vendredi 14 mars 2014

No more talks from Tony Benn

As is so often the way these days, I surmised the demise of a public figure by random occurrences in my Twitter timeline, such as this:
which is quite a nice way to get the sad news.

I did actually meet Tony Benn one day on Whitehall, sometime in 2003: opposing the invasion of Iraq, we were. He wasn't actually engaged on any more serious conversations at that moment, so I went up to him and shook his hand and told him how much I'd enjoyed a talk he'd given at Sheffield University Students' Union at the time of the miners' strike. He received the compliment without comment, smiled benignly and moved on. I was struck by how his dress sense resembled my father's: decent in a tweed jacket with leather elbow patches and brown trousers.
Anyway, here, in his memory, is the story he told, to that adoring student audience, back in 1983:

"So I was helping out on one of the miners' stalls outside a supermarket--we were gathering food, tins and whatnot, from the people coming out of the shop--when an old lady, obviously very deaf, came up and said [more than passable imitation of a Chesterfield accent] "What's going on 'ere then?"
"So, of course, I replied, we're collecting food for the miners, there's a strike on you know."
"And she replied, [more Chesterfield] Oh verra good. I'll 'ave a tin of beans then."
"And she took a tin of beans off the stall!"
[We all laughed with Tony, who of course had a wonderful beaming smile on his face as he told the story]
 "And of course, at the time I was flabbergasted, and I didn't know what to say. But I've thought about it, and you know, that old lady was right. Because that is what this strike is about: it's about defending the rights of ordinary people to live a decent life..."

Truly, a memorable homily. It was a big meeting: I'd say 1500 students had turned out to hear the great man, and we were not disappointed. He had that very rare talent, of great warmth and charm, and being able to put that over in a way that unites an audience.

Of course, he is as easy to criticise in hindsight as any of his contemporaries, left or right, but I think he was a very decent man, and I mourn his passing. Plenty of YouTubery out there to enjoy, but @medialens picked this one out, which does capture his late era persona rather nicely.

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