Tony Benn wrote so well and so prolifically and was so remarkable a speech maker, that there’s an endless fund of quotable stuff to be found. The following may not all be the most familiar or the pithiest, but they stood out for me in my recent reading as being resonant today and reflective of the man and his beliefs.
Tony’s Last Tape is drawn wholly from Benn’s diaries. Here’s a telling insight into his approach to writing and editing them:
“I’m not ashamed of making mistakes. I’ve made a million mistakes and they’re all in the diary. When we edit the diary- which is cut to around ten per cent- every mistake has to be printed because people look to see if you do. I would be ashamed if I thought I’d ever said anything I didn’t believe to get on, but making mistakes is part of life, isn’t it?”
Interview, Lindsey German and Judith Orr, September 2007
Benn was portrayed by many in the press as an extremist left wing madman. Here’s his view of the reality of democratic socialism:
“Socialism has nothing whatever in common with the harsh, centralised, dictatorial and mechanistic images presented by the media. It is open, libertarian, pluralistic, humane and democratic.”
Arguments for Socialism, 1979
It’s perhaps worth citing at this point his wry observation of socialism and the Labour Party:
“The Labour party’s never been a socialist party, but it’s always had socialists in it, just as there are some Christians in the church, it’s an exact parallel.”
Today programme, February 10, 2006
Given the jaundiced view many of us have of politicians today, it’s heartening to remember Benn’s view of what politics is for:
“Politics is really about education and not about propaganda. It is about teaching more than management. It is about ideas and values and not only about Acts of Parliament, political institutions and ministerial office.”
The Levellers and the English Democratic Tradition, 1976
Here he is in 1980 talking about what he called “the economics of the madhouse”. It’s depressing to realise how apt that description is nearly forty years later:
“How can anyone explain the logic of an economic system which permits human need to co-exist with unemployed people able and anxious to meet it, whilst unused financial resources are diverted into speculation that does not add one penny to our real wealth?”
Speech at the annual luncheon of the Newspaper Press Fund, Glasgow, January 22 1980
Benn was a supporter of LGBT rights and had voted in favour of decriminalisation in 1967. Here he is talking about Section 28, a piece of legislation in 1988 aimed at outlawing the “ promotion of homosexuality”.
“If the sense of the word “promote” can be read across from “describe”, every murder play promotes murder, every war play promotes war, every drama involving the eternal triangle promotes adultery; and Mr. Richard Branson’s condom campaign promotes fornication. The House had better be very careful before it gives to judges, who come from a narrow section of society, the power to interpret “promote”.”
Cited by Scott Roberts, Pink News, 2014
Finally, given the recent vandalism inflicted on Marx’s tomb in Highgate cemetery, here’s a pertinent observation.
“It is wholly wrong to blame Marx for what was done in his name, as it is to blame Jesus for what was done in his.”
As cited in “The Benn Heresy”, Alan Freeman, 1982
Philip Bretherton stars as Tony Benn in Tony’s Last Tape, running at Omnibus Theatre from 2-20 Apr – get your tickets HERE→