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 Forget 'The Dress': Here are five of the biggest news stories you might have missed
- 2 The black and blue dress: Makers considering a white and gold version
- 3 PornHub turns masturbation into energy in bid to save the planet
- 4 The remarkable archaeological underwater discovery that could open up a new chapter in the study of European and British prehistory
- 5 Saudi Muslim cleric claims the Earth is 'stationary' and the sun rotates around it
Boris Nemtsov shot dead: Outspoken Putin critic who had expressed fears for his life is killed near the Kremlin
PornHub turns masturbation into energy in bid to save the planet
Ukraine crisis: Top Chinese diplomat backs Putin and says West should 'abandon zero-sum mentality'
White and gold or blue and black – what colour is the dress? An eyewitness gives a definitive answer
Saudi Muslim cleric claims the Earth is 'stationary' and the sun rotates around it
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
Half of Ukip voters say they are prejudiced against people of other races
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
'Cash for access' scandal: Sir Malcolm Rifkind says 'unrealistic' for MPs to live on £67,000 salary
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...
£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...
£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...
£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...