matthew Offord MP
5: Aidan Burley MP
4: ‘Last minute sub’
3: Luke Webster (A Parliamentary Researcher)
2: Sian Norris-Copson (An MP’s Head of Office)
Bow: Graham Evans MP
Cox: Julia Headley (Vesta RC)

The stroke, Dan Byles MP was probably the man most suited to the day as his Wikipedia entry describes him as a ‘mountaineer, sailor, ocean rower and polar adventurer’. He has the smallest majority of all Conservative Members of Parliament (54) and so his rescue was no doubt greeted with relief by a Government keen to avoid a bye-election.

Both crews on the start.

The Lord’s crew (not in seating order) were:
The Lord Thomas of Gresford (Stroke)
The Lord Addington
The Earl of Courtown
The Lord Paddick
The Lord St John of Bletso
The Lord Redesdale
The Viscount Goschen
The Lord Bilimoria
Cox: Claudia Stocker (London RC)

Since 1999 few Hereditary Peers can sit in the Lords and this instantly cut off a fine supply of men who attended good rowing schools. In compensation their Lordships actually practised for this event, something the ‘Other Place’ did not manage to do. It showed in both cases.

In deference to their age, the Lords were given an eight second start. As it turned out, based on ability it was the Commons who should have been given the advantage. The Lords soon opened up a commanding lead and rowed on comfortably to win ‘easily’.

Mid-way through the race, the Lords have a comfortable lead.

The Commons seemed to find the worst water but appeared to be managing.

The Lords finish in fine form.

The finish point was where the Lord’s Terrace overlooking the river ended and the Commons Terrace began and the crews were greeted with polite applause from both sides. The Lords turned early and went in easily to disembark at ‘Black Rod’s Steps’, a landing spot especially built in the days when arrival by boat was a common way to enter Westminster. The Commons crew went above Westminster Bridge before they turned but seemed to be making their way back to Parliament without too much trouble, despite the rough water and the mostly novice crew. The cox, Julia Headley of Vesta RC, an experienced steers, takes up the story:

The Lord’s (eight second start) was probably a little too much but we came back at them… when the race had finished, because the tide was on the way out we were carried through the bridge and, unfortunately, on the other side of the bridge there were some large cruisers that were creating quite a lot of wash. We got trapped under the bridge… it was (like the) North Sea coming in over the boat… but everybody stayed with the boat and everybody did what they were told….

The Lords head back for afternoon tea.

Pictured very shortly before their upset, the Commons, having turned above Westminster Bridge, found the water very rough. Their personal safety boat can be seen shadowing them in the background and it was at their side in seconds when they capsized.

Luckily, it was a nice day for a swim, very warm.

One MP said that it was the most fun of any of the Parliamentary races that he had done as ‘up till now, we just finished and got out of the boat, which is kind of boring’. They seemed to have genuinely enjoyed the experience but it could have been very different were it not for the very elaborate (and as it turns out very necessary) safety precautions that the organisers had taken. If I had to end up in the tidal Thames at some event, this is the one that I would choose – and not only because you get tea and cakes on the terrace of the Palace of Westminster afterwards.

Safe on the Umpire’s launch, Day Byles, Andrew Cusack and Julia Headley greet their supporters on the Lord’s Terrace.

The Common’s crew, seemingly non the worse for their swim.

See also yesterday’s blog post, here.


  1. Thrilled to see that The Earl of Courtown was among the Lords. My first view of Henley Royal Regatta – in 1963 – was as a guest of his grandfather, an old friend of my family, and his grandmother and aunt came to watch my Yale eight race in the 1970 HRR. Well rowed, Lords!

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