An awkward squad is a group of individuals, normally within an existing organisation or structure, who resist or obstruct change, either through incompetence or by deliberate association.
It is commonly accepted that shortly before his death in 1796 Robert Burns uttered the words "Don't let the awkward squad fire over me". At this time the phrase was in use in military slang for a group of recruits who seemed incapable of understanding discipline or not yet sufficiently trained or disciplined to properly carry out their duties.
John Clare, an English peasant poet, wrote with his own spelling and no punctuation. He complained in the 1820s to his editors that people could understand him, and he refused to use "that awkward squad of colon, semi-colon, comma, and full stop", according to the display in the John Clare Cottage, in Helpston.
In her 1853 novel Villette, Charlotte Brontë writes of M. Paul Emanuel: "Irritable he was; one heard that, as he apostrophized with vehemence the awkward squad under his orders." Brontë had also used the phrase four years earlier, in Shirley.
Norman Cameron used the words to end his 1950 poem Forgive me, sire.
The tag of 'awkward squad' has been applied to a group of left-wing trade unionists in the United Kingdom, marked out by their opposition to the Labour Party's economic policies. The group includes Bob Crow, Mark Serwotka, and Tony Woodley. In a Parliamentary sense, however, it can also apply to the left-wing of the Labour Party, which perennially occupies a bench of the House of Commons which allows its members to heckle and unnerve the Prime Minister regularly.
Mary Alice Harriman (March 12, 1861 – December 24, 1925) was a poet, author (of poetry, novels, short stories and non-fiction) and publisher. She was called the "only woman publisher in the world" in the 1911 Who's Who in the Northwest. She published books in Seattle between 1907 and 1910, and in New York after that, closing her publishing business in 1913.She wrote A Man of Two Countries, Chaperoning Adrienne; a tale of the Yellowstone national park (illustrated by Charles M. Russell) and Will Thou Not Sing.Anna Soubry
Anna Mary Soubry (; born 7 December 1956) is a British politician, barrister and journalist. She has been the Member of Parliament (MP) for Broxtowe in Nottinghamshire since the 2010 general election, and was first elected as a Conservative before leaving the party to join Change UK in 2019.
Soubry was Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Public Health (2012–2013), Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Defence Personnel, Welfare and Veterans (2013–2014), Minister of State for Defence Personnel, Welfare and Veterans (2014–2015) and Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise from the 2015 general election, also attending meetings of the Cabinet, but she returned to the backbenches in July 2016. In February 2019, she resigned from the Conservative Party and joined The Independent Group. She was appointed Leader of Change UK in June 2019.Awkward squad (trade unionists)
The awkward squad was an informal grouping of socialist trade unionists in the United Kingdom.
The group arose in the early 2000s when seven leaders of smaller trade unions who held membership of the General Council of the Trades Union Congress began meeting to discuss common positions with respect to larger unions. The group shared left-wing views and began co-operating on broader political and industrial matters, opposing what they regarded as the economically liberal policies of the ruling New Labour faction of the Labour Party. It included such figures as Bob Crow of the RMT, Mark Serwotka of the PCS and Jeremy Dear of the NUJ. The term was coined by journalist Kevin Maguire in an article in The Guardian in 2001.The awkward squad was split between those who wish to "reclaim" the Labour Party for socialism, and those who want to break with Labour and try to build a new socialist movement. Some of the latter supported other parties, including the Scottish Socialist Party and the Respect Party. The group soon became less closely knit, with two members losing their union posts: in July 2003, Mick Rix of ASLEF was ousted by the moderate Shaun Brady, while two years later, Andy Gilchrist, a member of the "reclaim Labour" grouping, was ousted by Matt Wrack, who is more inclined towards building a new party.
