Friday, March 14, 2014

Political Charisma


At a time when it is fashionable to decry all politicians as self-serving villains - an approach which is as dangerous to civil society as it is inaccurate - it is sad to note the passing of Tony Benn, one of the very finest British politicians of his generation. No doubt the right-wing media will today be singing his praises, but I remember Tony Benn from the days where he was being vilified by those same newspapers as an extremist whose views were either bad or mad or more probably both. I met him on a few occasions during the mid 1970s when he was a Government Minister and I was a young apparatchik working at Labour Party headquarters in London. I particularly recall a time in 1975 when he came into our office in search of some Labour Party documentation or other.It was the period just before the referendum on continued membership of the European Union (or Common Market as it then was) and the Party was somehow managing to accommodate both pro and anti EU factions within its ranks. Tony Benn was one of the leaders of the campaign for a "No" vote to continued membership and my boss who sat at the desk opposite me was also a keen opponent of the EU. I, on the other hand, was a enthusiastic supporter of both the EU and continued European unity. After a few words with my boss, he turned to me and asked me for my thoughts on the issue, and I nervously tried to explain my position. Expecting to be either ignored or crushed by his superior debating style, I found myself entranced by a politician who seemed to listen, to consider my views as being equally important as those of a Cabinet colleague, and be capable of taking two apparently conflicting views and moulding them into a synthesis of agreement. It was political skill of the highest order and I became a dedicated disciple of Tony Benn from that day on. He will be missed.

7 comments:

  1. Is this the same Tony Benn that supported Sinn Fein at the height of the troubles?

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    1. Indeed it is. And the thing about Tony Benn is that he would still argue - eloquently and to a certain extent persuasively - that he was right to support Sinn Fein whereas so many icons of the right and the right-wing media would rather pretend that they never had condemned Nelson Mandela as a Communist terrorist or supported the National Socialists as the best hope for Germany in the 1930s.

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  2. Nice recollections, and a fine post, Alan. In the many tributes I've read this morning, the words 'integrity' and 'conviction' have been used a lot. And quite rightly so. Your reply to the previous comment underlines that much. A Facebook 'friend' expressed the hope that Labour will be looking at the huge outpouring of tributes, and taking note. As I commented, I'm sure Labour will be looking, but the party needs to reacquaint itself with the art of listening, too. Something else Tony Benn was good at.

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  3. Sadly, I'm not familiar with Tony Benn but he sounds like a very exceptional kind of person, the sort we need many more of today.

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  4. Well, Tony Benn was consistent then, wasn't he? He supported Sinn Fein, who were Killers and he supported Mandela who was also a murdering Killer. Obviously, he was an Extremist and a supporter of Extremists.

    I never met him, but do remember him from his earliest days. No doubt he was a very affable man as he grew older, but he was, at one time, a dangerous man for this Country, too, politically.

    It is sad to note his demise and yes, political debate will be much less colourful with his passing.

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  5. Sometimes what we see in public is much different from that which is personal.

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  6. A remarkable man indeed even though many people did not really agree with him. Thanks for this personal glimpse, always interesting to have this as a counterweight to (or confirmation) of the public image. .

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