The Plastic Hippo

March 15, 2014

Tony Benn

Tony Benn 1925 - 2014

Tony Benn 1925 – 2014

The bizarre shorthand of mass media dictates that any public figure, no matter how obscure, who manages to survive beyond their thirtieth birthday, is by necessity described as veteran. Similarly, any minor celebrity or child unfortunate enough to contract a life threatening illness is immediately classified as inspirational and anyone maintaining notoriety for longer than about six months is bestowed with the title “living legend”.

Given the obvious fact that he is now actually dead, Tony Benn who lasted to the grand old age of 88 was clearly a veteran, an inspiration to many and judging by some gushing eulogies something of a legend. In life he had been described as subversive, unpatriotic, a wide-eyed lunatic and the most dangerous man in Britain. In death he has become principled, courageous, a radical, a champion and a conviction politician. If the old boy was still presenting vital signs he would, no doubt, display a wry smile at the saccharine insincere plaudits being lobbed in his direction by people who loathed him. For all his achievements, his crowning glory was that he infuriated left, right and centre by bamboozling lesser intellects with common sense and almost flawless logic. Now the not so good and the not so great are falling over themselves to pay false tribute to a conviction politician that they are glad to see the back of. It seems odd that conviction in a politician is viewed as out of the ordinary and not an essential requirement for a representative of the people. These days, the only convictions held by the majority of MPs have been or will be handed down from judges and magistrates.

Tony Benn was a rare political animal. Born into aristocratic privilege he made legal history by renouncing his title in order to enter a democratic parliament and was at the forefront of Harold Wilson`s white heat of technology in the 60`s. Defeated as Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, he watched from the back benches as Labour moved away from its purpose and history allowing Thatcher and then Major to rule for 18 divisive years. By the time he left parliament, donors to political parties were chucking money about in the hope and certainty of the titles and honours he fought hard to remove from himself. Conviction politicians have been replaced by identical anodyne former interns in suits playing at being party leaders by spouting sound bites instead of policy.

Tony Benn was an unusual parliamentarian. He said what he believed and believed what he said and displayed a quality and integrity that has all but disappeared from the House of Commons. He wanted peace, freedom and equality and more importantly was an honest man. He opposed engagement with what was then called the Common Market; not like the little Englanders of the right currently obsessed with hate and prejudice, but because he feared a diminution of the sovereignty of Parliament. It was the creepy Edward Heath that took Britain into Europe and it was Thatcher who signed the Maastricht treaty. When asked to consider and judge his biggest mistake, Tony Benn admitted that as energy minister he was wrong to embrace nuclear power and in spite of his honourable stance, he was not the perfect saint that his former opponents are now so keen to describe.

David Cameron`s morning sound bite talked of a great loss even though he disagreed with everything Tony Benn said. By the evening after being corrected, the sound bite was that he disagreed with much of what Tony Benn said. One can only assume that Cameron disagrees with peace, freedom and equality. Frightened at being out manoeuvred, Ed Miliband also talked of a great loss even though some members of his party disagreed with much of what Tony Benn said. It seems that Ed Miliband cut his political teeth as an intern making tea for Tony Benn.

Perhaps the most hypocritical spectacle of all was Shirley Williams dragging herself around television studios slagging off the still warm corpse. Blaming Benn for the destruction of the Labour Party by being a socialist, the former Labour minister made no mention of the gang of four, the annexation of the Liberal Party or the current unquestioning support for Tory ideology that is forcing the destruction of the NHS, the rise in poverty and need for food banks, the bedroom tax and the merciless cruelty being directed at people with disabilities. Tony Benn will be remembered with fondness yet Liberal Democrats will be forgotten as a fleeting irrelevance and Shirley Williams will be remembered as a flinching coward and sneering traitor.

Coinciding with the death of Bob Crow, the grieving mourners and embittered failures can hardly disguise their delight at what they think is the demise of the old left and look forward to decades of profitability and extortion based on a poor, compliant, unwell and uneducated population. Having made it clear from day one, the current coalition government have seized their only chance to destroy the welfare state and will spent the next year scorching even more earth to ensure that re-construction is impossible. The new left continue the long tradition of the old left by screaming abuse at each other with factional in-fighting, pointless political gestures and vague promises of repealing selected bits of bad legislation. For every Labour Party member there is a different and unique opinion and the easy option is for the popular front to have a pop at the people`s popular front rather than challenging an out of control venal government.

Shortly before his death, Tony Benn reflected that the left is a much larger coalition than the one currently ruining the nation and that change comes not from leaders but from a groundswell of abhorrence of corrupt and self-aggrandising rule. The old, new, centre, right, left and even further left should maybe start asking some of Tony Benn`s awkward questions. The bizarre shorthand of mass media triumphantly suggests that the ex-aristocrat, ex-minister, ex-MP and now ex-fellow human being was a “one-off” and “the last of his kind”.

If that is the case, then integrity, honour, honesty and humanity died peacefully on Friday morning in a flat in West London. If there is a heaven or a hell, then God or Satan will shortly be facing some very awkward questions.

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