Ken Coates: a Eulogy.
A Flower of the Labour Movement.
Ken Coates (Here) has passed on, at 80, on the 27th of June. (Guardian Obituary Here – letters about it here, Independent Here, Blog Three Score Years and Ten Here, Five Leaves Blog Here, Keith Flett in the Morning Star – Here Socialist Worker Here. Left Futures Here This is Nottingham Here)
He had had a heart attack a few years ago. This time one carried him off.
Ken was one of the best and most influential socialist activists, politicians, and writers of the European Left.
From the Institute for Workers’ Control, the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation, European Nuclear Disarmament, the European Appeal for Full Employment, to Socialist Renewal, he played a leading part in the left and the labour movement.
Rare are people with such gifts: Ken combined a superb grasp of abstract economic and political issues, with the ability to organise within the board trade union movement and peace campaigns. His experience as a Coal Miner (never worn as a trump against ‘intellectuals’), his easy relations with ordinary working people, and his enduring commitment to grass-roots activity, earned him great respect.
I came into direct contact with Ken during his period as a MEP (1989 to 1999). The European Full Employment Conventions (both held in Brussels at the European Parliament) had a wide echo. Attending them both made you realise just how widely and deeply Ken was respected. The delegations to each from Southern England (filling a coach from London) were made up of the kind of salt-of-the-earth left and union activists that keep our movement going. Ken name was part of the draw. The Appeal itself – which demanded decent levels of benefit and real job creation – is still relevant during the present economic crisis. It offers an answer to calls to slash-and-burn the public sector.
Ken stood four-square in the tradition of democratic socialism and promoted the self-management principles of workers’ control with brio. He was evicted from the Labour Party (1998) over his protests with Hugh Kerr against dropping Clause Four. Efforts to form an alternative through the Independent Labour Network, were not succesful. However, the steady stream of pamphlets from Socialist Renewal, his articles and books, and the journal-publishing house, Spokesman continued. They interested, and will keep interesting, a wide public.
Like many on the left with similar views I have scores and scores of letters from Ken (the most recent was a written reply to an E-Mail about a year back). Ken seems never to have really trusted the Web for writing. His ability to engage in constant dialogue pre-dated Blogs, Newsgroups and Facebook. It was just one of the aspects that made him so deeply rooted in the best sides of the European, and world, socialist tradition.
Ken Coates was a flower of the labour movement.
He leaves behind comrades with warm memories and a determination to build on his achievements.
Condolences to his nearest and dearest.
Update: Ken’s funeral will be on July 8, 14.00 at Chesterfield Crematorium.