Tony Benn was for several generations in the UK the ultimate class warrior
The news of Tony Benn’s death reached me this morning [March 14th, 2014]. I had learned earlier this month of his deteriorating health.
He attracted attention as a class traitor when he renounced his title 2nd Viscount Stansgate to remain as a Member of Parliament. He became the bogie man of the largely right-wing media, and a charismatic figure of the left.
Possibly too idealistic and too easy to parody, his earnest style was combined with an evident brilliance of mind and a personal fervor for working class culture into which he inevitably failed to fit.
He was a brilliant television performer and formidable political activist. He was to become a Member of Parliament (MP) for 50 years and a Cabinet Minister under Harold Wilson and James Callaghan.
In office in 1964–1970 he served first as Postmaster General, and later Minister of Technology. In the Labour Government of 1974–1979 he was an energetic Secretary of State for Industry. Arguably he was the most prominent left-wing figure of his age. The term “Bennite” was to the left what “Thatcherite” was to become to the right.
In his later years he became seen as a man of personal integrity. A recent example [February 12 2014] is the utterly unexpected outpouring of respect from readers of the Daily Mail following the announcement of his deteriorating health.
A personal anecdote
A little anecdote I recall from the 1980s. The story took place in the bar of a well-known Business School in England. A Benn supporter and an equally vehement opponent were exchanging hostilities. “He’s a madman. He’s got mad popping eyes” said the Benn opponent. “You’ve got mad popping eyes” Benn’s supporter shouted back.
Benn was not mad
Benn was not mad. He was a gifted dedicated politician. He never played the political games necessary for him to become leader of the Labour party which has continued its journey to the right much to Tony Benn’s disappointment in his later years.