Sailing Close to the Wind by Dennis Skinner

sailing close to the windLet’s do the Time Warp again…

🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

Now in his eighties and still an active Labour Member of (the UK) Parliament, it seems to me as if Dennis Skinner has been around forever. Certainly he’s been there since Parliament was televised, sitting in his usual seat beside the passage and making his famous quips at the opposition speakers…and sometimes those from his own party too. He claims that he didn’t want to write this book of memoirs, but has finally given in to the requests of many people who have enjoyed his public speaking. Certainly the book’s progress to publication seems to have been a difficult one – it has been delayed and delayed till it reached the stage that I wondered whether it would ever actually appear. At first, Skinner was shown as the sole author, then for a while the pre-order details said that it was to be co-written by Kevin Maguire, a left-wing journalist – but this finished version has reverted back to being credited to Skinner alone.

A youngish Dennis Skinner in the House of Commons. Plus ça change...
A youngish Dennis Skinner in the House of Commons. Plus ça change…

All of which might help to explain why the book is, quite frankly, a bit messy. It’s a cross between a rather patchy memoir and a statement of Skinner’s political convictions, with occasional musings on other subjects, such as his love for London parks. That’s not to say it’s not interesting – it is. Well, I’ll narrow that down a little – it’s interesting if you happen to be a left-wing UK political nerd who remembers the miners’ strike and gets nostalgic over the thought of those halcyon days when we marched through the streets of wherever we happened to be at the time, shouting ‘Maggie! Maggie! Maggie! Out! Out! Out!’ Skinner is an unreconstructed socialist and proud of it. Following his father into the mines, he is of ‘good working-class stock’ (which was in fact the title the book was listed as at one stage of its production), and still sees himself very much as a class warrior. His hatred for the Conservatives is visceral and often expressed in terms not unlike a small boy calling nasty names. On the other hand, he is strangely unforthcoming about the changes in the Labour party over the decades – he surely must have hated and despised the New Labour ‘project’, but he keeps that pretty much under wraps, while making it clear he thinks it’s well past time for Labour to get back to its roots.

...plus c'est la même chose
…plus c’est la même chose

The thing is that politics has moved on so far from the seventies and eighties (whether for better or worse is for each person to decide for him/herself) and Skinner’s views now come over as so out-dated, as does his manner of expressing them. (It may – or may not – have been acceptable to call a woman politician ‘darling’ in the seventies, but not so much today.) I would have agreed with him politically about 80% of the time in the Thatcher era, but those days, and the society that existed then, are gone, and won’t be coming back. I felt at points as if I had accidentally stepped into a time-machine. Too much of the book is spent on him recounting his best insults – many of them were quite funny at the time (and many others were just childish), but I did start wondering if the tax-payers were paying for an MP or a comedian. However I felt that was more to do with the uneven structure of the book, than a real reflection on Skinner’s career. He doesn’t really say much about any of the committees he served on (I assume there were some) and the details he gives of the political highpoints of his career are too few and far between. He does go quite deeply into the miners’ strike, obviously with a very strong bias towards the miners, and that was interesting. But the book is too heavily weighted to the Thatcher era – he glosses over the last Labour administration and then gets into his stride again with a series of childish personal insults about the current batch of Tories. (It always amuses me how both sides think the other side behaves badly – and it amused me how hoity-toity Skinner, the arch-insulter, got when Cameron hurled a couple in his direction. Wouldn’t it be great to have a few adults in politics for a change?)

Tony Benn, Arthur Scargill and Dennis Skinner in the Miners' Strike
Tony Benn, Arthur Scargill and Dennis Skinner in the Miners’ Strike

Overall, I found this in parts interesting, in parts annoying, and as a whole, too unstructured to be completely satisfying. I can’t imagine it appealing to many people outwith the Old Labour tradition, but for them I’m sure it will be an essential read, as it was for me. If for no other reason than that it gives us the chance to do the Time Warp again…

 

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

58 thoughts on “Sailing Close to the Wind by Dennis Skinner

  1. You do realise that what I really liked was your Rocky Horror clip, don’t you, air head that I am. Though I too have such fondness for those heady days when it felt absolutely, without question, that right was left and right was wrong.

    On the news today that the last deep cast mine in the UK set to close.

    • I just put the clip in as a reward for anyone who struggled through the review! Yep, as the song says, things were all so simple then…

      Really? It’s odd, the way the old mine union leaders talk though – on the one hand they say how awful it was to be a miner, the filth, the physical hard labour, the danger. But on the other hand they mourn its passing. And, while I’m no defender of Thatcher over the destruction of our heavy industry, Skinner signally failed to mention the years of ridiculous wage demands and constant strikes that preceded the final big one. A partisan view, not surprisingy, but not sure it adds much to the historical record…

    • Oh good! I hope you enjoy it – I think you’ll like the stuff about Croatia anyway! I will be recommending the Toibin highly when I review it next week, by the way…

      • Oh dear, yet another SCREAMING to be read then. He was interestingly interviewed by Mariella Frostrup and I could feel my clicky finger wanting to move to download.

        I think McDiarmuid might win out over the Booker as next read, as I’m in the middle of Damon Galgut’s thought provoking novel about E.M.Forster, and I need something before the next heavy weight lit fic as ‘light’ (!!!!!!!!!!!) relief

        • I can see why his books can be a bit divisive. His style is so understated that’s it’s quite often only after the event that you really get the full impact.

          Haha! You may be the only person who describes a book about war crimes as light reading! We’ll need to see if we can’t drag you away from these misery books occasionally… 😉

  2. I saw Dennis Skinner sitting on a bench in St James’ Park once so I’m pleased to know he’s an aficionado of the city’s green spaces. While I wouldn’t always agree with him, I think the public has been well served by Dennis Skinner as an MP. He always attends Parliament and represents a community that is little served by politicians. I think the Labour leadership are as scared of him as the Tories!

    • Yes, he seems to spend most of his free time in the various parks around Westminster and has a good knowledge of their history. I agree – and that’s partly why I was a bit disappointed in the book. I felt it gave a very partial picture and made him seem as if he hasn’t done much since the eighties except hurl insults across the floor. I don’t know why Kevin Maguire’s name disappeared, but I do feel this would have been a better book if a professional had written it.

  3. FictionFan – I have to say I love the title you gave this!! Just perfect 🙂 . I understand what you mean too about books that aren’t really as focused as one might wish. Still, it sounds like a fascinating Look at a pivotal time.

    • Thanks, Margot! I thought people deserved a wee reward for making it throuigh the review… 😉 Yes, it will certainly be an interesting read for anyone who was politically engaged at that time, but probably not one that will appeal to a wider readership.

  4. Sorry you found this one disappointing, but I shall read it anyway. I was running soup kitchens during the miners’ strike, and here I am again, up to my neck in food banks. So no change there then. And we still have politicians (of all parties) promising much and delivering little.

    • Indeed! I think you’ll find this interesting though, but I do feel it could have been a much better and more informative book if he’d gone for the co-written approach – unless he specifically didn’t want to reveal much. Though, in which case, why write a book?

  5. *laughing* That movie was kinda funny. Well, it was real funny. Hey! You’re speaking French…or it’s Spanish or Latin. I’m not sure. But it sounds neatio. Or reads neat.

    A socilaist?! *falls of his chair* The little bugger!

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