14 March, 2014

Tony Benn

Tony Benn has died aged 88, denying a bed in an NHS hospital to someone, unlike him, who couldn't afford to go private.

You will find three sorts of obituaries of him: those from a dwindling few who think he was often right; some from the right of the political spectrum who think he was wrong about everything but one of those originals who spoke his mind which is a good thing (like Stalin, I suppose). The third, and there is a particularly ghastly version of this by Mary Wakefield in the Spectator, falls for his innate charm. Wakefield, whom he clearly twisted round his little finger, thought his philosophy was a belief in the inherent goodness of man.

There's clearly quite a lot that needs to be put right here.

In the '60s and '70s my father, the son of working class parents, was, like a lot of managers then, trying to understand what was going on with the working man, whom he had begun by regarding as his own type. In fact the British worker was the same, it was just that a new politics had entered the workplace and disruption, largely for disruption's sake, was its aim. It was the era of lightning strikes, intimidation and bullying, and Benn pushed this programme as hard as he could.

Benn, by contrast, the son of a cabinet minister, wealthy publisher and viscount, had never had any understanding of the working man and didn't until the day he died: there was a leitmotif of patronisation, which even came out in Mary Wakefield's panegyric where he described a couple of his visits to poor areas (Get me, I'm hanging out with the sans culottes). For Benn, the British workers were Karl Marx's useful idiots, catalysts he could put to use in his political melting pot. Most of them, those who weren't his acolytes, hated him.

And he uses in his act the familiar socialist props. He explained to Wakefield, as if to a child, that Hitler and Mussolini nationalised the banks. He doesn't say that he has been trying all these years to put into practice the policies of Hitler and Mussolini, or, of course, that his policies would leave the British Citizen with as much freedom as the Germans and Italians in the 1930s. He must have looked so cuddly as he was saying it.

Benn opposed the European Union, which you may think a good thing, but he did so because he thought it might stop him from imposing an even worse system on us.

Tony Benn was almost an exclusively bad thing for Britain, and worse because he dressed up his illiberal beliefs as daring candour.

De mortuis.... of the dead let us speak nothing but the truth.

No comments: