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Socialist Review, May 1994

Clare Farmont


Free thinker


From Socialist Review, No. 175, May 1994.
Copyright © Socialist Review.
Copied with thanks from the Socialist Review Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Tony Benn: Speaking up in Parliament

You’ve read the diaries. Now watch the video.

Tony Benn is a marvellous speaker. He is articulate, witty and always passionately committed to his subject.

The video shows ten extracts from speeches he made in parliament since the cameras arrived. It opens with a rousing speech in October 1992 in opposition to the pit closures promised by Michael Heseltine. It was the day when hundreds of thousands of people gathered in Hyde Park in support of the miners.

He captured the anger in the park. He lambasted and exposed the vindictiveness and hypocrisy of the government. If market forces could never be tampered with, he asked, how come farmers were subsidised? And if they could be tampered with, why couldn’t miners also be paid not to produce? The answer, he said, was in the attitude of the Tories: farmers were friends; miners were the enemy within.

On the impending Gulf War, he put forward simple, irrefutable and, above all, socialist arguments. He denounced America’s claim to be the world’s moral policeman by reminding parliament of the US’s invasions of Grenada and Panama. He exposed Western leaders’ hypocrisy by listing other invasions which they had done nothing about. And he explained that the only reason they were so enraged by Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait was that it threatened their supplies of oil.

The video is a strange cocktail. Fierce denunciations of nuclear weapons, or the effects of Thatcherism on ordinary people in the 1980s, or the sale of arms to Iraq, are interrupted by equally passionate speeches against fox hunting and for women’s ordination. One minute you are marvelling at his courage when he defends the rights of Sinn Fein. The next you are wondering what on earth he is talking about when he explains the opposition to increased union in the EC.

The inconsistency is a reminder of Tony Benn’s isolation. His party’s leaders can’t stand his politics and his army of fans of the early 1980s has long since melted away. For these reasons, perhaps, he feels free to say exactly what he thinks – a refreshing novelty indeed for a Labour MP.

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