In an article published in the British Journal of Industrial Relations, Andy Charlwood noted that the "awkward squad" represented a generational change of leadership in the union movement, with the union leaders who had guided the movement through the era of Thatcherism and the building of New Labour stepping down at the start of the 21st century and being replaced by a new cohort who were dissatisfied with New Labour due to a variety of factors: what they saw as New Labour's lack of guiding political principles, absence of a vision for the role of trade unions in civil society, privileging of employers and employers' organisations in policy making, adoption of a political economy which was hostile to organised labour, concerns regarding restricting public spending growth whilst investing in public services, and the failure of Labour Party leaders to provide more than rhetorical support for the strategy of industrial partnership advocated by the previous moderate generation of leaders such as John Monks, Ken Jackson and John Edmonds.Gilchrist has said that "It's a well known secret that many of us meet up to discuss. We'll support each other on specific issues and follow each other's lead."However, several of leaders characterised as members of the "awkward squad" rejected the label, such as Derek Simpson, Kevin Curran (who described his views as "sensible left"), and Billy Hayes, who described the phrase as "condescending, inaccurate and unhelpful".Bob Crow
Robert Crow (13 June 1961 – 11 March 2014) was an English trade union leader who served as the General Secretary of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) from 2002 until his death. He was also a member of the General Council of the Trades Union Congress (TUC). A self-described "communist/socialist", he was a leading figure in the No to EU – Yes to Democracy campaign.
Crow joined London Transport in 1977 and soon became involved in trade unionism. He was regarded as part of the Awkward Squad, a loose grouping of left-wing union leaders who came to power in a series of electoral victories beginning in 2002. After he became leader, the RMT's membership increased from around 57,000 in 2002 to more than 80,000 in 2008, making it one of Britain's fastest-growing trade unions.Crow was a polarising figure in British politics. Supporters praised him as a champion of the working class and a successful trade unionist; critics argued that he held London to ransom with strikes and placed union members above other working people.Charlie Hardwick
Claire Elizabeth Hardwick (born 3 November 1960) is an English actress, known for portraying the role of Val Pollard in the ITV soap opera Emmerdale, who she portrayed from 2004 to 2015 and again in 2017. In 2019, Hardwick will portray the role of Sue Carp in the Channel 4 drama Ackley Bridge.Conservatives for Britain
Conservatives for Britain is a Eurosceptic political pressure group within the Conservative Party of the United Kingdom.
The group's co chairmen are David Campbell Bannerman, a Conservative member of the European Parliament who had previously served as deputy leader of the UK Independence Party, and Steve Baker, a backbench Conservative member of parliament at Westminster. Other leaders include Nigel Lawson, the group's president, and Norman Lamont, both former cabinet ministers now in the House of Lords.Derek Simpson (trade unionist)
Derek Simpson (born 23 December 1944) is a British trade unionist who was the Joint-General Secretary of the UK's biggest private-sector trade union, Unite, from 2007 until 2010. He was previously the General Secretary of Amicus from 2002 until its merger with the Transport and General Workers' Union to form Unite in 2007.Eric Forth
Eric Forth (9 September 1944 – 17 May 2006) was a British politician. He was the Conservative Member of the European Parliament (MEP) for Birmingham North, then Member of Parliament (MP) for Mid Worcestershire and finally Bromley and Chislehurst at his death. He served as a junior minister in the governments of Margaret Thatcher and John Major between 1988 and 1997. In his obituaries, he was described as "colourful", "flamboyant", "provocative" and a "right-wing libertarian". He was noted for his colourful ties and waistcoats, sideburns, and jewellery.Heidi Allen
Heidi Suzanne Allen (née Bancroft; born 18 January 1975) is a British politician serving as Member of Parliament (MP) for South Cambridgeshire since 2015. She served as Leader of Change UK from March 2019 to June 2019.
Allen succeeded Andrew Lansley, the former Conservative Secretary of State for Health who had held the seat since its creation in 1997, following his retirement from the House of Commons in 2015.Previously a Conservative, Allen resigned from the party and joined The Independent Group on 20 February 2019. In a joint letter with fellow defectors Anna Soubry and Sarah Wollaston, she described how the leadership had allowed a "hard-line anti-EU awkward squad" to take over the party. She was announced as interim leader of the group, now styled as Change UK, on 29 March 2019. In June 2019, she left Change UK to sit as an independent MP.Jeremy Dear
Jeremy Dear (born 6 December 1966) is a British trade unionist.
Dear graduated from Coventry Polytechnic before completing a diploma in journalism at University College Cardiff. From 1989, he worked for the Essex Chronicle and the Big Issue, joining the National Union of Journalists (NUJ). He led an eleven-month strike at the Chronicle against de-recognition of the NUJ. Between 1994 and 1997, he was the editor of the Big Issue in the Midlands, then in 1997 became the National Organiser of the NUJ.In 2001, Dear was elected as the General Secretary of the NUJ, its youngest ever leader, and only the second to serve two terms. He also spent time as a member of the General Council of the Trades Union Congress.
As leader, Dear became known as a member of the "Awkward Squad" of left-wing trade unionists. He is married to Paula Dear, who is a journalist with the BBC. Jeremy Dear is a supporter of the Marxist newspaper Socialist Appeal.Kevin Maguire (journalist)
Kevin John Maguire (born 20 September 1960 in South Shields, Tyne and Wear) is a British political journalist and is currently associate editor at the Daily Mirror newspaper. Earlier in his career Maguire was chief reporter for The Guardian.Mick Rix
Mick Rix (born 11 April 1963 in Barnsley, West Riding of Yorkshire) is a British trade unionist and politician.Paul Mackney
Paul Mackney (born 25 March 1950) is a British educator and trade union leader. From 1997 to 2006, he was General Secretary of the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE). NATFHE merged with the Association of University Teachers (AUT) in 2006 to form the University and College Union, at which time Mackney was elected Joint general secretary (serving alongside Sally Hunt). He retired from union service in May 2007. He then worked part-time as an Associate Director of the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE) until May 2009 when he took ill-health retirement.Peace Negotiation Committee
The Peace Negotiation Committee was formed in 1916 to call for a truce with Germany by the future Labour MP Herbert Dunnico.Sheila McKechnie
Dame Sheila Marshall McKechnie, DBE (3 May 1948 – 2 January 2004) was a Scottish trade unionist, housing campaigner and consumer activist.
Sheila McKechnie was born in Camelon, Falkirk, in 1948. She read Politics and History at the University of Edinburgh, where she was a friend of future UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown. She was a member of the Students' Representative Council, holding the posts of Secretary and 2nd Junior President. After graduation, she took an MA in Industrial Relations from University of Warwick.
After working as a trade union official in the 1970s, during which she was active in the Women's Movement, she became director of the housing and homelessness charity Shelter in 1985.After ten years in charge, she left to become head of the Consumers' Association, campaigning on a wide range of issues, often using headline-grabbing stunts. In 2001 McKechnie said: "I am a fully paid-up member of the awkward squad and will remain so for the rest of my life. No government would ever feel entirely comfortable with me or the association because we are both fiercely, fiercely independent."She was made an OBE in 1994 for her work with Shelter, and DBE in 2001 for her work on behalf of consumers. She was chosen as the University of Edinburgh alumnus of the year in 1991. She has been on the Board of Trustees of The Architecture Foundation.
McKechnie was diagnosed with cancer in 1997. Following her death in 2004, the Sheila McKechnie Foundation was established to support a new generation of campaigners.In 2006 a bronze bust of Sheila McKechnie was erected in the walled garden within Dollar Park in Falkirk, near her birthplace of Camelon. The bust was created by artist Suzanne Robinson.Shoulder Arms
Shoulder Arms is Charlie Chaplin's second film for First National Pictures. Released in 1918, it is a silent comedy set in France during World War I. The main part of the film actually occurs in a dream. It co-starred Edna Purviance and Sydney Chaplin, Chaplin's elder brother. It is Chaplin's shortest feature film as well as the first feature film that he directed.The Woggle-Bug (musical)
The Woggle-Bug is a musical based on The Marvelous Land of Oz by L. Frank Baum, with book and lyrics by the author and music by Frederic Chapin that opened June 18, 1905 at the Garrick Theater in Chicago under the direction of Frank Smithson, a Shubert Organization employee. The musical was a major critical and commercial failure, running less than a month. Chapin, however, had proven quite saleable to the publisher, M. Witmark and Sons, and many of the songs were published. The music director was Frank Pallma. The surviving sheet music was published by Hungry Tiger Press in 2002.Tony Woodley
Anthony Woodley (born 2 January 1948) is a British trade unionist who was the Joint-General Secretary of Unite, a union formed through the merger of Amicus and the Transport and General Workers' Union, from 2007 to 2011. Despite stepping down as Joint-General Secretary, he remained as the Head of Organising for Unite until December 2013 and is still a consultant to the union. He was previously the General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers union (T&G) from 2004 to 2007.Watching the English
Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour is a 2004 international bestseller by Kate Fox, a leading social anthropologist. The book examines "typical" English behaviour.
The book was first published in 2004, and updated in 2014.