I was thrilled to have an opportunity to hear Tony Benn speak this week. I know I am not alone in admiration of this man, and while I have listened to speakers from the Labour Party including Harold Wilson, Michael Foot, John Smith and Tony Blair, this was the first time I had heard Tony Benn in person. There are many who begin life as militant firebrands, only to find their policies watered down in parliament and pledges to the electorate overturned. Tony Benn is not one of those, if anything the movement has been further to the Left in his lifetime by his own admission.I was struck by his faith in democracy. No one could but admire his respect for the electorate, for their sense of justice, and knowledge of right and wrong, despite what the media would have us believe. Defence of democracy at all costs should be our priority.
We will not reach the electorate by jargon. The voters know what needs to be done in order to develop a fairer society, and they will not be swayed through long words and clever tongues. Tony Benn’s advice is,
“Say what you mean and mean what you say.”
Even Enoch Powell and Margaret Thatcher did that, however appalling their policies. The spin and lies of politicians will not fool the voters. Benn’s sincerity and integrity is clear when he speaks. Straight talking, honesty and truth is evident to all. The voters know that not all politicians speak honestly, hiding behind the press.
Scepticism not Cynicism
Benn acknowledges our need to be sceptical when listening to our politicians, but points out the futility of cynicism. Cynicism can only lead to negativity, and inactivity. This approach cannot further the cause for socialism and a fairer society. Splits in the opposition will not oust this coalition.Where his admiration for others who speak sincerely is clear, of Labour leaders he worked with, Atlee impressed him most in driving socialist policies into statute. But his respect for Ghandi and for Nelson Mandela was unsurpassed.
It was clear from the audience, many held Benn himself in similar self esteem, yet he regards achievements as the result of teamwork, as a true socialist, in valuing the contribution we all make to society. For himself, he aspires to encourage others, to instill confidence in what can be achieved. Benn’s opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is well known, and as an ambassador for peace he told of his meetings with Saddam Hussain among others, always feeling that war is no answer for resolving international disputes. The danger of war and nuclear missiles concerned him. He told of his feelings when meeting after WW2 of the victims of Hiroshima in August 1945.
Indeed, when questioned about regrets and mistakes, he admitted that if there was anything he would change it was his support of civil nuclear power when Energy Secretary in a Labour government, now realising the real dangers following the disasters of Chernobyl and Fukushima, and the dangers of enriched uranium falling into the wrong hands.
New Labour is Dead
Unbridled capitalism has been allowed to fester and has led to a global crisis. Bankers and financiers gambling serve their own interests and have no care for the effect on others. Benn advocates that since banks serve the people, they should be a public service much like schools and hospitals.
Most significant for me, and I think for those who turn their backs on the Labour movement, walking away following the New Labour experiment, is that Tony Benn never did. Like Michael Foot he remained in the Labour Party, the party formed by the Trade Union movement in order to represent the working people.
Tony Benn feels the Liberal Democrats destiny was decided when the party joined the Conservatives in government where no party had won the General Election in 2010, and in supporting Conservative policies they are unlikely to be supported widely at the next election. Benn’s disdain for New Labour is clear, but so was his statement that New Labour died in 2010. Benn speaks of Ed Miliband as a man of integrity, and hopes for a new Labour government and an end to the Coalition with Conservative policies.
I agree, and believe is up to us to unite as a movement against the Coalition government. Do not walk away. Blair’s way is no longer Labour’s way. Labour must represent the people in 2015.
Let us be united in opposition.
Let us allow scepticism, but not cynicism.
Let us all say what we mean and mean what we say.
Let us encourage others so that they can build a better world and a have life worth living.
This time, there is no alternative.