July 6, 2017, by Sarah Colborne

Ken Loach, Ken Coates and the European Union

Black and white photo of Ken Coates crouching over papers strewn on the floor, editing Clarion magazine

Ken Coates editing the National Association of Labour Students’ Organizations magazine, ‘Clarion’
(ref. MS 958/IMG_0005)

In researching his 2016 British Academy award winning film ‘I, Daniel Blake’, director Ken Loach visited the St Ann’s Advice Centre in Nottingham (a community organisation offering advice on welfare benefits, employment and debt). Back in October 1966, two tutors of the University of Nottingham’s Adult Education Department, Ken Coates and Bill Silburn, had conducted an investigation into the social, economic, health and educational conditions of a large suburb of Nottingham which had been scheduled for redevelopment. The published report was entitled ‘St Ann’s: Poverty, Deprivation and Morale in a Nottingham Community‘. It showed that 36% of the population of St Ann’s lived in poverty, and caused a huge amount of publicity and controversy. The survey data and the report were the basis of the television documentary ‘St Ann’s’ (1969) directed by Stephen Frears for Thames Television.

Article entitled 'Labour Leader in Fascist Quarrel'

Coates crops up in the Nottingham University student newspaper, ‘Gongster’,
causing controversy in his role as President of the Socialist Society
(ref. UONC Periodicals, 30 January 1959)

Kenneth Sidney Coates (1930-2010), had been drafted to work as a coal miner on the Nottinghamshire Coalfield due to his refusal to be drafted into the army, but won a place at the University of Nottingham as a Mature State Scholar in 1956, obtaining a first class degree in Sociology. Academic posts at the University followed with Coates working his way up to become Special Professor in the Continuing Education Department before his retirement in 2004.

Although initially a member of the Communist Party, whilst at Nottingham University he was secretary of the National Association of Labour Students’ Organizations, editing its paper ‘Clarion’. Coates would go on to become head of the Nottingham Labour Party for a time, and served on the editorial boards of International Socialism (1960), International Socialist Journal (1964), a pioneering organ of the European Left, and also in 1964, he launched from Nottingham The Week, an initiative which evolved into the International Marxist Group.

Close up of brown card files with labelled in biro

Files of a range of subjects revealing the work of Ken Coates as MEP (ref. KCS 1-2)

He served as a Member of the European Parliament for Nottingham (1989-1994) and then North Nottinghamshire and Chesterfield (1994-1999) originally representing the Labour party, but came into conflict with Tony Blair’s ‘New Labour’ and was expelled from the party in 1998.

Coates was Chair of the European Parliament’s Human Rights Subcommittee (1989-1994), work for which he won widespread acclaim. He was active in creating a European Union-wide ‘pensioners parliament’, a European disabled peoples’ assembly, and a European convention on full employment, and was also Joint Secretary of the European Nuclear Disarmament Liaison Committee.

Colour printed flyers 'The Future of the Left - where next for Britain's labour movement?'

Flyers for the inaugural Ken Coates Memorial Lecture, 2015 (ref. MS 958)

In 1965, Bertrand Russell invited Ken Coates to join the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation, which had been established two years earlier to work for international nuclear disarmament, human rights and social justice. Coates worked closely with Russell until his death in 1970, in which year he commenced editing The Spokesman, the Foundation’s journal, which he continued to do until his own death in 2010. In 1968, the Foundation moved its offices to Nottingham from London.

Back in 2015 the University’s Centre for the Study of Social and Global Justice hosted the inaugural Ken Coates Memorial Lecture, sponsored by the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation, with Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress delivering a speech on ‘The Future of the Left – where next for Britain’s labour movement?’.

Manuscripts and Special Collections are fortunate to have an archive of Coates’ papers relating to his work as an MEP, with files relating to human rights and the environment which are likely to be of particular significance for future research in these fields, but the papers also document a significant decade in political history (New Labour, neoliberalism, etc.) and reveal Britain’s interactions with Europe, as well as illuminating a wide range of social and environmental issues of local and international importance.

Box of unsorted archive material

Material from the archive including a newspaper article showing Coates sharing a platform with Tony Benn and Arthur Scargill, and a 1982 University leaflet advertising the Nottingham Peace Lectures (ref. KCS 3)

More recently, in May of 2016, Tony Simpson and Tom Unterrainer hosted an evening discussion at Nottingham Contemporary entitled Beyond Wage Slavery: Opening Ken Coates Archive. At this event they looked at the figure of Ken Coates and his collection of articles, letters, book and newspaper reviews. These were compiled by Coates as a record of his activities and achievements over the years (1960-2004), and are an essential guide to his career. This material, along with a list created by Unterrainer as part of his work on a bibliography of Coates’ work has now been donated to the University and forms part of the Ken Coates archive (ref: KCS/3).

Spines of books by Coates on a shelf

Throughout his life he published various works on left-wing political subjects. Nearly fifty of his publications have been generously donated to the University of Nottingham by Spokesman Books, the publishing imprint of the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation (ref. KCC)

An evening discussion and informative collaboration European Citizenship: A Conversation will take place at Nottingham Contemporary on 12 July 2017, organised by Tony Simpson, editor of European Citizen, a book which probes the consequences of Brexit, with a particular focus on the question of citizenship and expands upon the ‘Retaining European Citizenship’ European Citizens’ Initiative. It is published by Spokesman Books, the publishing imprint of the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation.

For more information about Manuscripts & Special Collections, including how to visit, please see our website. The archive of Kenneth Coates (KCS) and papers from the inaugural memorial lecture (MS 958) are described at collection level in our Manuscripts Online Catalogue, and the published material (KCC) is listed in the University Library Catalogue. Pending full cataloguing, access is limited and is possible only by advance notice and agreement due to the sensitive nature of some of the material in the archive collection.


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