Friday, 14 March 2014

Tony Benn RIP - Goodbye to a steadfast socialist

The BBC News tonight is playing a clip of Ed Milliband saying, "the thing about Tony Benn is that you always knew what he stood for and who he stood up for". Indeed, Ed!

Benn will be remembered fondly by trade unionists for being exactly that - a principled socialist - in such contrast to today's New Labour politicians.

When I joined Labour as a school student, Benn was a leading figure in the party. In 1981 he failed in his bid to become Deputy Leader by a whisker. So then, just a few decades ago, Benn's socialist ideas were far from being isolated. Indeed, Clause IV (4) of the constitution of the Labour Party, inscribed on our membership cards, was avowedly socialist in content.

Today, while praising Tony Benn's character and principles, the press have been keen to also portray his ideas as 'old-fashioned' and 'out-dated'. That may have seemed the case  after the collapse of the Stalinist Soviet Union and the worldwide onslaught on the socialist traditions of the trade union movement that followed. However, to youth and trade unionists looking for an answer to the worldwide economic crises and convulsions of today, those 'old-fashioned' ideas are making a comeback. Witness, just to take one example, the stunning victory of socialist candidate Kshama Sawant in Seattle, USA. (See )

Benn's diaries will remain a valuable source of information for those studying how Labour was transformed into today's big business party. It was in his diaries that Benn revealed that when Norman Tebbit asked Thatcher what she regarded as her greatest achievement, she replied "New Labour". As Tony comments, "That says it all really." 

Benn clung on to the Labour Party,  even though it has become a Party which I, like many who were members in the 1980s no longer recognise. There are, of course many teachers who vote Labour, and some that are Labour Party members. However, as the YouGov poll for the NUT showed over the New Year, large numbers of teachers aren't sure who they can support any more. 

In my view, the Labour Party has, regrettably, been damaged beyond repair. I think it was Bob Crow, the other great loss of this week, who reached the right conclusion - that a new start will need to be made in developing a politicial voice for trade unionists. Bob was a supporter of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, as am I. 

In memory of both Bob and Tony, I hope that TUSC can continue to develop and prove to be a step towards building the political voice for working people which was lost when Labour abandoned the traditions that Tony Benn fought so hard to retain.

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