Today, Tony Benn has left us. A towering political figure of the left, a powerful rhetorician, and a deeply humane individual who constantly reminded us of collectivism.
CentralBeltShuffler had the privilege to see him in action more than once: a magnificent, inspiring lecture on Thomas Paine twenty years ago at UEA; and then some years later in ‘national treasure’ mode at the Oxford Literary Festival (although if that’s national treasure, give me a whole museum and we can curate – and create – a better, fairer world).
Luckily, so much of his career has been documented (not least by his own capacious writings), that we have no excuse not to remember him, and his socialist analysis of 20th and 21st century politics. In the digital, 21st century, we also have instant resource to the power of his rhetoric via YouTube.
Here, his critique of the damage wrought to the fabric of our nation by Thatcherism ends in high-style, and with reference to a commute. See here (from c3:20, though please listen to the whole thing), or in transcript, below:
RIP Tony Benn. May we keep your politics alive.
‘I had one experience the other day, which confirmed me in my view that she hasn’t really changed the thinking or the culture of the British people.
‘I don’t know how many people travel as I do, on trains, but I go regularly on the trains, and I see all the little businessmen with their calculators, working out their cash flow, frowning [at] people, looking and glaring at each other.
‘Thatcherite trains, the train of the competitive society…
‘I was coming back from Chesterfield the other day, and the train broke down. [Benn has earlier discussed the evils of privatisation.]
‘And the train changed. Someone came in and said, ‘Have a cup of tea from my Thermos.’ And they looked after each other’s children. A young couple talked to me, and I said after about half an hour, ‘How long have you been married,’ and they said, ‘Oh, we met on the train,’ they said. And a woman said, ‘Will you get off the train in Derby and ring my son in Swansea, because he’ll be worried’.
And by the time we got to London, we were a socialist train. Because you can’t change human nature.
‘There is good and bad in everyone. And for ten years it is the bad, and the good that has been denounced as lunatic, out of touch, cloud cuckoo land, extremist and militant. That’s what the party opposite has done.’