A national treasure – and a death threat

As if we’ve not had enough of politicians, what with all this expenses fiasco, we couldn’t think of a better way to spend our midsummer’s evening than with our good friends Steve and Liz and an audience with Tony Benn.

Tony clearly doesn’t stand on ceremony, in fact he sits down with a flask of tea and has a chat with it. We didn’t expect it to be a sell-out at the Leeds Grand, politics isn’t everyone’s cup of tea – and Tony hasn’t always been flavour of the month with the populace, quite the opposite, he’s been something of a pariah.

But there he was, sitting on the steps of the Grand, chatting with people before they went in, signing books, puffing away on his pipe, there was a genuine rush of affection for him from people whose parents weren’t even born when he took office in 1950 at 25, the youngest MP in the Commons.

He has served in goverment and in opposition, as a minister and backbencher. He stood down in 2001, but is still as active a ever, particularly in his outspoken condemnation of the Iraq war. As we say in Yorkshire, he has all his chairs at home, with a razor-sharp intellect that could cut many of today’s politicians, with their sound-bite mentality into small strips and serve them up and eat them for breakfast, except he’s a vegetarian.

It was a fascinating insight into the world of politics from a left which probably doesn’t exist any more. At 84 he can look back and trace the trends with enough gravitas to pass informed comment. His root, though, as is clear from his renouncing his inherited nobility, he was second Viscount Stansgate Anthony Wedgewood-Benn, is accountability to the people. Democracy, he declared, is being able to vote out the government without anyone getting killed. This accountability is his starting anf finishing point and a good lesson to some current MPs whose approach to the use of public money isn’t just scandalous, it’s criminal.

He was a definite thorn in the flesh of former leader Neil Kinnock and was always referred to in the media as a leftie. But with the passing of time – and the re-defining of left (ie right) some have referred to him as a national treasure. He doesn’t use that phrase – and why should he? National treasure implies something quirky, English, harmless. He’s two out of those three, but certainly not harmless, his voice hits 11 on the voulme when he talks about the Iraq war, or sleeze, no, he’s not a national treasure. When in office, he received frequent death threats – they have tailed off of late, but he felt that the receont one he received demonstrated that he still has the power to more than ruffle feathers.

For someone born with a silver spoon in his mouth and benefitting from a privileged education, he may not be an ordinary guy, but he’s used this intellect for the good of the people as he sees it. When asked what his epitaph would be, he replied simply with three words ‘He encouraged us’  If he had done that, then that would for him be his greatest achievement. Tony, consider it done, but don’t give the stonemasons the work too soon, eh? You’ve a lot more to do.

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