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4.3 out of 5 stars64
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on 21 October 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." 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
on 3 December 1998
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 27 December 2000
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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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 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.

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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 11 October 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
on 24 March 2008
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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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 14 August 2009
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 otherwise a pretty depressing tale (at least for Labour supporters). Being an apparent contemporary of O'Farrell this book resonated with me from first page to last, a reminder of how grim life really was under Thatcher as the cult of the individual replaced the common good of society. It won't appeal to everyone but for those with an eye to history, including social history and particularly that peculiar British trait of making fun of bad situations, there is much to recommend this book.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 12 July 2001
Now, as a true blue Tory who reads the Daily Mail, I had never heard of John O'Farrell, despite being a fan of Spitting image. I ashamed to say the book was lent to be by a friend and I was sceptical, however, the self depreciating humour in this book is something I fully concur with. It nearly converted my political views! I'm now a massive fan and have almost finished "the best a man can get" (I bought that one!) Things can only get better reveals the brutal honesty about how men really feel, but fail to reveal the fact for fear of ridicule. It's even inspired me to want to write my own version, but, like John O' Farrell, I'll never get round to it out of pure laziness. One word of warning, don't read it on a commuter train because people will stare at you for giggling histerically!
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 8 September 2001
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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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 11 June 2009
Many reviews here are of the opinion that if you are rightwing, you will not enjoy this book. Don't be fooled for a second. A tory myself, the title alone raised a delighted chuckle and the rest of the book did not dissapoint.
With the possible exception of the 1997 election bit, the book is eminently enjoyable, not only for O'Farrel's humour and general 'oh, how silly I was then' approach to his topic, but also for another reason. As a chapter builds up some tory-bashing here, a leftist rant there, there is in the back of the reader's mind the fact that this book is called '18 Miserable Years' for a reason. No matter how long the virtues of Labour's cause are espoused, there is then the exquisite delight of reading about the latest electoral annihilation faced by O'Farrel and whichever organisation he was campaigning for at the time. A better, more critical and hilarious look back at hard left politics in the 80s could not have been written by a rightwinger. 5 stars.
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