It is with great sadness that the DISSENTING DEMOCRAT learned of the death of TONY BENN, former Leader of the British Labour Party and member of Parliament for 50+ years.
Like the DISSENTING DEMOCRAT, Tony started out as a moderate, pragmatic social liberal who was a wee bit suspicious of those on the Left who were unable to engage in the thrust and parry of practical politics. Contrary to myth, people are supposed to grow more conservative as they age, Tony Benn migrated leftward the older he got.
When asked what made him into the Left-Progressive he became, Benn replied that long service as a member of the Cabinet under Harold Wilson and James Callaghan persuaded him that practical politics needed an infusion of ideals in order to be effective.
Tony Benn learned that winning elections in a democracy and mobilizing a popular majority was not necessarily sufficient to change policy. An unsympathetic civil service could frustrate the will of the people at every turn and unelected corporations and banks were always in power regardless of elections. He became a strong advocate of measures to move power out of the wallet and onto the ballot by energizing voters to become participants in politics.
Heir to the title of Viscount, he renounced his peerage and sought to assist the Queen to unburden herself as well, he was an active proponent of abolishing the monarchy. In retirement, Benn was elected to chair the Stop the War Coalition which then hosted the largest popular demonstration in British history bringing over a million into the streets. Later in 2007, a BBC-TV program polled Brits as to who they considered to be a political hero in their time. Margaret Thatcher was selected by 35% and Tony Benn led with 38%.
Today we mourn a hero, and the man who should have been Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Indeed, he SHOULD have been the President of the British Republic.
A reader correctly points out below that Tony Benn had never been elected as Leader of the Labour Party in Parliament. When we posted this we should have been more precise. While Tony was never the “Leader” in the sense of leading the Party in Parliament, he did serve as “Chair of the Labour Party” from 1971 to 1972. When he did the office had considerable authority although from the Blair years on the office was diminished in authority. Tony Blair even appointed a crony to the office although the Party’s rules expressly requires that the position is elected by the National Executive Committee (NEC). Nowadays the office is no longer titled “Chair of the Labour Party” but is less reverentially called “Chair of the NEC”.
Marty06 comments: Correcion: he was never leader of the Labour Party; he narrowly missed out on becoming deputy leader.