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

TBR Thursday 14…

Episode 14

 

Woo-hoo! Dropped to 101 this week! This new iron self-control thing is finally working…but how long will it last? Depends on how many irresistible new books come out, I suppose. And here’s a few I’ve already got on pre-order…

The ‘must read on publication day if not before’ list:

Missing You

A new standalone by Harlan Coben is always a must. Not great literature, maybe, but usually great fun! Publication due 10th April 2014…

It’s a profile, like all the others on the online dating site. But as NYPD Detective Kat Donovan focuses on the accompanying picture, she feels her whole world explode, as emotions she’s ignored for decades come crashing down on her. Staring back at her is her ex-fiancé Jeff, the man who shattered her heart—and who she hasn’t seen in 18 years. Kat feels a spark, wondering if this might be the moment when past tragedies recede and a new world opens up to her.  But when she reaches out to the man in the profile, her reawakened hope quickly darkens into suspicion and then terror as an unspeakable conspiracy comes to light, in which monsters prey upon the most vulnerable.

*****

good working class stockOne for UK political nerds only, I feel…so should suit me just fine! Publication of this book has been delayed so many times, but hopefully the new date of 1st May 2014 will stick…

Dennis Skinner, the famed Beast of Bolsover, is adored by legions of supporters and respected as well as feared by admiring enemies. Fiery and forthright, with a prodigious recall, Skinner is one of the best-known politicians in Britain. He remains as passionate and committed to the causes he champions as on the first day he entered the House of Commons back in 1970. In an age of growing cynicism about politicians, the witty and astute Skinner is renowned as a brightly burning beacon of principle. He has watched Prime Ministers come and go—Heath, Wilson, Callaghan, Thatcher, Major, Blair, Brown—and yet remains uncorrupted by patronage and compromise.

*****

the facts of life and deathBelinda Bauer’s Rubbernecker was one of the best crime books of last year, so this one is eagerly anticipated. Publication due 27th March 2014.

Lone women terrorised and their helpless families forced to watch – in a sick game where only one player knows the rules. And when those rules change, the new game is Murder.

Living with her parents in the dank beach community of Limeburn, ten-year-old Ruby Trick has her own fears. Bullies on the school bus, the forest crowding her house into the sea, and the threat of divorce.

Helping her Daddy to catch the killer might be the key to keeping him close. As long as the killer doesn’t catch her first…

*****

gallowglassFerris’ last book Pilgrim Soul took the Douglas Brodie series to a whole new level – will he be able to maintain that standard? Post-war period Glasgow noir. Publication due 3rd April 2014…

A brief editorial describes the tragic death of their chief crime reporter Douglas Brodie and staunchly defends him against the unproven charge of murder. It’s a brave stance to take, given the weight of evidence. The case is watertight: the bullet comes from Brodie’s revolver, the banker’s wife denies knowing Brodie, and Brodie’s pockets are stuffed with ransom notes. Samantha Campbell deploys all her advocacy skills to no avail. It looks like her lover is for the long drop. But in an apparent act of desperation—or guilt—Brodie cheats justice by committing suicide in his prison cell. Is this the sordid end for a distinguished ex-copper, decorated soldier, and man of parts?(Bet it’s not!)

*****

All blurbs are taken from Goodreads.

Any of these appeal to you? What other soon-to-be-releaseds are you eagerly awaiting?