Anthony Neil Wedgwood Benn has passed away today aged 88. It is a poignant commentary on British politics that Ed Miliband has praised him in memoriam as a “conviction politician”. He’s right, of course; but it speaks volumes that this is used as a curiously refreshing and distinguishing feature.
Tony Benn was man born into privilege who, on the strength of his convictions, fought the establishment (left, right and centre) for the right to be treated as an ordinary member of the public. He railed against inequity and privilege, he championed the rights of the poor and the downtrodden, he never ceased to advocate his vision for a compassionate and socially equitable Britain, and he shall be missed.
For good or ill, the one thing that can be said of Tony Benn was that he did not compromise on his principles. If they made him unelectable (as they did him and Michael Foot in 1983), so be it; he was nonetheless a wonderfully refreshing breath of fresh air amid the otherwise stale and predictable dance of hollow platitudes, empty promises and courting the lowest common electoral denominator. To the end, Tony Benn represented one of the last vestiges of ideological politics in which voters had an actual choice – whether they decided to agree with him or not.
For those who did agree with him, in whole or in part, Tony Benn painted an vivid albeit idealistic picture of how British Socialism would look in real life: something which, even if perhaps realistically unattainable, was at least a collected works of individual goals to which the UK should be striving. Benn and Foot took a gamble in 1983, and showed their hand. Too much, as it turned out.
But when you have a moment, take a look at it, and keep in mind whether or not the financial crisis would have been quite so damaging had successive governments not continued to play it fast and loose for nearly 30 years without saving for a rainy day. It may have been laughed off the map in 1983, but, it is been argued, Benn had remarkable foresight.
(Also, for a nicely eloquent tarnishing of Tony Blair’s regime, click here)
So, thus dies one of the few remaining steadfast and stalwart voices of the discernible Left. One fewer person will be out on their soapbox arguing for a fundamental redrafting of the social contract. This leaves just … Russell Brand?