History is written by the victors – the media coverage of Tony Benn’s passing


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.

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8 responses to “History is written by the victors – the media coverage of Tony Benn’s passing

  1. Your posts are always source of education. I end up doing some reading on whatever the subject (as today), & bouncing on to anything related. Today, the last web page viewed, I thought was appropriate for you. Wikipedia’s Tony Benn page has a photo of him at the Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Festival 2009. Question for you, & please, don’t take me for an average hapless nerk. “How many political parties (major) are in UK politics?”

    • Where are you posting from?

      • The God forsaken place, referred to as Silicon Valley (aka Mountain View, California) on the southern end of the San Francisco peninsula. A place that is proud (no joke) to claim that the average house sale has now topped $1M. ‘Sorry, we just had a big discussion about area rents, cost of living, et cetera. At one time, I had a bit of a clue what was happening over there. I had constant access to a variety of UK newspapers. Now, it’s interesting to read about the issues in the UK & compare them to our (sometimes similar) problems. Unions losing clout / power. Cities wanting to ban transport workers from going on strike. University tuitions rising, University administrators getting substantial raises, instructors getting little, if any.

      • Yeah, that’s Global Capitalism for you. Same shit everywhere. In the UK the parties go New Labour = Democrat Conservative = Republican. We also have Liberal Democrats who are the ‘let’s just be nice to each other party’. On the Right a new anti-immigration/anti-European Union party has emerged UKIP = The Tea Party.

      • Thanks for the clarification. Here, we (all the family) look at it as 3ish parties, incapable of doing much, except worrying about getting re-elected & telling everyone they are right. When they do something, it’s generally against what the constituency wants, but it’s good for the party (& perhaps some big money supporters?). As for Global Capitalism, within 5 miles of us, are all the big players, Google, Intel, Apple, AMD, Facebook, et cetera. I could prattle on, but I won’t. Back to you post, it seems that there are not enough Tony Benns in the world?

  2. That’s a great piece Chris – thanks for writing it. I’m currently watching a programme on BBC 2 about Tony Benn’s life. It’s certainly a sad day. UK politics today is just so sterile – the unions have no real power and the only way to tell the difference between Labour and Tory is the colour if their ties. I doubt we’ll see the likes of Tony (or Bob Crow) again – and that’s sad.

    • Sadly we will see there like again, we’ll have to. My own view is short term pessimism; long term optimism. I think the situation for ordinary folk is going to get a lot lot worse before people are simply forced to fight back by the reality of poverty, unemployment and economic opression. We sometimes forget how extraordinary the post-war consensus was. Since the urbanisation of human society about 10,000 years ago no other society has been deliberately organised for the benefit of the majority rather than in the interests of the ruling elite. It’s hardly surprising that elite has fought back with such vigour to reassert the pre-war status quo. And at the minute they are undoubtedly winning and have been since 1984. But history shows us that the pendulum will swing so far that people will inevitably start to push back. How long it will be before we get another society organised for the benefit of all rather than the few is however a moot point… and I’m not holding my breath.

  3. A very good argument and it is truly sad that I can find nothing to challenge you on as I personally wasn’t a fan of Tony Benn. We face a grim future on so many different levels and trade unions will have to look to perform miracles if workers rights are not to be further eroded.

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