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The Review - BOOKS
Published: 12 April 2007
Outside SOGAT’s ‘battle headquarters’ in Britannia Street near King’s Cross during the Wapping dispute
Outside SOGAT’s ‘battle headquarters’ in Britannia Street near King’s Cross during the Wapping dispute

The glitzy union boss and the Murdoch BBQ

Brenda Dean rose from secretary to the leadership of Britain’s powerful print union. But what did she lose on the way? wonders Illtyd Harrington

Hot Mettle – SOGAT, Murdoch and Me
by Brenda Dean published by Politico’s £17.99.
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IT was in Blackpool, early in September 1976, that love-struck Brenda was staring keenly at Keith at the annual Daily Mirror reception for the brothers and sisters of the TUC.
She was smitten, instantly. His misunderstood question was the opening chapter of their partnership – Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde and Keith McDowall – then industrial correspondent of the Daily Mail, later deputy director of the CBI.
Brenda writes of meeting “a real man”. Mysteriously he disappears for the next 200 pages. She, the blonde bombshell of SOGAT in the North West, a woman who by 1984 had risen from office clerk to be the president and then general secretary of 200,000 print and distribution workers.
Women like Brenda used to be characterised in black and white films by determined actresses. Remember Bette Davis or Barbara Stanwyck, highly groomed characters who ended up firing revolvers at deceiving men?
Almost simultaneously in the 1980s, two enormous shadows hoved into sight.
One demanded and received world leaders’ attention, namely the tsar of News International, Rupert Murdoch. The other, Robert Maxwell, plundered the Daily Mirror pension fund and left us, suddenly, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
Rupert took on the print workers. Brenda, in spite of becoming a major media presence, thrived on secrecy during the year-long battle of Wapping (1986-87) outside Fortress Murdoch. Off she went in Murdoch’s private jet for a tete-a-tete with him.
He barbecued lamb chops for her and himself alone by the pool in Beverley Hills, while Hollywood twinkled below.
Of course, old practices in print had to be changed. Murdoch and his hard-nosed lieutenant Bill O’Neill both said they could work with her.
O’Neill seems to have been another “special man”, now retired to Texas, but who spends time with Brenda whenever he passes through London. But it must be stated that Brenda makes a virtue of her Christian beliefs.
If only the greedy lefties in the London National Graphical Association would be reasonable, she prayed. She, on the other hand, had “no dogmatic political philosophy”. So that’s it then. That’s how she became a lady-in-waiting at the court of Blair, and the quango queen.
Genuinely horrified by police brutality on the Wapping picket line on May 3, 1986, she naively mentions approaches by MI5 for inside information. Of course, she knew that her significant enemies were in the NGA, forgetting perhaps that when the punitive Thatcher trade union laws were used against SOGAT, it was they that delivered £250,000 in banknotes to her in a strong briefcase.
Our Brenda, from the back streets of Eccles, uses her photogeneity to good effect during the strike.
But in her boudoir in her Islington house I suspect she asks: “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of us all”. And back comes the answer she demands.
In the midst of her justification for doing a deal with Murdoch in a magazine article she wore a Jaeger jumper. Jaeger, of course, were very pleased and offered her 25 per cent off all future purchases. She snapped up the offer.
This is a woman who claims to have got Murdoch to bend with millions in payouts at the end of a very bitter strike.
That new technology was inevitable was a realistic argument. But she slays her enemies, not least Tony Dubbins of the NGA, who beat her for the top job when the NGA and SOGAT were amalgamated.
Brenda left shortly afterwards, sniffing about Friday afternoon drinking. Oh, so many unnecessary males. Brenda only likes real men. Far too many are devious and dishonest. I can only pray that she was not too upset by male behaviour in the Palace of Westminster.
Her after-life brought numerous public and private appointments, above all to the House of Lords. With all the gusto of her fellow Lancashire lass Gracie Fields, she accepted a crammed portfolio of positions. According to her, it all just seemed to happen and happily all so unexpected.
Everyone needed and pursued her. Our Brenda will do almost anything, even going to dinner with Lord Levy at his home in Mill Hill to discuss funding of Blair’s private office.
You are left reeling at her multiple incessant activities.
What drives her Ladyship? Who are her role models? Joan of Arc? The Iron Lady, blonde and burnished Thatcher? Or Lady Godiva, baring too much?
Hot metal by the way is part of the old process in printing. A nice pun.
I would have gone for Cold Steel.

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