Benn vs Davis: politics meets the music hall

Public Services Debate, Royal Festival Hall, London

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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: KS2 Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is a two form entry primary schoo...

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an excellent, large partially ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee