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April 03, 2007

Harry Phibbs asks, why would anyone choose a real job if they can splash around in Quango land? Hot Mettle: SOGAT, Murdoch and me - Brenda Dean

Posted by Harry Phibbs

Hot Mettle: SOGAT, Murdoch and me
by Brenda Dean
London: Politico's Publishing, 2007
Hardback, 17.99

The historic defeat of the print unions by Rupert Murdoch in the 1980s showed the print unions in a thoroughly macho light. They attempted to win through force. Through mass picketing. Threats. Violence. Intimidation. Their strategy to defeat Murdoch was to ensure that he would find it impossible to get people to work for him because they would be in fear of their lives if they did so.

Amidst all this an incongruous site would waft onto our TV screens with a tone of sweet reason. There would be Brenda Dean, perfectly turned out and softly spoken, leader of SOGAT, one of the print unions, explaining how moderate and reasonable they were being.

Mark Mardell may have reached the dizzy heights of becoming the BBC's Europe Editor but Dean records that she once had to intervene to prevent him being lynched by some of her rougher members.

A meeting of 4,000 printers was taking place at the Brixton Academy over Rupert Murdoch's move to Wapping. But someone shouted out:

There's a journo in here.
Dean says:
It was the young Mark Mardell then a fairly new IRN industrial reporter I rather liked who had infiltrated the meeting with his tape recorder hidden. He had got into the meeting somehow though everyone's union card was checked at the door. He was about to be manhandled and it looked rather ugly.

"Don't touch him," I said. "He's a friendly journalist and we're going to need people like him."

So Mardell was politely asked to leave but it was quite a tense moment.

What if Mardell had been an unfriendly journalist, trenchant in his criticism of the print unions? Would that have meant beating him up would have been OK?

Certainly, Dean's election as a union leader was noteworthy and it would be churlish to dispute such an achievement. Her stress on formality was surely sensible given the circumstances. Mirror proprietor Robert Maxwell asked her to call him Bob, but she insisted on Mr Maxwell. He asked:

Why? Everybody else calls me Bob.
Dean replied:
Well, I don't feel I can trust you and sometimes you do things to people I represent which I feel are absolutely awful.
Maxwell managed to combine being a crooked capitalist with being an apologist for Eastern European Communism. This meant he had plenty of allies on the Labour Left.

When Dean urged delegates at a Labour Conference to give the Mirror cocktail party a miss she notes that Ken Gill, Communist leader of TASS complained while, she says:

Ray Buckton, the footplatemen's leader, who would go to Headington Hill Hall and take Maxwell's hospitality, let me know he was not happy....
While acknowledging her achievement in career progression in this curious world, by her own account one of her principal rivals had notable deficiencies. His name was George Willoughby and he was the London Central branch secretary. Dean recalls:
Willoughby was an oddball and quite unpredictable. At one point when he was at loggerheads with his branch committee he locked himself in a cupboard and refused for hours to come out and face up to the problem.
How would Murdoch have coped with him?

In subsequent years Dean was put in the House of Lords by the Labour leader John Smith and she became a member of the Honours Scrutiny Committee with Lord Hurd, deliberating over the suitability of others to receive such status. She strikes a cautious note over whether anything can be done about cash for peerages. Dean states:

The reality is that without other sources of funding the political parties are bound to appeal to their wealthy supporters and to their individual members for financial support. Where else is funding to come from?
She dismisses taxpayer finance, arguing:
Some people will always find ways round the rules, however closely defined, and I do not believe it is possible to make any system watertight.
This is a poorly written book, weighed down with all the predictable "Gee whizz fancy a little girl from Eccles like me doing all this" type of stuff. She now happily splashes around in Quango land, trilling:
In the public sector I think women have been faring better but the sector is better geared to the whole issue of diversity. It thinks and plans ahead because it is embedded in the system. That does not happen in the private sector.
Loosely translated this means that people in the public sector take the odd day off for Diversity Training where they doze while listening
to some academic paid 500 to spout gobbledygook and are given tea and biscuits afterwards. Plus people like Baroness Dean getting appointed to Quangos to fill the female quota. Meanwhile the downtrodden taxpayers in real jobs (including women taxpayers) pick up the bill. Dean says:
Of one thing I am certain. I would never consider a full-time job again.
Why should she?

Harry Phibbs is a journalist.

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