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Tony Benn: Gifted as a speaker and political educator, but his politics were flawed


It was another Tony, Anthony Crosland, on the right of Labour, who said of Benn that there's “nothing the matter with him except he's a bit cracked.”.

Of course he wasn't mad, as parts of the press made out, but his politics were eccentric to the point of irrationality, and there are many of us on the progressive wing of politics who cannot forgive him for splitting the Labour Party in the 1980s and keeping Margaret Thatcher's Tory party in power for almost two decades. Benn, or the Bennatollah as Private Eye called him because of his dogmatic ways, was the reason I left the Labour Party all those years ago, and the damage he did to his party, and the damage to working people, wasn't repaired until yet another Tony (Blair) came along. Indeed in terms of truly democratising Labour, which for the Bennites meant empowering extremist activists, only now is Ed Miliband giving his party back to its members.

Politics, as Benn believed, is about the issues, and policies. For all his longevity and distinguished parliamentary service Benn left little behind in terms of abiding achievement, apart from the legislation that gave peers the right to renounce their peerages (as he had to to stay in the Commons when he inherited his father's peerage in 1960).

Benn was wrong about nationalisation, wrong about Europe, wrong about comprehensive education, and wrong about the Cold War and defence. He saw that Margaret Thatcher, his contemporary, was "a great teacher"; Benn had similar gifts as a speaker and writer and political educator, as well as personal charm and kindness, but he really was on the wrong curriculum.

The Tony Benn I knew was an intriguing, complex and towering figure
Tony Benn dead: Veteran Labour politician passes away at 88