Posts Tagged ‘Tony Benn’

Uncut review: “Limehouse” – Egos, emotions and lessons for today

10/03/2017, 12:01:12 AM

by David Ward

“Labour’s fucked!”

The very first words of this play take you immediately into a political drama which feels both historic and immediate.

Following hot on the heels of Headlong’s This House about Labour’s travails in Government in the late 1970s, Steve Waters’ new play brings us the next episode. Limehouse re-imagines the events leading to the 1981 Limehouse Declaration which led four Labour MPs to form the Social Democratic Party.

Going behind the scenes to an apparently faithful replica of David Owen’s 1980’s kitchen, it is a fascinating exploration not just of the period but of politics and politicians behind closed doors.

First there are the personalities. Roy Jenkins, the donnish champion of a broad left/liberal tradition with a taste for fine food and wine, brings to mind some in our current generation from Mandelson to Tristram Hunt. Roger Allam, who many will recognise as Peter Mannion from the The Thick of It, brings him to life along with excellent comic timing.

Shirley Williams is the indefatigable stalwart of Labour’s right resisting the Bennite left on the NEC. Torn between the worsening situation and the party she has grown up in and inherited from her parents. Bill Rodgers is portrayed as a mild mannered political fixer, comfortable across the union movement or CLP tensions and reluctant to step down from a left leaning shadow cabinet.

While Owen is the “hot-head” desperate for action not words, distrusted by the others for his ambition and middle class professional background. Williams even suggests the Owen’s kitchen is too bourgeois. At least he didn’t have two. Yet these accusations would become familiar to Blair only a few years later.

Then there are the issues it raises, many of which call to us down the ages.

(more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Cooper vs Corbyn is our Healey vs Benn

17/08/2015, 10:24:42 AM

by Jonathan Todd

Yvette Cooper versus Jeremy Corbyn is our generation’s Denis Healey against Tony Benn. In September 1981, it wasn’t just the deputy leadership at stake. The party’s future was too, as it is now.

If Benn had won, more Labour MPs, councillors and activists would have joined the SDP, who’d have usurped Labour as the second largest party. If Corbyn wins, he’ll struggle to find enough MPs to serve as his shadow ministers, which isn’t the position of a party on the verge of government.

MPs only demur from advancement, bringing with it PLP disunity that they invariably seek to avoid, when genuine differences exist.

Corbyn says attacks upon him are unedifying “personal attacks”. But the differences that Labour MPs have are not personal. They are not about his sartorial style. Even if it’s a stretch to see this as screaming “prime minister”. The differences are political.

“He has shown,” Ivan Lewis writes, “very poor judgment in expressing support for and failing to speak out against people who have engaged not in legitimate criticism of Israeli governments but in anti-semitic rhetoric.” “I know,” Liz Kendall notes, “there are many people who have concerns about where Jeremy Corbyn has stood in the past on” Northern Ireland. Not personal, political.

When Anne Applebaum describes Corbyn as “one of many on the European far-left as well as the far-right who appears to have swallowed wholesale Russia’s lie that war in Ukraine has been created by NATO,” and when David Aaronovitch reminds us that for Corbyn, “it is always, always, always the West’s fault,” these are not personal criticisms. They are political concerns shared by many Labour MPs, who see in Corbyn’s foreign policy what Healey once saw in Benn’s: “deserting all of our allies at once and then preaching them a sermon”.

(more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Corbynism has already claimed its first major victim: Andy Burnham

12/08/2015, 11:11:09 AM

by Frazer Loveman

It all looked to be so easy didn’t it? After the non-entry of Dan Jarvis and the non-start of Chuka Umunna’s campaign, only Yvette Cooper seemed to stand between Andy Burnham and the leadership of the Labour party. Burnham was probably the more well-known of the two, a politician who oozed humility and understanding.

People knew him for his admirable opposition to NHS re-structuring under Messers Lansley and Hunt and for his work in the Hillsborough campaign. He was also the best positioned to win. Cooper was likely to lose some support to Liz Kendall on the right of the party whilst Burnham had positioned himself to have clear run at the left of the party, whilst still being able to exist on the soft-left. He may have been something of continuity Miliband, but he was slightly more human than Miliband, and also probably more pragmatic.

The forced entry of Jeremy Corbyn into the race, however, has changed all that. Suddenly the leftist bloc vote that Burnham had been presuming would just fall into his camp had an alternative, but no worry, Burnham would still be in a strong position once he picked up Corbyn’s second preferences. However, Corbyn has turned out to be more than just an ‘alternative’ he’s morphed into a bizzare Marxist messiah. With members pledging themselves to the church of Corbyn to the extent that polling by YouGov now shows him to be the clear favourite in the contest, the other three candidates are now in the last chance saloon in terms of stopping the Corbyn tide.

Kendall has responded to Corbyn by doubling down on her position that Labour needs to be a fiscally responsible party in order to win elections, out of all the candidates she is the one who has done the most to challenge Corbyn head-on, and this has led to her being favourite to finish plum last. Cooper had been far more pragmatic. Though she has said that she wouldn’t serve under Corbyn she has been more civil in dismissing him, partly as her camp believed that she could still beat Corbyn on second preferences. Though in recent days even she has been forced into pointing out the flaws in Corbyn’s campaign; accusing him of trying to drag Labour back to the 1970s.

(more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

We’ve been here before with Bennites like Corbyn. It will end the same way. In blood and vomit

01/08/2015, 01:07:24 PM

by Paul Richards

Labour’s last double-decade in opposition started with a winter of discontent, and this one starts with a summer of seppuku. What could have been the start of a process of healing after a disastrous election result, is instead descending into viciousness not seen since the early 1980s. There will be those old enough to remember what it was like back then. For those who don’t, it was no tea party.

The Bennites’ strategy was simple: to set up a series of positions on everything – Nato, the EEC, Trident, the monarchy, the civil service, the Lords, the banks, the media, and businesses – and then denounce anyone who deviated from this position as ‘a Tory’. This epithet didn’t include the actual Tories, but instead any Labour party member, MP or trade unionist who didn’t agree with state control of Marks & Spencer, kicking out the Americans, and support for Sinn Fein. Denis Healey? Tory. Barbara Castle? Tory. Harold Wilson? Tory.

A booklet was circulated amongst local activists called How to deselect your MP, which explained how to use the new rulebook to get rid of any Labour MP who failed to meet the same ideological tests. It was waved under the nose of any MP who dared to support non-Bennites for the national executive or vote for non-Bennite motions at the GC. These were times of fear and loathing, when Labour Party meetings were unpleasant places to be, characterised as small groups of activists firing resolutions at each other from across the room.

The greatest opprobrium was reserved for anyone who had served in the treacherous Wilson and Callaghan governments. Ministers were traitors, and should be treated with contempt. In his memoir, Denis Healey recalls Jim Callaghan being subject to a “barrage of the most offensive personal abuse both in public speeches, and perhaps even more wounding, in the private meetings of the National Executive Committee.” This was a former Labour home secretary, chancellor of the exchequer, foreign secretary, prime minister and leader of the Labour party: being bawled at by nonentities, paper-sellers and placemen.

(more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Respect for Tony Benn is right, completely rewriting history is not

10/04/2014, 02:00:16 PM

by Kevin Feeney

When any controversial public figure dies, it is both normal and entirely natural for their followers and those inspired by them to whitewash their image a little in an effort to smooth out their rough edges.

Like most of those within the Labour Party who were rather less enamoured of the legacy of the late Tony Benn than other colleagues, I was entirely prepared to overlook the rather telling gaps in his more sympathetic obituaries. It was fine that they passed over his views on Mao, fine that they ignored his practical impact on Labour’s electability in the 1980s, fine that they left unquestioned his own claims as a tribune of democracy.

These were eulogies in the heat of the moment after a figure who they admired had passed on; the time for full and balanced reflections was later. Equally fine were those seemingly obligatory lists of “Issues where they were right” which we expect with any such figure; Benn certainly many of those, from Mandela to gay rights.

Except after a while, I started noticing something else creeping into that last list in Benn’s friendly obituaries. Owen Jones celebrated him not only for all of the above but also for ‘calling for peace talks when it was controversial to do so’ in Northern Ireland; praise he has reiterated in more than one place. It may be no surprise for Jones to rewrite history in such a manner, but less stridently left-wing voices have done so too; the editor of one prominent Labour website claimed that the presence of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness at Benn’s funeral was a ‘reminder of the difference he made’ as though this were a positive thing.

Indeed, “Northern Ireland” has begun inexplicably to seep into several lists of the man’s positive contributions. These claims cannot be allowed to endure unchallenged; nor can they be allowed to become part of that acceptable list of “good things” we all agree Benn stood for.

(more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Tony Benn and the power of “Utopia”

18/03/2014, 01:39:29 PM

by Glenn Edwards

Last week, the country lost one of its few great conviction politicians. Tony Benn, aged 88, has served as an enduring inspiration for those on the far Left who remain disillusioned with the gradual drift of UK politics towards a neo-liberal consensus. Ever the most ferocious critic of capitalism, his view of Britain as a country surrendering itself with increasing pace to destructive market forces is familiar to most.

Unfortunately I did not have the privilege of personally meeting Benn. But I did once get an opportunity to hear him speak at the Peterhouse Politics Society in Cambridge. I wanted to ask him a question relating to an essay I was writing at the time about Utopianism in political life, and luckily I got my chance. I asked him “What does Utopia mean to you?”, a rather gentle question I thought, considering he’d just taken a bit of an onslaught from several conservative-minded students in the room.

Following on from a very heated discussion about financial incentives, my question was met with unsurprising laughter from all round- but Benn’s answer drew the most inviolable of silences.

He said that “Utopia” is often used as a dirty word to denounce ambitious and courageous thinking in politics. He said that it had become a sort of trump card against all ideas not sufficiently steeped in reality or cynicism towards human behaviour. A catch-all term to “put down progressive forces” of all shapes and colours. But, crucially, he said that it is always Utopian and idealistic thinking that “rallies people against injustice”, paradoxically bringing about the change that was previously thought impossible.

(more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Benn and Thatcher will be remembered long after their colourless contemporaries

15/03/2014, 08:00:56 AM

by Kevin Meagher

Passing away at eighty-eight years of age represents a good innings in anyone’s book. Indeed, it’s a score the late Tony Benn also shares with Margaret Thatcher, which may, on the face of it, seem a provocative comparison.

After all, the two of them were on opposite sides of every major issue of the 1980s: the miners’ strike, nuclear disarmament, Ireland, South Africa, monetarism. But their personalities and approaches to politics were strikingly similar.

They were both driven, uncompromising characters; self-confident in what they said and thought. Equally, they were divisive, impulsive and reckless figures. Yes, they stuck to their guns, but often long after it was sensible to do so.

Both believed in the sovereignty of Parliament. Both were instinctively Eurosceptic. And both were adored by the radical sections of their parties, to the cold fury of the pragmatists.

On a personal level, Benn, like Thatcher, enjoyed a happy marriage and both were noted for the small personal kindnesses that so many other leading politicians are seemingly incapable of offering. Likewise, they exuded that other-worldy quality that surely served to insulate them from the brickbats that were thrown at both of them for so long.

(more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Please, let’s remember Tony Benn and Bob Crow for who they were, not bland Diana-fied national treasures

14/03/2014, 10:32:06 AM

by Atul Hatwal

To hear tributes to Tony Benn this morning and Bob Crow earlier in the week, is to enter an alternate reality, one of saccharine reflection and anodyne dolour.

In the myriad of CGI memories that are being publicly broadcast, the defining characteristic that made Tony Benn and Bob Crow national figures is all too often omitted: threat.

There are lots of committed socialists who lead their lives, unflinching in their beliefs and whose passing is not remembered.

What made Tony Benn and Bob Crow different was that they attained positions where their proximity to power meant they threatened the status quo in their respective worlds.

Threat isn’t a bad thing. It’s the essential precursor of change and both reveled in their ability to threaten the established order. But it brings with it costs: confrontation, fear and anger.

To overlook the visceral conflict which both generated is to suck the vigour and colour out of their professional lives. Without at least acknowledging this threat, the commemorations lapse into the North Korean.

We remember Tony Benn and Bob Crow because they were men of consequence. For many that consequence was far from benign. In the case of Tony Benn in the early 1980s, it threatened the future existence of the Labour party.

Both men were comfortable with confronting opposition and crushing it under foot. They were there to fight and be fought.

To recall the passion, bitterness and division does not sully their memory. Quite the reverse. It is why they are remembered, because they mattered and people cared enough about what they were doing to get involved, either for or against them.

The Dianafication of the deaths of Tony Benn and Bob Crow is perhaps the least fitting tribute possible to the lives they led. They were not bland national treasures but powerful and threatening political figures.

Along-side the warmer words about their personal virtues, it’s worth remembering this. For people in the business of attaining and wielding power, such as Tony Benn and Bob Crow, to adapt a common refrain following Diana’s death, it’s what they would have wanted.

Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Young Labour descends into early 80’s style infighting

27/02/2014, 12:26:34 PM

by Renie Anjeh

The events that took place in Bradford last weekend should be a warning for every young member in the party.

Acrimonious divisions and infighting at the heart of Young Labour were exposed, something that was very disheartening for young activists across the country.  I have to confess that I did not attend the conference because it was too expensive but the fact that a vocal minority have successfully managed to embarrass Young Labour members should be of grave concern for us all.

One of the big issues was the rather obvious matter of Labour Students and OMOV.  This has often been the topic of heated discussion in certain Young Labour circles. Personally, I think that Labour Students have other priorities but I also accept that there may well be a case for OMOV to be discussed and it is not unreasonable for people to want that debate.

However, what is completely objectionable is the sheer hypocrisy of some people on the Left who constantly attack Labour Students not having OMOV when their house is not in order.   Trade union reps on Young Labour National Committee are not elected by OMOV and they have often been elected unopposed due to their ‘support’ from union officials rather than young trade unionists.  How on earth is that fair or democratic?

Many of the people, who boycotted Labour Students meetings and threatened to disaffiliate from Labour Students over the issue of OMOV, voted against OMOV for Labour leadership elections.  It just goes to show that for all their faux outrage, their commitment to OMOV is skin deep.

It’s about time the Left are honest that their real problem is not OMOV, or even Labour Students, but about their disdain for moderates in the party.

(more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Common sense socialism

12/10/2011, 09:19:56 AM

by Jonathan Todd

“We are signposts of the modern kind, electronic ones flashing on the motorway, changing as the traffic or weather changes. And the people interpreting the conditions, deciding what to write on the signs, should be guided above all by common sense, by the axioms and attitudes of the people in the cars”.

Siôn Simon’s variation on Tony Benn’s dictum that there are signposts and weathervanes in politics is worth keeping in mind as the Tory-led government crawls from crisis to crisis.

While Bennites are signposts of a certain kind, “old, wooden affairs, pointing in the wrong direction, to a way through the woods so overgrown that it can scarcely be seen”, the modern Labour signpost is an altogether more interactive and adaptable affair. This ceaseless revisionism applies to both means, switching from wooden to electronic signage, as technology allows, and the contemporary meaning of our ends. (more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon