Tony Benn: You Ask The Questions

The Labour grandee answers your questions, such as 'Where did Brown go wrong?' and 'Are you pleased Marx is back in fashion?'

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The Independent Online

Where did Gordon Brown go wrong? RACHEL MURTAGH, Oxted

Everyone in New Labour who believes that the market would solve our problems got it wrong. As we are discovering to our cost.

Between the Miliband brothers, Ed Balls, Harriet Harman, James Purnell, and Alan Johnson, who would you pick as the next Labour leader? PHILIP WU Manchester

Political choices are not about who wins an Oscar. It is about the policies we should follow. Britain should withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan, abandon nuclear weapons, bring all our banks under public control, build more houses and restore civil liberties. Making politics about personalities creates cynicism and apathy.

Would you support your son Hilary if he wanted to be Labour leader? GARY NILSSON Durham

I have the highest regard for Hilary's ability and integrity. But he is not a candidate.

Should the Government be willing to break contract law to deny obscene payouts to the likes of Fred Goodwin? CHARLIE HOOPER Cheltenham

When Churchill was wartime Prime Minister in 1945 the highest level of personal taxation was 95 per cent. It would be appropriate to raise the level of personal taxation for those above £200,000 to 80 per cent which would raise money and help to share the burden of the crisis more fairly.

What's the best way to solve the financial crisis? KIM HARDING-GRANT Nottingham

The present crisis is like a war that threatens our security, our jobs, our home and our future and the Government should tackle it in the same way by taking whatever action is necessary to safeguard our interests as they did in wartime.

Are you the best Prime Minister we never had? MILES PEARCE Bristol

The committee of excellent future prime ministers is a very big one. No one will ever know. I am quite happy to think, looking back on my life, that I encouraged people.

You always used to say people turn to the right during an economic crisis; do you think that is still true? JENNY WALTON


That is the danger. I, as a three-year-old, met a Labour MP in 1928. I didn't see him again for seven years. He was in a black shirt, in Parliament Square, as leader of the British Union of Fascists. His name was Oswald Mosley. It is always tempting for the hard right to gain power by focusing on a scapegoat and frightening people; of focusing on a supposed threat as Hitler did and building support on the basis that only a strong man can deal with it.

Do you think you have immatured with age? NIGEL DAVIES Manchester

If maturity means starting as a progressive and ending up on the right, sitting in the House of Lords, I'm glad I did it the other way around.

What has changed most about politics since you first stood for election? CARLA HAMPSON Dundee


The exponential growth of technology has enormously increased the risks to humanity but also opened up the possibilities if we take the right decisions. The choices we have to make are always essentially moral choices.

Have you seen your MI5 file? NEAL GORMAN, Cambridge

No. But I keep in close touch with MI5 on a daily basis, when I use the phone or my computer, thanks to their continuing efforts to protect our national security.

Do you see any firebrands like you, George Galloway, or Dennis Skinner among Labour's next generation? THOMAS BYRNE Belfast

Every generation produces people with ideas. The greatest offence is to be ahead of your time. But I have great confidence in the next generation.

What were you thinking when you were being interviewed by Ali G? DAVE COTTER Southampton

When I met Ali G I took him seriously and answered all his questions. I think he is a very clever man.

Have you invented anything lately? ROWENA FRY Peterborough

Yes. I am working on a combined suitcase and stool to allow people waiting at bus stops, railway stations and airports to sit. And my "safeseat" has been named in recognition of the hope that every parliamentary candidate has a safe seat.

Do you support the smoking ban? Do you stand outside the pub with a pipe? SOPHIE JONES, London

I am a teetotaller and I do not go to pubs. But I strongly support the idea that no non-smoker should have to work in a room where there are smokers. But I do like puffing my pipe. And if I am imprisoned for doing so, I believe you can smoke in prison.

Do you remember nearly setting your colleague Chris Mullin's house alight with your pipe? ANDY FELTON, Leeds

Yes, though actually I set fire to my suit, not his house. All my clothes have got holes in them.

Do you remember voting, as a member of Labour's National Executive, to ban the import of all motor cars in 1980? Would you vote like that again? LOUISE TURNHAM Brighton

I do not remember that vote and I'm not sure it ever took place. I would not have voted in that way.

Didn't your espousal of hard-line Left wing views help to keep Labour out of power for almost two decades? WILLIAM JOWETT, Lincoln

I always said what I believed and believed what I said. I never said what I didn't believe in order to get on in life. Strangely, the public is now well to the left of New Labour and maybe that was always so.

Are you happy that Marx is coming back into fashion? KATHERINE GRANT, Colchester

Karl Marx has to be seen as a great teacher who explained the world in a way that makes it possible to understand it. But the changes he believed necessary can only be brought about by democracy, which is the most revolutionary idea in the world. In Mein Kampf Hitler said, "democracy inevitably leads to Marxism." Which is why he was against democracy.

Is Barack Obama a socialist? ANNA FARR, London

No. But he gave hope to the people of America and that is his important contribution: building up the body of support for what he said he wanted to do. And I hope that the movement he created is a force that will transform America from the Bush period.

You're a national treasure these days. Do you miss being hated? JAMIE WALTER, Crewe

Thanks to the tabloid campaigns I have many death threats and I was very pleased to get another one the other day. Having said that I'm glad the media harassment is over; it was a terrifying experience for my family and myself. To be called a national treasure is the last corruption in politics. You are treated as a kindly harmless old gentleman. I am old. I am kindly. I could be a gentleman. But I am not harmless. That's why I was glad I got a death threat the other day. I was so chuffed.

Do you think your teenage granddaughter has enough experience to be a good MP? GINA MACKAY, Chesterfield

I've always been in favour of the vote at 16. Because if you're young enough to marry, get a job, pay taxation and join the Army, you're old enough to vote. When you consider what a mess my generation made of the world, with 105 million people killed in two European wars, I have enormous confidence that the younger generation can make a better go of it. That applies to my granddaughter as well.

Do we already know everything about you, or do you have any secrets left? If so, will you tell us one? JONATHAN POTTER, Liverpool

My diaries are not a confession but a record of my political life. On the day of judgement I shall hand over the 16 million words of my uncut diaries and await the decision. If it's a thumbs down I just hope there's an energy crisis when I get to hell.