Normally I’m against capital punishment. But I do sometimes wonder whether we should make an exception for MPs. Especially when I’m reading interviews with Tony Benn.
There was yet another one with the tiresome class traitor this weekend by the excellent Nigel Farndale. In it, Benn declared: “I am kindly and old. But I am not harmless.” Quite. This apparently amiable, charming, and well-preserved pipe smoker has been a menace to society for well over half a century. So why do so many fruitcakes go on treating him like our very own cross between Confucius, Father Christmas and Nelson Mandela?
Some of these fruitcakes will shortly be appearing in the comments section below. I know this because when Ed West blogged in similar terms a few weeks ago, he got some of the nastiest hate e-mail I’ve yet seen this side of a Yasmin Alibhai-Brown column. Quite a few of them claimed to have been Telegraph readers of long standing, appalled to see a paper of once-great renown reduced to despicable, badly written, childish, wholly unjustified, etc abuse of one of the greatest statesmen of this or any other age. Which speaks volumes for their intelligence. I mean, if you think Wedgie Benn’s a stand-up guy, oughtn’t you to be reading something like Socialist Worker or the Morning Star?
But I digress. Tony Benn only ever did two worthwhile things in his lamentable political career. The first was to recognise – unlike the amazingly even more revolting Ted Heath – that joining the EU would be a disaster for Britain. The second was to prove sufficiently ineffectual not to do as much damage as he could have done. He couldn’t even get the Queen’s head removed from our stamps, let alone transform Britain into the union-dominated quasi-Marxist worker’s paradise he so sorely desired. (In his interview, defending socialism, he compares Rupert Murdoch unfavourably with trade union leader Jack Jones. “Emperor Jack was elected” says Benn. Yes, and he was also – long after the Second World War – a paid-up spy for Britain’s greatest enemy the Soviet Union. Funny, Benn doesn’t think to mention that).
Why then do I find him so thoroughly contemptible? Partly it’s a hypocrisy thing. I’ve never had time for the type who can live in agreeable splendour in Notting Hill while yet trying to inflict a hard-left (or indeed any-left) political agenda on all those of us unfortunate not to have been born heirs to the Viscountcy of Stansgate.
Mainly, though, it’s the poisonousness of his ideas. One of the things we really ought to have learned from bitter experience in the last 12 years is that socialism doesn’t work. Not in any form. Period.
Yet there is, unfortunately, a surprisingly wide-spread view abroad – in the media, among the chattering classes, among ageing Hampstead lefties, among the kind of young ingenus who flocked to see Tone smoke his pipe and spout drivel at Glastonbury a few years back – that somewhere out there, there still exists a pure, true, and noble version of leftism which, if only applied rigorously, would rescue us all from the Augean mess in which we now find ourselves wallowing.
Tony Benn, they believe, is its living embodiment.
“Ah Tony!” they all coo. “Now he’s a proper man of the left. Not one of your Blairite milk sops. A true socialist.”
Am I alone in finding this surprisingly widespread idea that Tony Benn is the exemplar of common sense, decency and reasonableness just a teeny bit scary?