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Things Can Only Get Better: Eighteen Miserable Years in the Life of a Labour Supporter, 1979-1997 [Paperback]

John O'Farrell
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 May 1999

Like bubonic plague and stone cladding, no-one took Margaret Thatcher seriously until it was too late. Her first act as leader was to appear before the cameras and do a V for Victory sign the wrong way round. She was smiling and telling the British people to f*** off at the same time. It was something we would have to get used to.'

Things Can Only Get Better is the personal account of a Labour supporter who survived eighteen miserable years of Conservative government. It is the heartbreaking and hilarious confessions of someone who has been actively involved in helping the Labour party lose elections at every level: school candidate: door-to-door canvasser: working for a Labour MP in the House of Commons; standing as a council candidate; and eventually writing jokes for a shadow cabinet minister.

Along the way he slowly came to realise that Michael Foot would never be Prime Minister, that vegetable quiche was not as tasty as chicken tikki masala and that the nuclear arms race was never going to be stopped by face painting alone.

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Things Can Only Get Better: Eighteen Miserable Years in the Life of a Labour Supporter, 1979-1997 + An Utterly Exasperated History of Modern Britain: or Sixty Years of Making the Same Stupid Mistakes as Always + An Utterly Impartial History of Britain: (or 2000 Years Of Upper Class Idiots In Charge)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Black Swan; New Ed edition (1 May 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0552998036
  • ISBN-13: 978-0552998031
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 71,562 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John O'Farrell is the bestselling author of several novels including The Best A Man Can Get, This is Your Life, May Contain Nuts and The Man Who Forgot His Wife. He has also written the very successful history books An Utterly Impartial History of Britain and An Utterly Exasperated History of Modern Britain, as well as a political memoir, Things Can Only Get Better. A former comedy scriptwriter for shows such as Spitting Image and Alias Smith and Jones, he is the founder of the satirical website NewsBiscuit and is well known for appearing on TV programmes including Grumpy Old Men, The Review Show and Have I Got News For You.

Product Description

Amazon Review

"Nothing gets my hackles up more," writes John O'Farrell, "than people who should know better copping out of the political system because they think they are above it." No-one could question O'Farrell's commitment to the political process after reading this hysterical, trenchant and admirably self-aware account of 'eighteen miserable years in the life of a labour supporter'.

Born in Maidenhead to a family so irredeemably middle-class that as a student he found himself carefully punctuating his graffiti ("Jobs, comma, not bombs. Full stop."), O'Farrell maps the unglamorous underbelly of politics--the cold community centres, the estates you can never canvas because the security doors won't let you in, the pleasure to be had in aggressively doorstepping Jehovah's Witnesses. Most impressively, O'Farrell records the psychological cost of it all. "There is," he admits, "something perverse in the fact that the task of making the world a happier place required us to stop having fun." His account of his joyless, sexless, right-on youth will surely have bells jangling in many a balding graduate pate.

Growing up in a world where the Tories had trade-marked common sense, it was inevitable that O'Farrell's primary political release should be writing for Spitting Image. Now that Labour have, at terrible ideological cost, retaken the common ground, O'Farrell has turned that humour on himself. People of all political persuasions will enjoy this book. O'Farrell would hate us saying that--sadly for him, it is true. --Simon Ings --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"'The funniest book I have read for two and a half years'" (Arthur Smith)

"'The whingeing memoirs of a snivelling leftie. The man should be shot'" (Jack Dee)

"'Very funny'" (Mail on Sunday)

"'Excellent...Whatever your politics Things Can Only Get Better will make you laugh out loud'" (Angus Deayton)

"'Very funny'" (The Times)

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Longest Love Letter in History 21 Oct 2001
Any Guardian reader will be familiar with O'Farrell's style from his Saturday column, which is quietly intelligent and simply loaded with great gags, almost literally one per sentence. A collection of those, in fact, is avaiable under the compiled title Global Village Idiot (referring I think to the esteemed President). Here, though, he reflects on - well - eighteen miserable years in the life of a Labour supporter from 1979 to 1997.
It's superbly entertaining and also instructive for anyone like me who was born in the early 70s and wasn't much interested in politics until post-Thatcher. Brought up in a home where the only source of political punditry was the Daily Express (now a New Labour cheerleader, but then the paramilitary wing of the Daily Mail), I really believed all those stories about Loony Left Councils and the disasters of the Callaghan government. O'Farrell provides a refreshing alternative view, albeit 20 years too late.
He's not blindly vain for the Labour cause, though, and readily accepts the terrible suicidal state the party found itself in during the early 1980s, and the 1983 manifesto later described as "longest suicide note in history". On the election of Michael Foot as leader, he recalls: "When his ascension was confirmed in a second ballot, my fellow students and I drank a happy toast to this victory for socialism. I looked across to the Tory students on the other side of the university bar and they seemed to be celebrating something too.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Things Can Only Get Better 23 April 2006
I picked up "Things can only get better" in a shop the other day and after really the first chapter in the shop just had to buy it. So readable was it in the end that I finished it that very same day and can happily report that it was a most entertaining and enjoyable book.

