Ken Coates

Ken Coates (Obituary, 2 July), was an inspirational figure within Nottingham University beyond his own department, as I found when he used the ringing phrase, "contrary to the laws of natural justice" while enlisting my support as a history student against his expulsion from the Labour Party in 1965, writes Giles Oakley.

He had been expelled at a secretive emergency meeting called when he couldn't attend, giving him no chance to defend himself or rally support. When I and other party members came to the next routine ward meeting with the intention of raising the issue and getting the expulsion overturned we found the doors locked and a belligerent line of policemen barring our passage. Days later I received a letter from the national general secretary informing me that I, too, had been expelled, with no explanation given. Such was my introduction to Labour-machine politics in response to dissidence, rendered somewhat farcical by the ease with which I was able to slip back into membership in my home town. It was with wry amusement that I noticed the name of the regional organiser most ruthlessly behind Ken's expulsion in '65 among those creating the break-away Social Democrats in the 1980s.

Although he'll be remembered for his peace movement activism and for his promotion of workers' control, it was Ken's poverty campaigning that resonated most with me and many others in Nottingham. In 1967 he and fellow academic Richard Silburn set up a study group which produced the eye-opening and humane report St Ann's: Poverty, deprivation and morale in a Nottingham Community (with evocative photos by a student Donald Cooper, now best known as a theatre photographer). That led to the better-known Penguin Special, Poverty: The Forgotten Englishman, in 1970.

I like to remember Ken as a free-spirited and pugnacious speaker with an often hilarious line in invective which was liberating in its irreverence towards those in power. This undoubtedly made him enemies, but inside the trenchant polemicist there was also a quieter educationalist. On one occasion, in a University Labour Club meeting he had been witheringly dismissive of the "revisionism" of Tony Crosland (then Secretary of State for Education in the Harold Wilson government) specifically targeting his widely influential book The Future of Socialism (1956). When I timidly admitted that I rather liked Crosland (despite his raising of student fees), Ken gave me a copy of Crosland's book, clearly in a spirit of encouragement of debate and wider thought, without regard for his own hostile views. Nor did he hold it against me when, having read the book, I had to admit I still rather liked Crosland.

It's a tragedy Labour so often shows its dispiriting authoritarian streak when confronted by challenging internal critics of integrity such as Ken. Let's hope his career will provider reminders of how things might be handled in a more open way in future.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Web Designer / Front End Developer

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast expanding web managem...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor