Tag Archives: Tony Benn

Tony Benn’s Funeral in Pictures

The BBC barely bothered to cover the funeral of Tony Benn, who passed away a couple of weeks ago. They were more than happy to fawn over Thatcher when she died and allowed Tory commentators to repeat their altered version of history unchallenged. Therefore, it’s up to us at Nowhere Towers to provide some photographs of the occasion.

Here’s the hearse nearing the end of its short journey from the Palace of Westminster to St Margaret’s Church, Westminster Abbey.

Arrival and banners

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Some pictures of banners.

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Some mourners at outside Westminster Abbey

Blurry shot of Westminster Abbey

An LBC hack finds a suitable spot to put a Tory spin on the funeral story.

LBC hack

Meanwhile Old Etonian James Landale of the BBC looks lost after conducting a couple of vox pop interviews. He’d shoved past me earlier.

Landale (Benn funeral)

The final procession.

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This is a slightly better shot.

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Here we have Peter Hain MP and John Bercow MP, the Speaker of the House of Commons, and his wife Sally *innocent face*. John Bercow is chatting to a woman in a wheelchair.

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Admittedly I didn’t take the best position to get the best images but today wasn’t about that. Today was about remembering the man who should have been Labour leader and Prime Minister. RIP Tony Benn, a man who was an inspiration to many and a fighter for democracy.

 

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There’s Only One Tony Benn

Tony Benn: the greatest Prime Minister we never had.

After the sudden death of Bob Crow earlier in the week, I never thought that I would be writing two tributes to two fine men in the space of five days. Tony Benn, the veteran Labour politician died yesterday at the age of 88. I once shared a stage with Tony Benn at a gala on Newcastle’s Town Moor in 1989, at which I was compèring. I can remember introducing him to the crowd but I also remember being too much in awe to actually say anything to him. To this day, I wish I had. Tony Benn was a very approachable man, who was always willing to chat and have his photo taken with people. He was a fine orator and a first-rate parliamentarian. The like of which we may never see again. These days many Westminster politicians are too concerned with managerialism and public relations to deal with real life issues that affect ordinary people. You see, these people are not interested in ideas unless they’re bad ideas. They have no plan for the future. It’s all about smashing and grabbing what they can for themselves and their corporate pals. Tony Benn wasn’t like them.

I first became aware of Tony Benn in the early 1970s when he was still called “Anthony Wedgwood Benn”. In those days, I knew very little about British politics but I remember the unpopularity of the Heath government and its arrogance. The Miners Strikes of 1972 and 1973-4 had seriously damaged the government’s authority over the increasingly restive unions. Heath responded to the strike of 1974 and the power outages that were caused by dwindling coal stocks, by limiting the working week to three days to put a brake on energy consumption. Talks between the government and the unions broke down and in a last-ditch effort to assert his authority, a reluctant and petulant Heath was forced to call a general election for 28 February, 1974 on the question of “Who governs Britain”.

Once the votes were counted, the Conservatives attained a higher percentage of votes (37.9%) but because of the vagaries of Britain’s voting system, they won fewer seats than their Labour rivals who polled slightly less (37.2%) but had won a larger number of seats. The result was a hung parliament. Nonetheless, Heath was invited to form a government and he proposed a coalition with the Liberal Party, but this was rejected by leader Jeremy Thorpe because of the former’s refusal to accommodate the Liberals’ demands for proportional representation. Harold Wilson’s Labour Party formed a minority government and immediately entered into negotiations with the unions to end the strikes. With the strikes over, Wilson called a general election for October 1974, which the party won with a tiny majority of three seats. This precarious situation would return to haunt the Labour government which would be forced to enter into an uneasy supply and confidence arrangement with the Liberals in what was referred to as the ‘Lib-Lab Pact’ in 1976.

Under Wilson, Benn was handed the Industry portfolio but was then moved to Department for Energy in 1975, presumably in an effort to placate critics of Benn and the policy of nationalization. When Wilson suddenly resigned in 1976, Benn stood for the leadership and came fourth in the first round and withdrew from the second ballot.  James ‘Sunny Jim’ Callaghan was elected leader and became Prime Minister and stepped straight into a sterling crisis (which had been caused by a massive balance of trade deficit left by the Heath government). To deal with this problem, Denis Healey, the right-wing Chancellor of the Exchequer, applied for a loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the conditions of which stipulated that the government was obliged to adopt monetarist policies. Among other things, this meant swingeing cuts to public services. If anything, this episode in Labour’s history was partly responsible for the later splits in the party.

