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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Longest Love Letter in History
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...
Published on 21 Oct 2001 by John Self

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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Making light of grim reality
This book is a reminder for all those of us who hated the successive Conservative governments from 1979 - 1997 of how bad things were in the Labour party through much of that period and why such a radical change in the party's ideology was required to make it electable. O'Farrell's deadpan despondency allows the self-deprecating humour in the book to balance what is...
Published on 14 Aug 2009 by JFD


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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Longest Love Letter in History, 21 Oct 2001
This review is from: Things Can Only Get Better: Eighteen Miserable Years in the Life of a Labour Supporter, 1979-1997 (Paperback)
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." This has two parallels for today's reader: first it reminds us of the terrible suicidal state that the Conservative party finds itself in today, and secondly in the dismissal of a new leader we recall (as O'Farrell reminds us elsewhere) how Margaret Thatcher was ridiculed by the left when she was elected leader, and how wrong they were to do so. "Tory leaders always seem to come out of nowhere," says O'Farrell.
The most refreshing thing about the book though is that occasionally he pauses the jokes and, more or less involuntarily one suspects, wails about how anyone could possibly consider the Tories a force for good, and reminds us of how all the positive social changes of the 20th century came from the liberal left. This passion for the third way may seem mediocre at times - and he's certainly no radical compared to the Guardian columnist he replaced, Jeremy Hardy, who regularly made me feel like a swivel-eyed fascist bigot - but it's honest and, tempered with his keen wit, it makes me say: John O'Farrell for next Labour Leader but one!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Leaving behind ideals, 15 Dec 2007
I suppose I read this book late - ten years after publication and 10 years after Labour took power. Is there a book of the same title currently being penned by a despondent Conservative? Much of the criticism of the long in tooth Conservatives now seem so transferable to New Labour. In this book O'Farrell describes his personal travails of being a Labour party activist coinciding with the time when the party endured its longest spell out of power since its formation.

The book is funny and realistic, although some of the humour at times seems contrived and you then remember that O'Farrell has since become a comedy writer of some renown. I particularly admired his commitment and identified with his frustration at the lack of response from those he tried to reach with his message. You can literally feel his sheer despair at the constant re-election of a party, and above all a Prime Minister, who was getting it so obviously and disastrously wrong. "Why can't they see what I can see?" is his plaintiff cry, the one of all fanatics. I could also identify with him when he finally decided to drop his vegetarianism (part of the Labour Left package, together with no fashion sense, no humour and unilateral disarmament) in favour a large thick bacon sandwich.

By the end he seems to have almost ditched his political values as well and drawn comfort in a belief that this is the destiny of all faithful converts, seduced by comfort - the fight simply oozing away as other demands and concerns move in (family, security, home and lazy weekends). This may be satisfying to some, but I would have liked to have read of someone who transformed their belief to new circumstances, rather than diluted them down or gave up all together.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Things Can Only Get Better, 23 April 2006
By 
Rich Milligan (Thatcham, Berkshire) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Things Can Only Get Better: Eighteen Miserable Years in the Life of a Labour Supporter, 1979-1997 (Paperback)
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.

Obviously if you are a true blue conservative then you're probably going to throw the book down in exasperation, decrying it for being full of lies and spin, but if you lean slightly to the left or even if you've just got a general interest in politics then I think you'll find it a great entertaining read and more than a little bit funny.
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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
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent book, whatever your political persuasion, 24 Jun 2011
By 
Magic Lemur (Somewhere in Madagascar) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: Things Can Only Get Better: Eighteen Miserable Years in the Life of a Labour Supporter, 1979-1997 (Paperback)
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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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More fun than knocking up, 8 Sep 2001
This review is from: Things Can Only Get Better: Eighteen Miserable Years in the Life of a Labour Supporter, 1979-1997 (Paperback)
If, like me, you have braved the cold winter nights for the good of 'The Party' and if, like me, you have looked around draughty church halls at ill-attended meetings and wondered if it was all worth it, and if, like me, you remember that glorious night in May 1997 and decided that yes, it was all worth it after all, then you will gain a special sort of pleasure from this book. Laugh out loud funny for anyone with more than a passing interest in grassroots politics.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars D-Ream..., 27 Dec 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: Things Can Only Get Better: Eighteen Miserable Years in the Life of a Labour Supporter, 1979-1997 (Paperback)
No, not a boigraphy by the pop band D-Ream but a political memoir but don't let that deter you! "Whatever your political association this book will split your ribs unilaterally!" This was the least of commendation I could give this book and only a chapter in! This hilarious book will leave you crying for more through John O'Farrel's writ and memoir. However, the best thing about this book is the introduction it can make to politics. If you couldn't tell Thatcher from Heath this will make the difference clear albeit in an entirely biased manner. I dare not refer to the text in any detail because to do so would spoil the hilarity and surprise which this book dishes out by the bucket-load. Buy this, you will not be disappointed!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ...I originally bought this book for my dad on fathers day..., 11 Oct 2000
I originally bought this book for my dad on fathers day. It now resides on my bookshelf in my house and dad has never read it (or should I say never had the chance to read it). I often refer to it as my bible. Whenever I'm feeling disilusioned with the Labour Party or bored of trying to get my student peers to understand the rightness of socialism I read O'Farrell's book again. Because after all those years of heartache it reminds me why we worked so hard and why we can't give it all up again. Also, however, it is just damn funny.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fever Pitch for Politicos, 24 Mar 2008
This review is from: Things Can Only Get Better: Eighteen Miserable Years in the Life of a Labour Supporter, 1979-1997 (Paperback)
Occasionally I see someone on the tube reading this book and I always feel envious that I no longer have the opportunity to read this book for the the first time again. I am of the same (general) age as O'Farrell so I am not sure that people in their twenties who don't remember Maggie T would get as much out of it as those of us who lived through the era O'Farrell describes but nevertheless I am confident that what they DO get out of it is more than they will get from most books out there on the shelves. As an utter cynicist who cannot see organised Labour (either the Old or New incarnation) through the rose-tinted glow as often does O'Farrell, I nevertheless acknowledge him as one of the finest humorists of his generation and I salute him! This book was a landmark for me as a review of the world in which I grew up and also restoring my faith in the power of the written word to make me laugh out loud in public.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars John O'Farrell - what a Guy, 22 Mar 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Things Can Only Get Better: Eighteen Miserable Years in the Life of a Labour Supporter, 1979-1997 (Paperback)
Well my review of this product is going to be a little biased, since I met the author, and he has signed my copy.

So I bought this book during the Eastleigh by-election campaign, John was our candidate, and he turned out to be a great campaigner.
At the start of the campaign, Liberal voters by the bucket-load and also a few Tories were changing sides, and deciding to vote with us - and John was instrumental in this. After a few weeks when the stupid press had continuously said that we couldn't win, the public became a bit less friendly but that wasn't John's fault.

I purchased this book from a third-party retailer, through amazon, at the start of the by-election campaign, and received it by the end which was fair enough, considering John had suddenly become famous, this was his first book on a short print-run, and the entire press wanted to see his quote about the Brighton bomb.

It's really funny - sympathetic and enjoyable. Buy this book!
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