Tony Benn has died. Gawd bless him. And during the day an incredible narrative about his life has coalesced in our media.
The narrative is this: Tony Benn was ‘good’ when he was young because he was politically moderate but he became ‘bad’ as he got older because he moved further and further to the Left. In fact, the story goes, he became such an extreme left winger that he singlehandedly split the Labour Party and was personally responsible for 18 years of Tory rule under Thatcher and Major.
It really, really does take the biscuit this one!
Firstly, perhaps what happened was that Tony stayed true to his Socialist principles as the Labour Party moved so far to the right it has ended up indistinguishable from the Tories. So perhaps Tony Benn didn’t become more Left wing, perhaps he simply stayed where he was, and only appeared Left wing because the rest of his Labour colleagues had sold out everything they once believed in and shoved their noses into the mega-bucks troughs of the global ruling elite (Tony Blair’s now worth, how much? £75 million?).
Secondly, I seem to remember that the Labour Party was split by Shirley Williams, David Steele and The Gang Of Four who left to set up the Social Democrats. Thatcher never won a majority of the vote and indeed her percentage vote of the total electorate was rarely above 25%. The reason the Tories stayed in power for so long was that the formation of the Social Democrats split the Left of Centre vote from the Centre Left vote, while Thatcher united practically all of the Right from the centre right out to the edges of fascism.
Labour only got into power once New Labour had moved so far to the right that it occupied the same ideological territory as the Social Democrats and could thus reunite the Left of Centre and Centre Left vote.
It was Tony Benn and the Left who split the Labour vote it was the Social Democrats, i.e. the right wing of the party.
On the news this evening I saw an interview with Shirley Williams about Tony Benn. At the end of the interview Shirley Williams was asked in all seriousness if “she could ever forgive Tony Been for splitting the Labour Party”. I sat open-mouthed in disbelieve. This is revisionist rewriting of history worthy of Stalin! This was Shirley Williams for fuck’s sake, one of the founders of the Social Democratic Party who actually, formally SPLIT with the Labour Party. It’s un-be-fucking-lievable. Tony Benn stayed in the Labour Party to the bitter end and fought his corner all the while. It is Williams and Steele and their self-centered, childish, my-way-or-the-highway, stomping off that led to 18 years of Thatcher – and I for one will never forgive the bastards because they paved the way for the destruction of the post-war Welfare State under the Tories and then under New Labour. And New Labour is perhaps the biggest betrayal of the working people of this country since the murder of Watt Tyler under a flag of truce at the end of the Peasants Revolt.
For the British media to have connected a version of history in which the triumph of Thatcher, New Labour and Neoliberal Capitalism is down to Tony Benn is one of the most Kafkaesque moments of media propaganda I’ve seen since 1979.
Anyway, fuck ’em Mr Benn you had more guts and more integrity than the rest of the craven, snivelling pack put together and you will honoured as long as people resist and fight the self-serving hogs who rule us and that will be always, as there will always be those who choose to fight rather than submit.