I’m not usually one for bestowing praise or otherwise upon the death of politicians or celebrities, but today has seen the passing of a true political hero – Tony Benn (1925-2014). It would be a massive undertaking to give an adequate account of how truly brilliant this man was; a man the political establishment in this country could sorely do with. Benn was never afraid to adapt his views as experience and facts would dictate, and bucked the parroted ‘wisdom’ that one becomes more conservative as one gets older – in his own words “I’ve gone more to the left as I’ve got older”.
From the moment he campaigned to be allowed to renounce his peerage in 1963, through to his campaign to have the Queen’s head removed from stamps later that decade – a move personally countered by Queenie herself (he later campaigned for the abolition of the monarchy in ‘91) – and on to his stewardship of the Stop the War Coalition, Benn tirelessly campaigned for the ideals of democracy, diplomacy, socialism and the status of the common man.
He saw, years before the corporate takeover of world politics, the writing on the wall and wasn’t prepared to compromise his positions for a mere popularity contest. He was brave enough to consider economic strategies in bold conflict with the consensus positions of the time, and one wonders, now, how much different the world would now look had the rot of moneyed politics not already set in.
As I say, my words can never do justice to this great man and so I shall leave it to Tony Benn to leave us with some lasting words of wisdom and truth:
“The House of Lords is the British Outer Mongolia for retired politicians” – New York Times, February, 1962.
“I am not a reluctant peer but a persistent commoner” – November 1960
“All war represents a failure of diplomacy”
“The crisis that we inherit when we come to power will be the occasion for fundamental change and not the excuse for postponing it” – Labour Party conference, 1973
“If one meets a powerful person – Rupert Murdoch, perhaps, or Joe Stalin or Hitler – one can ask five questions: what power do you have; where did you get it; in whose interests do you exercise it; to whom are you accountable; and, how can we get rid of you? Anyone who cannot answer the last of those questions does not live in a democratic system.”
“Democracy is not just voting every 5 years and watching Big Brother in between and wondering why nothing happens. Democracy is what we do and say where we work and live”
“We are paying a heavy political price for 20 years in which, as a party, we have played down our criticism of capitalism and soft-peddled our advocacy of socialism” – Labour Party conference, 1976
“I do not share the general view that market forces are the basis of personal liberty”
“It is wholly wrong to blame Marx for what was done in his name, as it is to blame Jesus for what was done in his” – TV interview 1982
“Through talk, we tamed kings, restrained tyrants, averted revolution” – 1982
“I did not enter the Labour Party 47 years ago to have our manifesto written by Dr Mori, Dr Gallup and Mr Harris” – 1988
“I think Mrs Thatcher did more damage to democracy, equality, internationalism, civil liberties, freedom in this country than any other Prime Minister this century. When the euphoria surrounding her departure subsides you will find that … [p]eople in the street will say, thank God she’s gone” – The Thatcher Factor, Channel Four, December, 1990
“When you get to No 10, you’ve climbed there on a little ladder called ‘the status quo’. And when you are there, the status quo looks very good” – House of Commons, 1995
R.I.P. Tony Benn, may your life inspire others to maintain the progressive cause.