A Very British Coup Revisited: An Interview with Chris Mullin

The following was written by Michael | @mikeypie12

Following Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader of the Labour Party, amidst a barrage of censure and criticism from the mainstream media. Which included the quite shocking claim in The Sunday Times ostensibly from a general in the British Army, that should Labour win the next election there would be resignations en masse, whilst alluding to a military coup. Many were shocked, whilst others thought it sounded unerringly familiar. Or, in the words of Oscar Wilde, “Life imitates art, far more than art imitates life.” Chris Mullin’s 1982 novel ‘A Very British Coup’ about the election win of Harry Perkins, a man who wears tweed and whose primary policies include leaving NATO, getting rid of the Nuclear deterrent, abolition of the House of Lords, and public control over finances – whilst the headlines of the popular press scream, “LABOUR VOTES FOR SUICIDE.” Famously serialised on TV, and then remade again in 2012 by Channel 4 as ‘Secret State.’ It has once more been thrust into the spotlight. I decided to get in touch with the former minister, renowned diarist, and as it turns out, prophet, to find out what he makes of it all.

M: You’re quite famous where I live as you were MP in Sunderland for quite a long time, what are you up to these days?

CM: I chair the Heritage Lottery Fund in the North East and teach part time in the Politics Department of Newcastle University, I review books (for anyone who will have me), speak at literary festivals (more than 100 since I retired from parliament) and grow vegetables in my walled garden in Northumberland. For further details see my website www.chrismullinexmp.com and my Twitter account @chrismullinexmp.


M: You’re quite a well-known diarist and backbencher, what do you consider your finest achievements in the Labour Party?

CM: I was proud to have represented Sunderland for 23 years to the best of my ability, at a time when the City picked itself up from the very low place into which it had sunk following the collapse of much of its heavy industry — though I do not claim much credit for the improvement in its fortunes. I also helped correct a number of celebrated miscarriages of justice. 

M: You’re undergoing something of a renaissance with your eerily prophetic masterpiece A Very British Coup, what inspired you to write it? 

CM: A Very British Coup was published in 1982 and it is still in print. I was prompted by speculation as to how the Establishment would react in the event of the election of a government headed by someone like the late Tony Benn.


M: In particular your prescience on the media response, even recent remarks in the Sunday Times from a general are quite spooky, what did you make of that? 

CM: We are fortunate in this country to have a military that (on the whole) does not interfere in politics. There have always been a handful of exceptions, however. This general is obviously one of them. The role of the military is to defend our democracy, not to interfere with it. 

M: What kind of parallels do you personally see between Perkins and Jeremy Corbyn? 

CM: Harry Perkins and Jeremy Corbyn are both modest men whose election comes as a surprise to most people. Perkins had more experience of government than Corbyn and enjoyed a bigger base in the parliamentary party. 

M: And finally where do you see Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership going? Do you think it’ll end more like the book with a resignation or the TV series with a motion military coup? 

CM: As to where Jeremy’s leadership is going, that remains to be seen. His biggest problem is that he has the support of less than ten percent of the parliamentary party and a shadow cabinet most of whom didn’t vote for him. His strength is that he has an overwhelming mandate from the party, but he needs to build an electoral base. He deserves to be given a chance, but if after a couple of years the polls are predicting annihilation rather than mere defeat, he would be wise to stand down of his own accord and let someone else have a go. 

M: Thankyou very much for your time. It’s a pleasure. 

After reading A British Coup, I’ve since picked up Error of Judgment: The Truth about the Birmingham Bombings which I highly recommend about Chris’ outstanding work towards rectifying one of this nation’s most well-known miscarriages of justice, The Birmingham Six. Also coming highly recommended is his political diary ‘A View from the Foothills‘ which incidentally was described by The Times as an, “Eloquent answer to those who believe that all politicians are in it for themselves” and “the central text for understanding the Blair years.” I’m sure on this occasion you shall take the word of a Murdoch newspaper.

Chris shall be speaking this Saturday at the Durham Book Festival.

By Michael | @mikeypie12

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