Benn vs Davis: politics meets the music hall
Public Services Debate, Royal Festival Hall, London
Tuesday 15 October 2002
The promise of two men in shirt sleeves arguing about public service for a couple of hours would fill most hearts with horror, but Tony Benn's debate with the Tory frontbencher David Davis filled the Royal Festival Hall with paying punters last night.
It was the party conference fringe for all those who could not spend the past three weeks in draughty halls on the seaside up and down Britain.
The event, the latest in Mr Benn's one-man shows which have toured the country, was part music-hall, part deadly serious discussion; a little like Frank Skinner and David Baddiel without the sofa but with added ideology.
The event pitted a man who has twice tried to lead the Labour Party against a man who has contested the Conservative leadership only once – but may well contest it again.
Mr Benn, pipe in hand, leant back in his armchair and spoke of rights and democracy, public service, and socialism. Mr Davis sipped tea from a giant mug and talked about choice and freedom and how people power could improve services.
Mr Benn, who famously left Parliament to spend more time in politics, is a master of his craft, dropping asides like a comedian who has spent a lifetime working the clubs. ''How could you give a midwife a productivity deal?'' he asked to loud guffaws. "Family planning would destroy the productivity deal.''
One woman asked whether the elderly were making Britain overcrowded. "If you are asking me to make the ultimate sacrifice I must tell you I have a moral objection to euthanasia,'' Mr Benn replied.
Mr Davis, a former SAS reservist who now shadows John Prescott, had the harder edge of a man who has no desire to become a national treasure just yet. He outlined a manifesto under which choice and competition would drive up standards, and gave a personal account of his council house childhood and family stories, which could have been a leadership speech in embryo.
But above all, they agreed. Targets were ridiculous, there were too few police on the beat, and on Europe they simply agreed ... to agree.
In the auditorium they were still queuing up for the microphone when the evening ended; and paying up to £18 a head for the privilege.
- 1 I'm A Celebrity 2014: Jungle security stepped up after murder and 'suspicious death' near to camp
- 3 Jeremy Hunt: 'I took my children to A&E because I didn't want to wait for GP appointment'
- 4 Girl, 7, gets Tesco to remove 'stupid' sign suggesting superheroes are 'for boys'
- 5 This letter from a reader explains why women can’t play football
Sarah Vine criticises lesbian mother Jack Monroe: 'If she was unsure about her sexuality, she should have taken greater precautions'
Black Friday 2014: Opening times for Asda, John Lewis, PC World, GAME and Argos
Three-year-old boy accidentally shoots dead his mother in Tulsa, Oklahoma, as she changes her younger daughter's nappy
Michael Brown shooting: Driver smashes into crowd as protests erupt across the US during a second night of unrest
Jeremy Hunt: 'I took my children to A&E because I didn't want to wait for GP appointment'
Rochester by-election: Ukip gains second MP as Tory defector Mark Reckless holds seat
'Beast of Bolsover' Dennis Skinner takes Ukip MP Mark Reckless to task moments after he is sworn in
Ukip says babies born to immigrants in the UK should be classed as migrants – which would include Nigel Farage’s own children
The young are the new poor: Sharp increase in number of under-25s living in poverty, while over-65s are better off than ever
Tamir Rice: 12-year-old boy playing with fake gun dies after being shot by Ohio police
Exclusive: UK approved £7m Israeli arms sales in six months before Gaza conflict
Negotiable: Argyll Scott International: Senior Business Analyst - Insurance ...
£25000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This independent, growing Sales...
£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Multi-skilled graphic designer ...
£30000 - £50000 per annum + EXCELLENT: Austen Lloyd: Court of Protection Solic...