Tag Archives: Harry Paterson

Making Plans for Nigel by Harry Paterson (Five Leaves, £7.99)

making-plans-for-nigelMeet Nigel (Farage, that is … just in case the slightly satirical Martin Rowson cover art didn’t tip you off): he’s head honcho of a political party enamoured of the tub-thumping xenophobic John Bull rhetoric so beloved of the BNP, EDL and Britain First … only he’d like you to believe that UKIP is libertarian. Farage is a privately educated millionaire ex-banker who used to be a Tory fund-raiser and is on the record as describing himself as the only politician in Britain keeping the flame of Thatcherism alive … only he’d like you to think of him as a beer-quaffing friend to the working class. His party’s ranks are tumescent with racists, misogynists, homophobes and the downright stupid (“what happens when renewable energy runs out”, anyone?) … only he’d like you to rationalise their rampant bigotry as the laughable gaffes of a few eccentrics who somehow slipped through the screening process.

Another title for Harry Paterson’s new book might have been Making Sense of Nigel. There are massive contradictions between Farage’s public persona and his background; likewise between his undoubted appeal to a largely underprivileged demographic and the entitled elitist attitudes espoused by the phalanx of ex-Tories, be they embarrassments (Neil Hamilton) or defectors (Douglas Carswell), who fill key UKIP positions. Just as there are massive inconsistencies in the grab-bag of pre-election promises that constitute the “mission statement” on UKIP’s website. As Paterson points out on more than one occasion, with less than a month and half until the general election, UKIP has yet to publish anything resembling a manifesto.

Subject Farage and UKIP to any degree of scrutiny and they’re almost beyond satire. But, as Paterson notes in the opening chapter, Farage is merely employing Boris Johnson’s deliberately bumptious self-deprecation routine, albeit on a far more populist level. Buffoonish as Johnson is, he still looks and sounds upper class; Farage tempers his version with a regular-bloke-down-the-pub immediacy. And while many of his generals are pitifully stupid (Godfrey Bloom and Julia Gasper in particular demonstrate a committed disinclination to cerebral activity), Farage himself is no fool and Paterson rightly warns that it would be disingenuous to underestimate him. However thin his chances of actually gaining Number Ten may be, there can be no doubt that Farage has almost single-handedly reshaped the contemporary political landscape; and with both mainstream parties attempting to “out-Farage Farage” instead of challenging the UKIP mindset, the dangers are self-evident.

Harry Paterson’s last book for Five Leaves, Look Back in Anger: the Miners’ Strike in Nottinghamshire, took a scalpel to three decades of lies and distortion surrounding what was arguably the most important socio-political act of resistance in post-war British history. In Making Plans for Nigel, that same scalpel cuts clean and true through spin, confusion and media hyperbole. Paterson lays bare all that is rotten in the house of UKIP (and there is plenty of rot), as well as firing a broadside against the ineffectuality of Ed Miliband’s Labour. Chances of Ed reading this book and having a “road to Damascus” epiphany? Probably slim to none, but one can hope. In just a few weeks we go to the polls. Making Plans for Nigel could not be any more timely.

Neil Fulwood


Look Back in Anger: the miners’s strike in Nottinghamshire – 30 years on by Harry Paterson (Five Leaves, £9.99)

Paterson-Harry-LookBackInAngerOn 5th March 1984, following an Area ballot, Cortonwood pit in South Yorkshire came out on strike against the government’s proposed schedule of colliery closures. A domino effect followed, with the Yorkshire, South Wales and Scotland coalfields voting locally to strike. The much-repeated assertion that NUM President Arthur Scargill called for a national strike for reasons of political hubris is the first of many fallacies that Harry Paterson’s timely and unflinchingly powerful book explodes. Likewise the incessant right-wing carping, which continues to this day, that Scargill refused a national ballot; actually, a democratic vote at Conference went against it. The fact that the majority of miners in the UK were already out on strike at this point kind of speaks for itself.

Thirty years down the line, the miners’ strike remains a raw and emotional subject. Particularly in the Midlands. Every Nottinghamshire pit, most of them by a significant majority, voted to keep working. (Leicestershire demonstrated an equally pro-management stance; read David Bell’s The Dirty Thirty: Heroes of the Miners’ Strike, also published by Five Leaves, for a stirring account of the few men who stuck to their principles and supported their union.) A generation later, communities – families, even – remain divided. That is, where communities exist at all. The aftermath of Thatcher’s deliberate offensive against trade unionism is a country stripped of industry; a country of mass unemployment, of harsh class division, where a job for life is a thing of your father’s, or even your grandfather’s, generation.