Benn kept his job as Energy Secretary and established the British National Oil Company (BNOC) in 1975. Although its chief role was to ensure adequate oil supply levels, its other less-discussed role included the creation of a sovereign wealth fund using the royalties made from the production of North Sea Oil to fund social programmes and have some money saved for a ‘rainy day’.  When the Tories won the 1979 General Election, Thatcher privatised BNOC and renamed it Britoil in 1982. It was later bought by BP in 1988. Under Thatcher, most of the country’s oil money was squandered on tax cuts for the rich, with the rest going to pay for the Tories’ devastation of Britain’s traditional heavy industries. At this time, Benn had already moved to the Left and when Labour were out of power, he became something of a standard-bearer. He spoke of the need to continue the nationalisation programme that the Tories were now dismantling. He spoke of the need to leave NATO and the EEC. The former because of its constant and unslakeable thirst for war and the latter because he saw it as fundamentally undemocratic.

When Callaghan resigned as leader in 1981, Benn stood against Denis Healey in the deputy leadership contest and lost by a mere 1%. The party had more or less fixed the election. Michael Foot became the party leader but was faced with internal difficulties, which led to the split from the party of the so-called ‘Gang of Four’. To this day, the former members of the SDP blame Benn for splitting the Labour Party but this was already happening in 1974 with MPs like Dick Taverne  and Eddie Milne leaving the party and standing as  “Independent Labour” or “Democratic Labour” candidates. Both men were defeated in the October 1974 election. Taverne later joined the SDP, while Milne vanished into obscurity and died in 1983 after another unsuccessful attempt to regain his seat. Then there was the infamous Reg Prentice affair in 1976, when Tory Julian Lewis – with the financial support of The Freedom Association – posed as a  Labour Party moderate and managed to briefly gain control of the Newham North East constituency in an attempt to have Prentice reselected. Prentice later joined the Tories.

In 1983, Benn lost his seat when the Bristol South East constituency was abolished due to boundary changes and he lost the contest to be selected for the new seat of Bristol South to Michael Cocks. He immediately stood in the newly created seat of Bristol East but lost the the Tory candidate, Jonathan Sayeed. Less than a year later Benn was selected as candidate for the Chesterfield constituency when the sitting MP, Eric Varley resigned to become the head of Coalite. During the campaign, The Sun ran a series of articles titled “Benn On The Couch”, purportedly written by an American psychiatrist, which concluded that Benn was insane.  Other papers produced their own Benn scare stories. Indeed the media construction of the ‘Loony Left’  phenotype has its origins in this period. To this day, the Right continues with this line of attack precisely because it has no ideas and because it realises that Left ideas are more popular with most voters than the secondhand Thatcherism offered by the present government or, indeed, the last Labour government.

Like many people in Britain, The Cat believes that Benn was the greatest Prime Minister this country never had. His detractors may claim that he was a “relic from the past” and his politics were “out of date”. Yet there is nothing modern or ‘up-to-date’ about wanting to drag this country back to the 1950s or the days of the British Empire. Nu Labourites blame Benn for Labour’s wilderness years during the 80s but this ignores the fact that Labour  under Kinnock offered no real alternative to Thatcher’s policies. Kinnock lacked the guts and the spirit to make a decent leader and feared the wrath of the Tory press if he dared move leftward. Furthermore, the lack of support shown by the leadership of the party with regards to the Miners’ Strike showed that the party no longer had any time for its core voters and preferred, instead, to chase the so-called floating voter and appeal to the media-constructed ‘Essex Man’. Labour in the mid-1980s was already dead to me.  As far as I was concerned I had no party to vote for. By the time of Blair’s victory in 1997, it had migrated so far to the Right that it actually began to resemble the SDP.

Yet Benn continued to be a member of the Labour Party even after he left the Commons in 2001 to “devote more time to politics”. Remember this is the party that more or less stitched up the deputy  leadership election in 1981 to favour Healy. This is the same party that cast him out of the inner circle because, like the Tory press and the SDP splitters, they believed he was ‘dangerous’. But the dangers posed to this country by the Thatcher government weren’t even noticed by the Labour Party’s top brass, who moved rightward in an attempt to out-Tory the Tories. This is what happens when you fail to develop ideas and policies of your own: you end up copying your enemy. True to his word, Benn did spend more time on politics and continued to write and speak.  Among other things, he became President of the Stop the War Campaign on 2001. He travelled to Baghdad to meet Saddam Hussein in 2003 before the disastrous invasion and occupation by the Coalition of the Toadies. He appeared at the Leftfield at the Glastonbury Festival several times and inspired a new generation of young people.

The last time I saw Tony Benn was last September at the Stop the War rally at Trafalgar Square before the Commons vote on possible British intervention in Syria. He looked frail but he still made a good speech. I may not have always agreed with his brand of socialism but I admired his fighting spirit and his oratory skills. Who knows what might have happened in 1981 if Benn had stood for the leadership of the party instead of the deputy leadership?

So farewell Tony Benn, but we have little time to mourn you.  The best thing we can do to honour your memory is to fight back and fight hard.

I’ll leave you with this video of Tony Benn giving both barrels to Thatcherism.

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Telegraph Comment of the Week (#28)

On Monday, Dan ‘Tribal Loyalty’ Hodges, the Telegraph’s Blairite-in-residence, attempted to write something objective about the BBC. But as anyone will tell you: the right – especially those who leave comments on Telegraph blogs – hates the BBC, because of its imagined ‘left-wing’ bias. Hodges’s blog: “The BBC isn’t anti-Tory. It’s anti-government” sounds like it should be anti-authority, maybe even counter-cultural, but rather predictably, it is anything but.

He kicks off with,

Today has seen yet another significant drop in unemployment; down 125,000. The trend is clear. The war against unemployment is being won.

Groovy. So what is this really about?

Which of course isn’t what’s supposed to be happening. Only yesterday I became involved in a round of Twitter handbags with former MPC member David Blanchflower, who had confidently predicted “Tory public spending cuts ‘could push unemployment to 5 million’”. According to Blanchflower “If spending cuts are made too early and the monetary and fiscal stimuli are withdrawn, unemployment could easily reach four million.

The thing is, Dan, that apparent ‘drop’ in the numbers of unemployed is entirely concocted. You’re forgetting the numbers of people who’ve been sanctioned, forced into workfare, working ‘self-employed’ and all those other people who are on zero hours contracts. Then there are all the part-time workers who want to work full-time but can’t because the jobs aren’t there. You’re not exactly playing with a full deck. Are you, Dan?

Two paragraphs down and we get to the real point of the blog.

So how does the Today programme choose to cover this dramatic fall in unemployment? With a feature on the scourge of youth unemployment.

Oh dear. Yes friends, the Today programme hasn’t done what it was supposed to do: suck up to the government, which it does every day without fail.

But hang on, what’s this?

But this charge of “Left-wing bias”, or more accurately “pro-Labour bias” is too lazy. It’s true there is a small “l” liberal culture which dominates the Corporation.

Dan, if this is your idea of trying to persuade your headbanging readers to accept the BBC is anything other than ‘left-wing’ you’re wasting your time. Oh and god damn those liberals! Yeah. That’s a sentiment that even this week’s commenter,  CassandraKing, can agree with.

CassandraKretinThose damned left-wing scumbags at the BBC allowed people with dissenting views to express their opinions of Thatcher when she died. Did they? The thing is, the coverage of the week-long Thatcher binge was dominated by gushing tributes from those who worshipped her  as the ‘saviour of Britain’.  The same oleaginous types even tried to rewrite history before our very eyes. “Cassandra” (a delusional choice of online name for sure) can’t see this. “The Maggie haters got more air time than those who loved her”,  she thunders. Aw, diddums.

“CassandraKing” then claims that the BBC turned into “North Korean TV” in their coverage of the death of Nelson Mandela. I hate to tell you this, Cass, but Mandela was a better politician than Thatcher. In fact, Mandela fought a struggle against oppression. Thatcher fought on behalf of the oppressors. She hated unions, unless they happened to be in Poland and she defended apartheid.

Tony Benn is next for the Cassandra treatment.  She whines “The BBC will allow no demonstrators or critics airtime”.  First, let me ask “what demonstrators”? Right doesn’t do demonstrations because it doesn’t need to. I mean, just look at the Rally Against Debt a few years ago. The right couldn’t even muster two hundred supporters for an issue about which it was apparently passionate. Not even Toby Young could be arsed to turn up. No doubt about it, “Cassandra”, like many right-whingers is playing the victim here.

“CassandraKing” closes with the standard “the BBC is the mouthpiece of extremist left/green axis”. The “left/green axis”, eh? The BBC? Yeah, right. Only in DelingpoleWorld.

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Saturday’s anti-war demo

31 Aug 2013 Anti war demo

In the days leading to the anti-war demonstration on Saturday and immediately after the Commons vote, which saw the government defeated, we have been treated to a deluge of macho language from politicians and right-wing hacks alike. As most readers will know that at times like this, I am fond of quoting Gil Scott-Heron’s powerful poem, B-Movie:

Clichés like, “itchy trigger finger” and “tall in the saddle” and “riding off or on into the sunset.” Clichés like, “Get off of my planet by sundown!” More so than clichés like, “he died with his boots on.” Marine tough the man is. Bogart tough the man is. Cagney tough the man is. Hollywood tough the man is. Cheap steak tough. And Bonzo’s substantial. The ultimate in synthetic selling: A Madison Avenue masterpiece – a miracle – a cotton-candy politician …Presto! Macho!

