The Death of Tony Benn

March 14, 2014 at 6:39 pm (Uncategorized)

Tony Benn was a part of my political development.

When I was in my third year of university in 1986, I got a cat. On a whim. Actually, it was on the suggestion of a girlfriend who clearly saw more keenly than I did our relationship wasn’t going to endure. I thought about a name, and initially, but not seriously, considered Scargill. Eventually I went with Benn, in honour of the British Labour MP. The cat is long gone, and now so it Tony Benn himself, passing away today at the age of 88.

Even at the time I got the cat, sorry for the continued digression here, my politics weren’t Benn’s. Today, more than twenty-five years later, we occupy almost entirely different worlds. Benn was a Labour Party MP, a so-called democratic socialist who believed that capitalism could be reformed, that a peaceful transition to some form of socialism was possible. (And, let’s not forget that our definitions of socialism have little in common). Add to that Benn’s ‘Little Englandism’ and you might wonder why I ever named that cat after him.

So a couple of words then. First, that Benn fought to get rid of his peerage is worthy of note. The story is well documented, so I won’t repeat it, but on a small level it shows more than a little integrity. Second, Benn moved leftward (all things considered) after serving in government. Third, the passing of Benn and the disappearance of the Bennite left (like the Bevanites before them) seem to be the end of an era. With the ascendancy of Tony Blair’s New Labour, Benn and his co-thinkers seemed like relics from another age – even if Benn’s socialism was of a type that could be contained within capitalism, he always appeared to be what some called “an honest reformist.” (The proof of this of course, that he never broke with Labour)

By the time I came to politics, Bennism had already been defeated, and the leftist opposition in the party was Militant. When I named the cat I was already a Trotskyist. When I got a dog a few years back, we named it Lester.

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