Tony Benn: You Ask The Questions

Your questions, please
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Is capitalism dying?
Toby Russel, via e-mail

Firstly, I think that the idea that the gap between rich and poor should get wider is becoming more and more unacceptable. Secondly, the world is becoming increasingly dominated by multinational corporations much bigger than nation states and the international organisations that govern. For the first time in my life, the public are to the left of what is called a Labour government.

What did you think of the Live8 concerts? Can such stunts achieve their aims?
Isabelle Taylor, Newcastle

Bob Geldof publicised the problem of poverty, though publicising it doesn't solve it. But I think that the attention has been very important. The public demand to make poverty history played a part in building the necessary background of opinion.

Is there still a place for socialists in today's Labour Party?
K Sneddon, Perth, Australia

The Labour Party has never been a socialist party, but it has always had socialists in it. The movement that set up the Labour Party needs to have a strong defence not only of the interests of working people but also those in the party who are trying to build a better society.

Prime Minister Harold Wilson once said that you had "immatured with age". Why did he say that, and is it true?
Peter Goldenberg, London

Don't ask me why he said it. Unfortunately, Harold's dead now so you can't ask him either. There were some nasty things said of Harold, too. Everybody has nasty things said about them. I got a death threat the other day. I was so pleased - I haven't had one for years.

How does it feel to go from being public enemy to national treasure?
Frances Morrison, Liverpool

The death threat proved that it hasn't happened. I was chuffed about it. I won't say I was happy, because death threats are not very pleasant. One man wrote to me once and said, "I'm going to kill you 12 months from today", and then 11, and 10, and nine, then it got to a month and then "two weeks from today". Then he never wrote again. Whether he ran out of stamps or lost my address, I don't know.

Your wife Caroline was an American and a socialist. How do you think she would have reacted to the Bush administration?
Jamal Connors, Exeter

Caroline did live to see Bush elected the first time, and died a few days later. I know exactly how she would have reacted. She would have been shattered by the attack on New York, totally opposed to the war against Afghanistan and Iraq, and would have supported the peace movement in the United States.

Your father and grand-fathers were politicians, your son is Secretary of State for International Development, and he thinks that his 12-year-old has a political gift. Is politics in your genes?
Brian Montague, via e-mail

I met Ramsay MacDonald when I was five, Gandhi when I was six, and Lloyd-George when I was 12, and my interests have always been political. My son was also brought up in a political household. An interest in it is an advantage, but you still have to prove that you can represent people and be trusted.

Did you really believe Saddam Hussein when he told you that Iraq didn't have any WMDs?
Jatinder Patel, Manchester

No, I didn't believe him. But I didn't believe Bush and I didn't believe Blair either, I believed Hans Blix [the UN weapons inspector]. I had a long talk in Baghdad with Dr Amir Al-Saadi, the guy who dealt with Blix, and what he told me corresponded to what the Iraq Survey Group, set up by Bush, reported [ie no evidence of WMDs]. I'm afraid that I've reached a point where I don't feel under any obligation to believe what I'm told by the Prime Minister, and that's never happened in my life before.

To what do you attribute the drift to the right, and is there any way for us ordinary socialists to help to reverse it?
Chris Lewis, Via e-mail

The Reagan-Thatcher years were a counter-revolution against democracy - local government was crushed, trade unions attacked, democracy itself was eroded. I think the line that the democratic left have pursued - that you need strong, politically involved trade unions, and to widen the range of democratic control, not just in the vote but in industry - has got the potential for change.

I would love to know your perfected method of making a good cuppa.
Sheila Munro, via e-mail

A teabag, boiling water, saccharin and milk. There's nothing much in it. I am teetotal and vegetarian, so I do live on tea. I don't like Earl Grey tea, but it may be class prejudice against earls, as I don't believe in all that, rather than the tea itself.

What chance is there that left-wingers in the Labour Party will regain some of their influence under a Gordon Brown leadership?
Colin Jennings, via e-mail

My experience is that movements should make changes. Although the suffragettes were led by the Pankhursts, it was the determination of women that won them the vote. Mandela was the symbol of the ANC, he was in jail, and it was the South Africans who won liberation from apartheid. I think it's a mistake to focus on one person. We should build a body of opinion so strong that no government could do something like launching an illegal war.

What do you think of George Galloway and his Respect Party?
Sandeep Nayar, East London

George asked me to go to the National Executive two years ago, when he was charged with using extreme language. I pointed out to the Executive that the Prime Minister had said that the peace movement "had blood on its hands", and I thought that accusing those in favour of peace of having blood on their hands was pretty extreme. But they took no notice and George was expelled. I thought George in the US Senate [assumes Galloway's Scots drawl] - "I've never bought a barrel of oil and neither has anyone on my behalf" - was one of the most brilliant statements ever. It inspired people in America and all over the world.


Donny Osmond


Send your questions to: You Ask The Questions, Features Desk, The Independent, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London, E14 9RS (fax: 020 7005 2182; e-mail:

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