As you many of you already know, B-Movie was written about Ronald Reagan, the macho president of the United States, who borrowed themes from his filmography to impress the gullible public of the need to do this or that thing. Again, we have politicians and their friends in the media using the most extraordinary macho language. I kept hearing words like “diminished on the world stage”, which almost suggests a form of emasculation. Then there is the phrase “standing tall”, which conjures up an image of a Wild West gunslinger. But if the dominant ideologues are that worried about their big tough image, then perhaps they need to spend some time on a psychoanalyst’s couch rather than pursuing unnecessary wars that have the fig leaf of legitimacy that is conferred upon them by the laughable phrase, ‘International Law’. “But look” they’ll say, “there’s a ban on the use of chemical weapons”. This generally overlooks the US and Israel’s recent use of white phosphorus and the American’s use of Agent Orange in Vietnam. Where’s the irony?

And so, on Saturday, I went to the anti-war demonstration organized by CND and the Stop the War Coalition. I wasn’t expecting much. In fact, I wasn’t expecting a massive turnout for this hastily convened march and rally.

I arrived in time to join the head of the march on Victoria Embankment. The march snakes its way towards Westminster Bridge, where I can see dozens of gawping tourists,with their cameras at the ready to take snaps of us as we march by. I pass, what I believe to be a small group of German tourists, one of whom remarks “I think they are marching against all wars”. His tone is half-mocking. Only morons are in favour of wars, mein freund.

We’re on Whitehall and we pause briefly outside the gates of Downing Street… on the opposite side of the road. We’re not allowed anywhere near Dippy Dave’s London residence and besides, he’s apparently holding a barbecue for his MPs at Chequers, which is designed to do two things: admonish those who voted against the government and reward those who voted the correct way.

As I said, this is a small march of perhaps around 1,000 or so people. Still, it isn’t that bad a turn-out for a quickly arranged demo. I can see bourgeois SWP splitters and café owners, Counterfire, posing in their designer clothes and mingling with the less bourgeois marchers.

It’s unlikely that this march will attract any attention from the BBC, which has been quick to march in lockstep with the government, the intelligence services and the Military-Industrial complex. In the media, anti-war voices are rare, while pro-war macho voices are ten a penny.

We arrive at Trafalgar Square and I can see a small number of Guy Fawkes masks… they’re so passé. The compères for the afternoon are Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn and Kate Hudson of CND and Left Unity. The first speaker is Counterfire’s  Lindsey German, whom Corbyn introduces as a “brilliant advocate for peace”. Her speech is an uninspiring tickbox list.  She says “UKIP are not welcome on this march” but to be honest, I don’t think I’ve seen any UKIP members. I have seen a couple of conspiracy theory types, both of whom were carrying placards with the words “9/11 was an inside job”. Given their love of conspiracy theories, perhaps they’re Kippers?

Andrew Murray is up next. He is animated and his speech is passionate. He’s certainly more interesting than Lindsey German and the best speaker of the afternoon. But as I look around the square, I am struck by the absence of anything cultural. Where is the street theatre? The sound systems? The scratch bands? I’ve heard no dubstep since I’ve been here. It’s weird.

Natalie Bennett follows Murray and while she makes some good points, she is a terrible orator. Someone with a great deal of experience of this kind of thing is Tariq Ali, who seems to be a professional protester. These days, he hasn’t got much to say that I haven’t already heard. Someone from the back heckles him with a loud hailer. I turn around and I recognise the heckler. I used to work with this guy!  He’s immediately surrounded by more serious types who like their speeches formulaic and unchallenged. “Listen to what they’re doing to your mind”, he protests. I’m not sure what he means. Perhaps he’s suggesting that these people mould one’s thoughts. If so, then he’s mistaken. I can think for myself, thanks.

Tony Benn comes on and he looks and sounds frail. I have trouble hearing what he’s saying. He was a pretty bad cough too. Usually, you can rely on Benn to put in a rousing performance but I think those days are behind him now.

A poet arrives on the platform. Wow. Culture. But it’s brief. We need more of this kind of thing. I decide to leave when the President of ULU rocks up. he’s pretty dull, probably not used to public speaking or has taken his oratory cues from Britain’s current crop of politicians.

When I get home, there’s no mention of the demo on the BBC News Channel (I didn’t expect it to be honest), Sky News or ITN News. The only mainstream media report of this demo can be found on the Evening Standard’s website.

PS. I’d actually taken a quite a few photos on my BlackBerry but it has deleted all of them without asking me. The photo at the top of this blog was sent to Facebook before my phone had a chance to delete anything. The phone will go back to the shop for the third time this year. I really should have taken a proper camera instead.

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