Sunday, 16 March 2014
Britain is a no longer a country for and says "Goodbye" to an old radical politician called Tony Benn who said much and changed little
Prime Minister David Cameron who once said he had been strongly influenced by his book, 'Arguments for Democracy', tweeted : 'Tony Benn was a magnificent writer, speaker and campaigner. There was never a dull moment listening to him, even if you disagreed with him.'
Ed Miliband, leader of the Labour Opposition was more fulsome when he said that he:
* his death "represents the loss of an iconic figure of our age."
* he will be remembered as a "champion of the powerless, a great parliamentarian and a conviction politician."
* "spoke his mind and spoke up for his values."
Fine words, but at the end of the day, the answer to the question : 'What did Tony achieve in his political career ?'. The answer is : 'In the Labour Government when he served as Postmaster General and Minister of Technology he oversaw the opening of the Post Office Tower and the introduction of the ill-fated Concorde airplane and ill-fate car manufacturer, British Leyland and not a lot else.' While he was doing this he believed he had a higher mission : "We are not just here to manage capitalism but to change society and to define its finer values."
The late parliamentary sketch writer, Simon Hoggart, appraised Tony in an article in the 'New Humanist' 10 years ago entitled 'Worthless values' and rightly concluded :
'Forget policies, and most of all forget values. It's personalities that matter, and in the end decide how much tax we pay, where our children go to school, and whether the nation goes to war.'
It was now that he swung to the left politically, challenged Denis Healey for the Labour Deputy Leadership, lost by a narrow margin and became instrumental in using Labour party machinery
to develop a left wing manifesto on which Michael Foot fought and lost the 1983 election which became known as the 'longest suicide note in history'. At this point, 30 years ago, he stopped exercising any influence over the body politic, withdrew from practical politics and launched his long rhetorical project. At that point he eschewed the possibility of changing the world from the inside where he was not a big player and swapped it for shouting from the outside where he was.
For all his championship of the working classes there was always something of the public schoolboy about him, having attended the privileged Westminster School. He was obviously uncomfortable with this and in the 1975 edition of 'Who's Who' removed the reference to it and substituted : 'Education-still in progress'. On the other hand he tried to present his privileged background as an asset and once said : "My contribution to the Labour party is that I know the British establishment inside out and what they're up to." There was, however, always that sense that he had to out-radicalise those working class warriors with whom he did business like Arthur Scargill during the bitter 1984-85 Miner's Strike.
He also maintained an enduring naivete and for example, after his trip to the Chinese embassy after Mao's death, recorded that he was 'a great admirer of Mao … he made mistakes, because everybody does', ignoring the fact that the estimated
number of innocent people who died in the Great Leap Forward, through Mao's policies for the countryside and from mass executions varies from between 40,000,000 and 65,000,000.
His attempt to stop the Iraq War in 2003 led to his visit to Baghdad and interview of Saddam Hussein, one of the world's worst mass murderers
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fxHtQ1__qUc about "paths to peace" and recorded in his diary that his Deputy, Tariq Aziz was 'a nice guy'.
At the end of the day he changed little, but might possibly be remembered, as a footnote in the last quarter of the twentieth century for his rhetoric :
“The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways: the point, however, is to change it.”