My grandfather worked at Annesley. He was born in the last years of the 1800s. He was out in the Great Strike of 1926. He obviously died before the 1984/85 strike. I don’t want to conjecture about what he would have thought of the strike-breaking Notts majority. Even now, reading Paterson’s account, a sense of shame pervades. But to Paterson’s credit Look Back in Anger is more than just Scab: The Book. The opening chapters establish a history of mining and trade unionism in Britain, contrapuntally sketching in Nottinghamshire’s gravitation towards Spencerism and trying to define the prevalent social causes for such a move. Paterson progresses to a labyrinthine tour of the complex functionality of the NUM which – as the strike progresses and the union is increasingly besieged by Thatcherism, the media and the manipulated shift in public opinion – eventually sees the Nottinghamshire Area form the breakaway Union of Democratic Mineworkers. Paterson lays bare the political manoeuvring and dirty tricks that eased the UDM into being in a series of revelations as gripping as any thriller.

It would be disingenuous to suggest that Paterson is anything but on the striking miners’ side, but the steady accretion of new evidence, accounts and documents pertaining to the strike – culminating in papers released earlier this year under the Thirty Years’ Rule – leave no cause for doubt. Thatcher secretly marked 75 more pits for closure than were publicly mooted. At the time, Scargill called her plans “the thin end of the wedge”: history vindicates him.

Look Back in Anger (the title borrowed from John Osborne) is aptly named. To read it is to get mad. Mad at what happened back then. Mad at the fact that it’s still happening now. But the book is also studded with moments which illustrate all that is good and decent in working class men and women. One particular anecdote sums up the principles of solidarity and community that the striking miners were fighting for. A Newstead miner who’d spent his entire adult life at the coalface was on the cusp of reaping well-deserved redundancy benefits. Conflicted by management threats vis-à-vis loss of benefits vs kinship with his striking workmates, the strikers backed him wholeheartedly in returning to work; he saw out his stint, and contributed all his pay pay packets to the strike fund.

Neil Fulwood 


Chavs: the demonisation of the working class by Owen Jones (Verso, £9.99)

chavsA bookshop customer bought this the other day, together with a Bill Bryson book. Perhaps guessing that I was mentally raising an eyebrow he said that he knew that reading Chavs would put him in a bad mood so he was planning to read Bryson afterwards to make himself feel better. He had a point.

A year or two back Chavs was the must-read leftie book. It really took off – I bought my copy at the time from a WH Smith’s bookstall in Crewe railway station. I’ve only just got round to reading it, to my shame. In the meantime Owen Jones has become the Milky Bar Kid of the British left (a phrase coined by the Five Leaves’ writer Harry Paterson), the Tories have got worse, UKIP are on the rise, but fortunately Jones’ chapter on the BNP has become out of date. And I suspect that a lot of people who bought this book have not quite finished it yet.  Why not? Because it really is bloody depressing.

I read the book with a view to covering it here, and turned down so many pages from which to quote – Jones knows how to marshal his facts.  Here’s one I did not know – “over half of the top one hundred journalists were educated at a private school” – one of the reasons for their distaste at worst and lack of understanding at best for the working class, especially those from the north. I could have filled this short review with a fraction of Jones’s battery of facts which present a convincing case for the deliberate break up of working class organisations and ways of living – think the decline of trade unions, the deliberate rundown of industry and the great sell off of social housing – and the “chavification of working class people, the constant portrayal of them/us as being “‘non-aspirational’ layabouts, slobs, racists, boozers, thugs – you name it”. We can see this most in the current millionaire cabinet attack on those who are not in work or claim benefits.

Chavs is essential reading but I got more out of the forthcoming The People: the rise and fall of the working class 1910-2010 by Selina Todd (John Murray, £25, due April) as though the working class lost out in the end at least some of the century was “ours”. A review will follow at some stage. Owen Jones’ book could be summed up by one of his sentences: “Chav-hate is a way of justifying an equal society” which “justifies the preservation of the pecking order, based on the fiction that it is actually a fair reflection of people’s worth.” He is not wrong.

Ross Bradshaw