R.I.P. Tony Benn

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Tony Benn passed away today. He was a very intriguing figure, and he was famous internationally, he was very famous among Iranians too, as he was frequently quoted in Iranian papers. I’ve gathered a link-round up for you, which can help celebrate his life in his day of passing.

First off, this BBC obituary is a good place to start. This is how the obituary summarizes his role in British politics:

Tony Benn was one of the few British politicians who became more left-wing after having actually served in government.

He became the authentic voice of the radical left with the press coining the term Bennite to describe the policies espoused by those resisting attempts to move the Labour Party to the middle ground.

As such, he became a bogeyman for the right in British politics, with delegates to Conservative conferences displaying Ban the Benn badges in the style of CND’s Ban the Bomb logo.

Later in life, the former firebrand politician became something of a folk hero as well as a campaigner for a number of causes, particularly opposition to UK military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The article goes on to chronicle his life.

If you want to know about his thinking, this is a long interview in which he explains his idea of socialism, and HuffingtonPost has a collection of his quotes, and a collection of his verbal criticism against other politicians.

Chris Mullin of the Guardian praises Tony Benn, finding him a figure that inspired people. He believes that Benn inspired many young people and politicians into politics, that if he had become the Labour leader the party wouldn’t have sunk, that he could become leader and even Prime Minister but chose to stick to his values and remain pure. And this is how he summarizes Benn’s legacy:

To those who knew him, Benn will be remembered as a man capable of arousing great and contradictory passions among friend and foe alike. A man who was by turns inspiring, infuriating, courageous, occasionally irresponsible and always an amusing companion; right about some of the big issues of the day and wrong about others.

He was a life-enhancer. A man who fizzed with ideas. Who constantly questioned why the world is as it is. To spend time in his company was to go away refreshed. He was a man who, until his health went into decline, had never known a moment’s boredom. A visit from Benn left one with jetlag. He would arrive late, following an engagement, sit up talking for a couple of hours, and rise early to catch the train to his next engagement, often at the other end of the country. And always fiddling with that wretched pipe which, especially in later years, he sometimes failed to extinguish with the result that he owned a number of jackets with holes in the pockets.

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Love him or loathe him (and I am one who loved him), Tony Benn will live for ever in the pantheon of Labour heroes. He once said that all he wanted on his gravestone was: “Here lies Tony Benn. He encouraged others.” Amen to that.

Steve Zara, a British scientist whom I greatly admire, is himself on the left side of the political spectrum, but his view of Tony Benn, as he posted on his Facebook page, is not favorable:

I found Tony Benn difficult to admire. He played a part in keeping Labour out of power for so long in the 80s and 90s. He stuck to a dogmatic view of the world and, it seems, found it hard to accept alternative possibilities. An example from the Guardian today: “In 2003 he dismissed a woman whose family had been executed by Saddam Hussein as a CIA spy: her words were American propaganda.” One of the main problems in the world today is those who put dogma before humanity, and my impression is that Benn could be that kind of person. I strongly support left-wing politics, but only such politics that put people before beliefs. If the rights and feelings of individuals are lost in the ‘Great Struggle’, then something is very wrong with your politics.

The other BBC article, talks about five things he gave to the British people. They are the British stamp design, the postcode system, BBC Radio, E in the word Concorde and the rucksack. If you’re interested in more trivial factoids, HuffingtonPost has 11 of them. If you care for funny stuff, this his interview with Ali G, and this is an interview he fell asleep while giving it.

Personally, although I disagreed with Benn, I still find him a figure worthy of respect. You can argue that some of his positions were very extreme, that he sometimes faltered and went too far, but I think that’s the nature of politics. I admire him because he was brave, true to his cause, and honest. And of course, like all of us, he can be criticized for him many failures too. I believe in compromise, and I think those who shy away from it end up like Benn, on the outskirts of politics, but we need people like Benn on the outskirts as well.

The world needs radicals. Radicals can serve their purpose. Therefore, I admire Benn – and I think he did serve his purpose.

Comments

  1. exi5tentialist says

    I heard Tony Benn speak when I attended an anti-islamophobia conference in London in 2010. He was insightful and inspiring.

    To be honest Kaveh, I do not see Steve Zara as being a left-wing person at all, although I know elements of the atheist community have tended to shift the meaning of the term left wing to include people like Richard Dawkins, but anyway. I can find nothing on the internet about this report that Tony Benn dismissed a woman whose husband had been executed by Saddam Hussein as a CIA spy. I cannot rule it out that in a heated interview Benn might have said something hotheaded but I can hardly think this report in the Guardian represents Benn’s settled and complete opinion on the subject. If anyone can find out more about this report of how Tony Benn is meant to have been dismissive to the woman I’d be grateful but to be honest the way that is reported sounds like something we need a few pinches of salt with.

    It’s notable with the death of Bob Crow and now Tony Benn so many people feel the need to vaguely say, “I disagreed with him about many things, but…” The ‘many things’ are usually not specified. It seems that being wholeheartedly complimentary about somebody on the day of their death would be terribly dangerous or something.

    Tony Benn was a great leftie, a true democrat, an exemplary activist against islamophobia, and an inspirational christian spirit; sorry that he had to leave us so soon at just 88.

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