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Kenneth Sidney Coates (16 September 1930 – 27 June 2010) was a British politician and writer. He chaired the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation and edited The Spokesman, the BRPF magazine launched in March 1970. He was a Labour Party Member of the European Parliament from 1989 to 1999.
Coates was born in Leek, Staffordshire and was brought up in Worthing, West Sussex. When called up for national service in 1948, Coates chose to become a coal miner rather than be conscripted into the British army to fight in the Malayan Emergency. He later won a scholarship in 1956 to Nottingham University and achieved a first in Sociology.
After the war, he joined the Communist Party of Great Britain but left following the breach between Joseph Stalin and Josip Broz Tito, whom he defended. After the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary, Coates and Pat Jordan became the focal point of a group of Marxists with a developing interest in Trotskyism. After attending the fifth world congress of the Fourth International in 1958, of which they were very critical, Coates played a central role in founding the International Group, forerunner of the International Marxist Group.
Coates also played leading roles in the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation (BRPF), the Institute for Workers' Control, and European Nuclear Disarmament. He contested Nottingham South in 1983, but lost by several thousand votes.
From 1989 to 1999 he was a Labour Party member of the European Parliament, and spent five years as President of its Human Rights Subcommittee.
It was while a member of the European Parliament that Coates was in contact with Vadim Zagladin, one of Mikhail Gorbachev's advisors, about the idea of a joint meeting between the European Parliament and the Supreme Soviet. Coates persuaded the European Parliament to explore the possibility of such a joint meeting, as a practical way of exploring Gorbachev’s call for a ‘common European home’ and supporting his democratic reforms. Eduard Shevardnadze, the Soviet foreign minister, visited the European Parliament, and said he would be willing to be present at a joint meeting. Coates visited Zagladin in Moscow, who offered a four-point programme of stages for realisation of the Joint Special Session, as it came to be known. [Reference European Labour Forum number 1, Summer 1990 pages 3–4, number 3, winter 1990-91, pages 20–22]
Coates pioneered a number of initiatives to help focus the institutions of European civil society beginning with a very successful Pensioners’ Parliament, and also including a special Parliament of Disabled People, and two Europe-wide conferences of unemployed people. He strongly supported the Delors programme for full employment in Europe, and became rapporteur of the Parliament’s Temporary Committee on Employment, which carried two major reports with almost unanimous support of the European Parliament.
Coates was the co-author, with Tony Topham, of the official history of the Transport and General Workers' Union, among numerous other books on poverty, political philosophy, democratic and humanistic socialism, social and economic issues, peace and disarmament as well as on democracy and human rights. His book The Case of Nikolai Bukharin (Nottingham: Spokesman, 1978) is regarded by some to have served as the international basis for the rehabilitation of that Bolshevik leader. He also continued to support the democratic left in Eastern Europe, and was a member of the advisory board of the Novi Plamen magazine.
Coates was special professor in the Department of Adult Education at the University of Nottingham (1990–2004).
Books written or co-written
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- The History of the Transport and General Workers' Union, with Tony Topham, ISBN 978-0-85124-565-2, Basil Blackwell 1991
- The Crisis of British Socialism, Spokesman Books 1971 
- Beyond the Bulldozer, ISBN 0-902031-43-0, Spokesman Books 1987
- Empire no more, ISBN 978-0-85124-694-9, Spokesman Books 2004
- Essays on Industrial Democracy, Spokesman Books
- Poverty: The Forgotten Englishmen, ISBN 978-0-85124-375-7, Penguin Books 1970
- The New Unionism: the case for worker's control, with Tony Topham, Penguin Books, 1974. ISBN 0-14-021811-4
- The Social Democrats: Those who went and those who stayed, Spokesman Books 1983
- Trade Union Register, Merlin Press 1969
- Trade unions and politics, with Tony Topham, ISBN 0-631-13753-X, Basil Blackwell, Oxford
- Trade Unions in Britain, with Tony Topham, ISBN 978-0-00-686121-8, Fontana Press 1988
- Workers' Control: A Book of Readings and Witnesses for Workers' Control, ISBN 978-0-85124-699-4, McGibbon and Kee 1968
- Workers' Control: Another World Is Possible, ISBN 978-0-85124-682-6, Spokesman Books 2003
- Obituary in the Telegraph
- Obituary in the Guardian
- Stan Newens obituary in the Independent
- Giles Oakley obituary in the Independent
- The Spokesman, back issues
- Palmer, J. 'Ken Coates obituary' The Guardian Online 29 June 2010 - https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2010/jun/29/ken-coates-obituary
- Kenneth Coates The Telegraph Online 22 August 2010 - https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/politics-obituaries/7958792/Kenneth-Coates.html