Tuesday 12 May 2009
Given the widespread cynicism about our current crop of politicians and the scandal over MP’s expenses, what an honour it was to attend an audience with a proper old school politician at the Gulbenkian Theatre in Canterbury.
At 84 years of age, Tony Benn has lost none of his idealism and none of his passion or deep convictions for democracy and for socialism.
His political beliefs were forged from his own experiences in the Second World War rather than Student Union debates and left wing newspapers.
He remains what he would call a “signpost” politician explaining his beliefs and persuading voters in the hope they will follow his lead.
What a contrast from the current crop of what he calls “weather-cock” politicians who will frantically study opinion polls and focus groups in the hope of being able to tell us what we want to hear.
Tony Benn, like most the electorate can see very little point in that political exercise.
His integrity and ethics shine through almost everything he says and he seems genuinely devoid of ego. He urges a young student demonstrator never to protest against policies but always to demand what is just.
When asked by a local teacher how she could persuade her students to become interested in politics Tony eyes flashed and his hands started their characteristic gesticulating
“You must tell them to get involved in politics before politics gets involved with them” he replied.
There was no point in young people disengaging from politics and then complaining about being sent to war or being taxed or persecuted when it was too late.
I share very few of Tony’s classic socialist beliefs but few would dare challenge this passionate advocate of representative democracy and allowing people to protest and determine their own futures.
As he shuffled to the shadows at the back of the stage to thunderous applause, I found myself very moved by this warm engaging old man and his genuine wish to take his message to the people.
On balance I think I would prefer to offer my support to an honest man like Tony Benn whose views were sincerely held but not those of my own than I would any of the shabby imitations who seek my favour with endless spin, policy initiatives and shallow trivia.
Come back Tony, all is forgiven.