John O'Farrell is a TV comedy writer whose credits include Spitting Image, Have I got News for you, Smith and Jones, Clive Anderson and the list goes on. He has also been a paid up member of the Labour party pretty soon since he left university. Born to a fairly affluent family living in Berkshire, theirs was a slightly unusual family in that both John's mother and father were true socialists just when other families in their areas were looking forward to Mrs Thatcher winning the 1979 General Election. The sub title of the book is "Eighteen miserable years in the life of a Labour Supporter" and that's really what the book is all about.

As I say the book begins with the General Election of 1979 and goes right through the Tony Blair's landslide victory in 1997 and pulls out all the major events in-between, the Greenham, Common protest, the Falklands campaign, the miners' strike, the failures of Neil Kinnock, the eventual sacking of Maggie and John Major's attempts to lead the country.

Although the writing makes no mistake that John is a fervent socialist and Labour party support his style is fairly light and undemanding and although the bias is strongly in favour of Labour he doesn't get bogged down in too much Tory bashing and isn't above taking a great line in humourous self-depreciation and fully details the reasons why Labour's ineffectiveness were as much to blame for the 18 years of Tory rule as were the Tory capitalisation of events like the Falklands and Michael Foot.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Memoirs of a foot-soldier 3 Dec 1998
By A Customer
If you were hopelessly committed to a host of lost causes in the 1980's, with the Labour Party first among them, if you know what it is like to attend long dull meetings, deliver leaflets and canvass in the rain' if you remember the bleak empty cold days that followed election defeat in 1983, 1987 and 1992 when nothing seemed to make sense, if you are still celebrating the victory of 1997, then this is a book for you.
O'Farrell is a true foot soldier, giving everything to win elections, and then having to come to terms with losing almost every fight. (It was nice to know that I am not alone).
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
By Magic Lemur VINE VOICE
Name a Conservative comedian.
Give up?
Sadly, as a Tory, I've found there are few that aren't either bigoted or aged, which is why most Conservatives have to go cap-in-hand to commentators such as John O'Farrell.

Although this book is from the perspective of a hardcore Labour activist (he was even went vegetarian for the cause), its humour and humanity make it an enjoyable read. Even when stating his most left-wing of left-wing opinions, O'Farrell still comes across as a decent, genuine guy and it's often easy to read some of it without the penny dropping for a few pages (e.g. about how Labour people are often nicer than Conservatives).

Even up until the very end, where he talks about Labour's monumental 1997 victory, you can fully empathise and laugh along with the author.

And although Labour, like the Tories, have faded from glory with the years of government, this book has lost none of its power. Though comedy ages like cream, somehow the jokes still seem fresh despite the aged subject matter.

So, I'm in the ironic position of recommending a Labour activist's book as a Conservative activist!
Maybe one day Boris Johnson or William Hague will write their humourous memoirs. Somehow, though, I think they will struggle to out-do the trajedy, comedy but, most of all, the joyous energy of this book.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars very good if you lived through it
Those who were members of the Labour Party prior to 1979 will recognise all of this whether your ward was in London or North England. Its all history, your history. Read more
Published 10 months ago by John O Derby
3.0 out of 5 stars Very nostaligic
I have only just discovered John O'Farrell and, even though I do not have an allegiance with his politics, thought I would read this book. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Mrs. P. Whitehouse
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting.
Interesting and very amusing book. A bit old now, and got him into some hot water during the Eastleigh by-election but a frank and easy to read, pretty honest account of being a... Read more
Published 15 months ago by Taerri
5.0 out of 5 stars John O'Farrell - what a Guy
Well my review of this product is going to be a little biased, since I met the author, and he has signed my copy. Read more
Published 16 months ago by Ted O'Neill
5.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous
Still a great read after 15 years. O Farrell makes you laugh out loud, and captures the misery and excitment, the highs and lows or being a Labour Party Member.
Published 21 months ago by redish1
4.0 out of 5 stars an entertaining read
a great history (albeit one sided) of the thatcher years in great britain. really enjoyed this book even as a true blue tory and paid up member of the conservative party! Read more
Published 22 months ago by Jane
5.0 out of 5 stars Good gift.
I bought this for my husband who had been reading other John Farrell books. We were going on holiday and he had said he didn't know what to take to read so, after reading some of... Read more
Published on 28 April 2012 by Sam Ellis
1.0 out of 5 stars Memoirs of a Champagne Socialist
A punishingly boring book. The author was a writer for Spitting Image during the years when it was not as funny as it used to be. Read more
Published on 12 Jan 2012 by Johns
5.0 out of 5 stars much funnier than the title might suggest
Just finished this very funny book. From the title I thought it might be a bit dull, but far from it. Read more
Published on 13 Oct 2011 by Captain Kirk
5.0 out of 5 stars A very entertaining book
I found this book very pleasant to read. It gives an account of the labour years in opposition through the eyes of a boy growing up.
Published on 13 Oct 2011 by Michalis
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