“When people are scared, they turn to the right. It has been the same in all great economic catastrophes.” – Tony Benn speaking to the BBC in 2009 after the release of the final installments of his diaries.
Tony Benn died today aged 88 and will be remembered for his unshakeable belief and commitment to true democracy, the right to life, religious harmony, the NHS and his opposition to war. Time and again he called for the arrest of the war criminal Tony Blair for his part in the illegal war in Iraq having had to bear witness to the UK twice in 10 years marching to the aid of the American government in Iraq. One of his last speeches was to call for the UK to think twice about engaging in a war with Syria. He was fearless in the face of adversity and never too afraid to tell it how it was.
Tony Benn was born in 1924 and lived through the Blitz, this first hand experience of the horrors of war were the foundation from which his opposition to our imperialist nature flourished. He was a staunch Labour MP and worked at point for the BBC, two institutions that failed him horribly in later life as New Labour came to power in 1994 with the election of Tony Blair as its leader in opposition, who set about tearing up their associations with the labour movement and the working class in favour of big business and the military industrial complex, and the BBC fell the way of other news institutions in merely repeating what they were told and seldom offering any real investigative journalism. He once famously accused the BBC of succumbing to political pressure from the Israeli government’s wishes over a report on aid for Gaza.
Time and again Tony Benn stood for justice, providing one of the loudest voices people in this country have ever had against corruption and the attacks on our way of life. I had the privilege of meeting Tony Benn just over 14 months ago where you could see that despite his outwardly frail frame, that there was indomitable spirit contained within. The thrust of his speech centered particularly around the very real and dangerous risks we face of losing our NHS to the vultures in the private sector. For anyone in the room unsure about the creation of this wonderful institution, they would have left with no doubt the historical context of its creation, how, why and the importance that we fight for it with every breath as it has for us throughout the generations.
As when Nelson Mandela died and more recently Bob Crow, it would be easy for us to focus on any negative of voices commenting on his passing, or the lack of content within others, which makes it all the more important to focus on the great and inspirational life that he lived. Many will say that there will never be another like him, I would prefer to envisage a time in the future when we will look on others as we do Tony Benn today, a champion of the people, of truth and justice. With each passing of these icons it falls on each of us to rise to the challenge and remember them by honouring their legacies.