Sunday, 16 March 2014

Tony Benn

On 14 March 2014, former Labour Cabinet Minister, Tony Benn died. 

I disagreed with him on many things but sometimes, as a fundamentally honest and decent man is bound to do, he got it very right. Some of those righteous times are demonstrated below:

In January 2013, he was interviewed by Voice of Russia radio. In the interview he said this:
"In Britain we are governed, not by people we elect, but by people in Brussels who represent the big financial corporations and business and so on. They are are building an empire in Europe and the European Union is not a very democratic…  
The European Union is developing into an empire of its own where every country has to fit in with a pattern. Greece has had its democracy taken away and its government imposed from Brussels... What we have to do is find a sensible way of working with Europe but not being a part of the system that is governed from Europe because that would be the abandonment of our independent democratic rights...  
The Americans will just have to learn to live with the fact that Britain will have to decide how it wants to live with Europe. We can't have that imposed on us by the United States… 
I want to be governed in a democratic society where the people who govern us we elect and we can remove them and therefore they have to listen to us. The truth is in Europe there is no such system. The people who run Europe are officals who are selected and appointed and not elected and there's not much the Europeans now can do to deal with their leadership.” 
During the 3 June 2009 edition of Channel 4 News, he said this: 
“Blair was a Tory. He took over Mrs Thatcher’s economic policy and tried to follow it. This crisis is a crisis of Thatcherism and Blairism... People are really, really angry about the expenses…  
There was no referendum on Lisbon, which was promised. They’re privatising part of the post office, which they promised not to do. There’s a war in Afghanistan which we were never consulted about. There’s a lot of money for the bankers but no help for the people.”
In the 2007 Michael Moore documentary, ‘Sicko,’ Benn said these things:  
"If we can find the money to kill people, we can find the money to help people." 
"An educated, healthy and confident nation is harder to govern." 
"I think there are two ways in which people are controlled. First of all frighten people and secondly, demoralize them." 
"People in debt become hopeless and hopeless people don’t vote. They always say that that everyone should vote but I think that if the poor in Britain or the United States turned out and voted for people that represented their interests there would be a real democratic revolution... 
Choice depends on the freedom to choose and if you are shackled with debt you don’t have the freedom to choose."
In July 2007, Benn said this: 
"My experience since I left the Commons has been that many are angry that no one seems to be listening, and do not believe what they are told…. Spin has played some part in this but the real problem is much deeper, and may best be identified as the progressive centralisation of power in the hands of the previous prime minister, who took all the decisions himself, ignoring the cabinet, parliament, party and the public, and was able to do so because of the patronage, deriving from the prerogative, that he exercised and abused." 
During the 22 March 2007 edition of Question Time, his exchanges with US Neocon, John Bolton, produced this response: 
"‘We the peoples of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind.’ That was the pledge my generation gave to the younger generation and you tore it up. And it’s a war crime that’s been committed in Iraq, because there is no moral difference between a stealth bomber and a suicide bomber. Both kill innocent people for political reasons."
