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on 12 January 2013
This was an interesting and readable political novel. Why it had to be renamed to fit in with the Tv programme is beyond me - the original title A very british coup is much more relevant to the narrative. I think the writing style did let it down somewhat and though I was quickly bound up in the flow of the narrative I did feel that it just could have been even better. The behind the scenes manipulation of democracy was terrifying in its plausibility - perhaps I'm paranoid but I had no trouble believing that the establishment would do everything in its power including undermine our democracy if they felt their position and privelege were in any way threatened. It gives an interesting perspective on the era and I have no hesitation in recommending it as a good read.
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on 13 January 2013
An alternative history - Britain as it might have been in the late 1980s, except that it wasn't.

The incompetent Conservative / LibDem coalition in power at the time was thrown out in a Labour landslide (very droll, Mr Mullin, especially since you wrote the book long before the present government came to power) and leftist trade unionist Harry Perkins becomes PM. The Establishment is horrified. And begins to strike back.

I think the historical context and attitudes resemble the sixties more than the eighties; certainly Harold Wilson was always convinced that MI5 was out to get him. Mullin probably would agree.

Jack Whittaker is a database administrator specialising in SQL Server technologies and author of the DBAtasks Blog
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on 13 November 2010
Back in the 60s, 70s, and early 80s there was more genuine difference between the political parties. Labour had a sizeable "hard left" membership that, while never gaining control of the party, could help shape policy. Even those from the left that took leadership roles in the party (Harold Wilson for example) seem to take a couple of step to the right once they had the position.

I suspect that part of the reason that in real life the left was broken was because of the press. Comments (in the popular media) that suggested that anyone with half a brain would emigrate if the Labour Party won didn't help.

This book imagines what might happen if a populist left wing MP (Harry Perkins) had become leader of the party, and then leader of the country. It also dreams that he doesn't make a "Wilsonian charge to the centre ground of British politics" after his election.

In response to his election as Prime Minister (the book starts as Perkins makes his way to London after the election), the Secret Service, the Press and the moderate elements of his own party (all of whom are accustomed to watching the left fizzle about like loons for a while, but never getting elected), decide to see if they can bring him down.

Some people have called this a fictional imagining of what might have happened to Labour politicians of yore. Others seem to see parallels to today's Labour Party. Maybe it has, maybe it hasn't got those parallels. I just call it a fun read. It rattles along quickly, is easy to get into, and is generally a fun read. Don't expect anything too deep and meaningful. If you go along for the ride, you'll enjoy it.
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on 28 December 2003
This is an accurate adaptation of Chris Mullins book. However the end is very different. I wont tell you how as it wouild spoil it.It is hard to believe that we could believe we could have a Labour govt. which was truly socialist unlike now when we have New labour which tries to be Tory and succeeds. It shows how a socialist govt. would have to overcome every obstacle from the faceless true rulers of Britain.Ray McNally puts in a brilliant display as Perkins and it was rightly recently shown again on UK Drama. Anybody with an interest in politics should get this. It will help you remember what socialism is. But dont tell Tony!
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on 15 July 2013
This was a real good read, and I am always keen when an insider writes a novel about what he knows best. I found the novel really enjoyable, but does raise the question who rules the United Kingdom, politicians or big business, the media, and the wealthy. It also begs the question can any government try and implement extreme views, which could be protection, but it depends who those extreme views affect. Chris Mullin writes with knowledge and experience, and has produced a readable and enjoyable book, which can be read quickly, and it turn can be thought-provoking..Agood summer read
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on 23 October 2015
I remember watching Channel 4's (fabulous) adaptation of A Very British Coup in 1988. Then it seemed almost wistfully nostalgic: hard-left Bennitism was on the retreat, as Neil Kinnock modernised the Labour party. Fast-forward a quarter of a century and Jeremy Corbyn's election as Labour leader suddenly makes the book appear current once again.

For this is the tale of a socialist, pacifist leader of the Labour party, Harry Perkins, committed to taking on the City and adopting unilateral disarmament, who suddenly finds himself propelled into Number 10 and fighting for survival -- against not only the Establishment, but also his own side. As Mullin wittily asides: "One reason why the British ruling class have endured so long is that every so often it opens its ranks and absorbs a handful of its own worst enemies."

The IMF comes knocking, a right-wing union leader sparks an energy crisis, the Americans play dirty. There's enough of a grain of truth to keep it just about plausible -- even if the overall effect is one of paranoid conspiracy, a very 1980s' trope (see also Edge of Darkness and Defence Against the Realm).