In January 2006, he said this in The Guardian:
"David Cameron and the Liberals have joined Tony Blair in an informal post-Thatcherite consensus...  
The greatest challenge will be to reintroduce democracy into a stagnant political system where the centralisation of power has fatally eroded it. Any candidate who came out against the Iraq war, privatisation and the crude commercialisation of our school system, with a hidden return to selection, at the expense of local education authorities, could be sure of party and public support, as would those who argued for pensions linked to earnings, an end to student fees, and a non-nuclear energy policy based on renewables and conservation. Few would disagree that the rail services should be returned to public ownership…  
Such a programme would require substantial increases in the highest levels of income tax and reductions in public expenditure made possible by our withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan and a clear decision not to waste billions on upgrading the Trident system or on costly and unwanted identity cards.  
These are all modest proposals but, if the party campaigned for them between now and polling day, I believe they would have a wide popular appeal that would restore confidence in the parliamentary process. This has been seriously eroded by the present system, where hordes of unaccountable advisers debate policies in private and then try to force them on us by using batteries of focus groups and spin doctors, who grossly underestimate our intelligence and expect us to do what we are told." 
In November 2005, he also said this in The Guardian: 
"Most astonishing of all, in the light of the present discussions, is that the problem of Iran developing such a huge nuclear capacity caused no problems for the Americans (in 1977) because, at that time, the Shah was seen as a strong ally, and had indeed been put on the throne with American help. 
There could hardly be a clearer example of double standards than this, and it fits in with the arming of Saddam to attack Iran after the Shah had been toppled, and the complete silence over Israel's huge nuclear armoury, which is itself a breach of the non-proliferation treaty… 
Britain's past nuclear links with Iran should encourage us to be very cautious and oppose those whose arguments could be presented as justifying a case for war, which cannot be justified." 
In June 2005, Benn said this in The Guardian: 
“Mandelson… said years ago that ‘the era of representative government is coming to an end’… In 1834, when the Commons burned down, crowds stood on the other side of the Thames and cheered because they had lost confidence in it. If that ever happened again, the responsibility would lie with those ministers and MPs who are undermining democracy in the name of security and using fear to push it through." 
In June 2005, he said this in the same newspaper: 
"Since the attack on the twin towers... we have been told that we are engaged in a war against terrorism that threatens our way of life and our liberties. From that moment on we have been asked to adopt a whole range of measures that pose what many believe could be a greater threat to those very liberties and to our way of life.  
That fact obliges us to examine them, one by one, as a part of the whole, lest we slip into an acceptance of a situation where we can be seen as acquiescing to restrictions on our political and personal freedoms that would have been unthinkable a few years ago." 
In May 2003, two months after the Iraq war began, Benn said this on LBC Radio: 
"I believe the Prime Minister lied to us and lied to us and lied to us... The whole war was built upon falsehood and I think the long-term damage will be to democracy in Britain." 
On 26 March 2001, Benn gave his last speech as an MP. 

In this he said:
"In the course of my life I have developed five little democratic questions. If one meets a powerful person, Adolf Hitler, Joe Stalin or Bill Gates, ask them five questions: 'What power have you got? Where did you get it from? In whose interests do you exercise it? To whom are you accountable? And how can we get rid of you?' If you cannot get rid of the people who govern you, you do not live in a democratic system."
On 21 March 1996, Benn said this in the House of Commons: 
"Communism run by commissars from Moscow did not work, and nor will capitalism run by Commissioners in Brussels. Both deny people their right to develop in their own way." 
On 2 December 1992, he said this in the House of Commons: 
"There are no memorials in this place to the people who fought for democracy. The best way to get round democracy is to pass the real power to someone who is not elected and cannot be removed…  
We have been told for years that this nation is not good enough to govern itself, that it has to be governed from Brussels. We have been told that we cannot defend ourselves but must have NATO, and that we cannot organise our economy and must have the IMF. We are told that this is a nation of lazy workers, militant shop stewards, inefficient managers and football hooligans, a nation waiting for discipline. Of course, the discipline will come from Europe." 
On 24 September 1992, he said this in the Commons: 
"This country's problems will be solved in Britain, by us, and only when we have solved them will we be able to have satisfactory relations with other countries. If we want an industry, we must see to it that there is an industry. We do not leave the police, Army and hospitals to market forces; we decide to have them. Agriculture has been sustained that way. No economic magic, devaluation, floating pound, exchange rate mechanism or independent central bank, will guarantee that Britain retains and expands its industrial base. 
The real cause of the problem stretches across the House. In the 1980s, most, if not all, of us were persuaded that market forces would provide a prosperous economy. They do not, because one cannot close down Rolls-Royce today and open it tomorrow, any more than one can close down a farm today and reopen it tomorrow…  
Longer ago than the 1980s every party, my own was equally involved, reached the conclusion that, because world capital was so powerful, the country must integrate itself deeper and deeper into a structure in Europe, where power was to be moved from the electors of the Parliaments to the European Commissioners and to a Council of Ministers, which makes laws in secret. It must be the only Parliament in the world that meets in secret…  
We are rapidly moving towards full European union… A referendum does not mean much to people. But if we ask, ‘Do you think that you have the right to decide before this country is put into a full European union?’ the public understand.  
Let us not use terms such as Maastricht, referendum, or managed exchange rates, let us call a spade a spade. The people have the right to decide the future of this country. The treaty that was meant to unite Europe has divided every nation, every party in Europe and every party in the House. I have never known anything more divisive." 
In a speech at an anti-EEC rally on 3 June 1975, Benn said this of Edward Heath:
"He has a deep contempt for Britain, the British people and parliamentary democracy. He is trying to climb back to power via the Treaty of Rome, and put Britain under government from Brussels for ever.  
In 1970 Mr Heath solemnly promised that he would not take Britain into the Common Market without the full-hearted consent of the British people. He broke his pledged word then, and he now says he will not accept a 'No' vote on Thursday.  
Heath promised more jobs and higher living standards inside the EEC. These promises were all broken, and he now tells us we are so poor we cannot come out; beggars can't be chooses. That is false, too. Heath's leadership has been a total disaster for the British people."
Here are some of the other things Tony Benn said:
“I made every mistake in the book, but making mistakes is how you learn. I would be ashamed if I ever said anything I didn’t believe in, to get on personally." 
"The real division in society is between those who create the wealth by working and those who own the wealth. Those who own the wealth have far too much power and they use it to control those who create the wealth."  
"To be embarrassed by socialism was very much a characteristic of New Labour."  
"People who come up with ideas that are unacceptable to the leadership are always denounced." 
"Undoubtedly the war with Iraq was a tragedy. I think it was also a crime."  
"Britain's continuing membership of the Community would mean the end of Britain as a completely self-governing nation."  
"When I saw how the European Union was developing, it was very obvious what they had in mind was not democratic."  
"It used to be clear that the ruling classes had the wealth, authority and power while those underneath did not. This started to change when the right to appoint our rulers moved from the wallet to the ballot. Now they are doing everything they can to preserve their power… 
We must now preserve our right to speak, to assemble, to organise, to move around freely and protect our identity, and not become crushed by the state."      
"I regard democracy as the most radical and revolutionary idea of our time. The powers that rule us talk about it. But they resist it with all the wiles and techniques at their command."
"I think democracy is the most revolutionary thing in the world, because if you have power you use it to meet the needs of you and your community." 
"The way change occurs to begin with, if you come up with a good idea, like heathcare, you're ignored. If you go on you must be mad, absolutely stark-staring bonkers. If you go on after that you're dangerous. Then, if the pressure keeps up there's a pause. And then you can't find anyone at the top who doesn't claim to have thought of it in the first place. That's how progress is made."
"I do not share the general view that market forces are the basis for political liberty. Every time I see a homeless person living in a cardboard box in London, I see that person as a victim of market forces. Every time I see a pensioner who cannot manage, I know that he is a victim of market forces"
"Globalisation now has had a tremendous effect on democracy because power has moved. The World Trade Organisation, nobody elected them. They have enormous power. The IMF, which has just virtually destroyed the Argentine, nobody elects them, and The European Union as well...

The European Parliament is an advisory body, the laws are made by the Council of Ministers, in secret. The only parliament in the world that meets in secret. And it can pass laws that repeal our laws and impose new laws on us without ever going through the British parliament, the French assembly or whatever, and this is, in my opinion, because I'm not a Eurosceptic or anti-European in any way, but I'm not going to be governed by people I can't get rid of."
"The final control of information of course is the government itself... The government have a theory, all governments, nothing to do with this particular one, all governments have a theory that the national interest is the same as their own political interest, and it's not."
"If you can find money to kill people... you can find money to help people."
"People do feel managed and not represented."
Rest in peace, Mr. Benn.

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