It's pacily told, with twists and turns a plenty. If the book has a problem, it's that it fades out with a rather whimperingly downbeat ending. Actually, the TV series does the story a service, with a last-minute surprise and a deliciously enigmatic cliffhanger which leaves us guessing whether Harry Perkins triumphs or fails.
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on 1 October 2013
Chris Mullin wrote A Very British Coup back in 1982, setting it seven years into an imagined, bleak, future: the crises and riots that scarred early '80s Britain get worse, manufacturing all but ends, the inner cities become lawless hellholes. Against that backdrop, first Labour elects left-winger Harry Perkins to lead it, then, almost by default against the government's failings, he wins the general election and becomes prime minister. The reaction of The Establishment to this turn of events is a mixture of horror and scheming calculation and the stage is set for a clash of wills, power and political skill.

It's a good read: the story rattles along at a decent pace and stays just the right side of plausibility to keep the reader engaged. It's not a particularly complex story - the book itself is only about 200 pages - but that's not a bad thing: novels can suffer from an excess of sub-plots and keeping it pared down works well.

Thirty years on, it's clearly a work of its time. Indeed, even then, it's questionable as to whether there was the cohesion or unity of purpose among the powers in the shadows that Mullin ascribes to them. Ironically, by the time the real 1989 came round, not only was the far left in retreat in Britain and across the world but Margaret Thatcher had also deeply undermined the previous elites too.

Not a classic then but still a good read and a story that's stood the test of time.

One final point: A Very British Coup has been re-released with a new title 'Secret State' (which frankly is far inferior to the original), to tie in with a second TV adaptation. Don't be misled - this is still the same book.
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on 3 April 2013
Among politics junkies nowadays, Chris Mullin is best remembered for his laudable campaigns against miscarriages of justice. That's when he is remembered at all, for he was an obscure politician. What many don't know is that he also once wrote a rather good novel. 'A Very British Coup' is one of the most fun thrillers you will ever read, though it does help if you have a general interest in politics. Not real politics, but the type of counterfeit that requires you to vote tribally and thoughtlessly, placing an 'X' in a box once every few years.

In truth, politics is quite a dry business. In a way, Mullin succeeds here because he portrays the political game in a way that we would like to believe it is but which, deep down, we know it isn't. Here there are 'goodies' and 'baddies' of the type that resemble the cynical cut-outs portrayed in the popular media and from the demagogic margins. Real politics isn't like that, but the fantasy world depicted by the media eschews reality for false dichotomies, moral outrage, construed conflict and manufactured confrontation. The central character in 'A Very British Coup', and the hero, is 'Harry Perkins', a populist left-wing politician who somehow becomes Prime Minister. Perkins has campaigned in poetry and plans to govern in overt, hard-left prose. Railed against him are the shadowy forces of the Establishment: in the main, certain rogue figures in the intelligence community who do not want to see Britain transformed into what, presumably, Perkins would consider a 'fair' society. The plot charts the machinations of Perkins' enemies and the hero's fight against them. The plans to thwart Perkins get nastier as the story progresses.

The naiveté and political illiteracy of the premise doesn't matter. Mullin is working 'in-house' here, writing an Establishment novel for an audience that is, variously, priggish and credulous. It's not great literature, either stylistically or in its insight, but it's clever. There are those who think the Establishment is conspired against the Left. Then there are those who think Labour is part of the Left, but only with a Perkins knight-like figure who will assail instituted injustice and leaven, imperceptibly, the mores of socialites and 'elitists' alike towards ever-more egalitarian ends and objects. And there are some who even delude themselves that they are part of one of these conspiracies. These are people who are all on the same side, whether they realise it or acknowledge it, and whether or not they like it. They are all, also, wrong. 'A Very British Coup' is a novel about those people and their wrongness. It's a very British thriller in that it is largely clueless in its subject-matter, and knows it, but manages to be entertaining anyway, and reserves right for the end a brief flash of insight and reflection. Perkins - and therefore, by extension, the author - is asking us: 'Does the staged version of politics that we see each day played-out in the media actually do anything for us? Is it real?' What was lucky for me is that I read the book before I saw the TV adaptation, and so I managed to recognise that poignant side of it. The televised version is excellent, I might add, but the book has a much superior ending. Mullin, a politician formed in the satire boom and writing this during a period of increasing Realpolitik and cynicism, wraps up the answer in Perkins' fate.
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on 29 March 2013
Wasn't too sure what to expect as had heard of the phrase as opposed to the book itself for years and only purchased after watching Secret State on tv, which is a loose adaptation.

What I found was a cracking very British read full of moments to make me chuckle to myself of the British institution turning on it's supposed own. I love a good conspiracy and the dark arts of political and supposed hereditary power are to the fore in this work of fiction, but of course this is Great Britain in 2013 and nothing remotely of this nature is in existence anymore....
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on 25 June 2016
I'm a big fan of the 1980s television series based on this book, so thought I would enjoy reading the novel. It turns out that the series is only loosely based on the book. Obviously it has a lot of the same characters but its general direction is the opposite: the series is about how a Socialist Prime Minister successfully struggles against the right-wing Establishment's dirty tricks, while the novel is about how the Establishment successfully orchestrates a manipulative and deceitful coup that brings Socialism down. This is a bleak book and should be avoided!
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