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In the UK, Labour Party MP. Born 1925.

Apart from being a back bencher at various points, Benn was from

1966 - 1970 Minister of Technology;
1974 - 1975 Secretary of State for Industry;
1975 - 1979 Secretary of State for Energy.

Throughout the 80s and 90s, Benn has been standing up for the welfare state and the socialist ideology of the Labour Party in the face of attack by Blair and earlier leaderships. Notable in the recent past for protesting against the bombing of Kosovo, he speaks at many demonstrations, as well as meetings held by Trotskyitegroups. As of Spring 2001, he is to quit parliament "to devote even more time to politics".
Tony Benn is a left wing member of the English Labour Party, and was a leading member of the party between about 1960 and 1983.

Benn was born into a rich family background in 1925 with the full name Anthony Neil Wedgwood Benn. His father was a member of Parliament - first for the Liberals then Labour - as a hereditary peer. Benn (Tony) was set to inherit this position and title (Viscount Stansgate of Stansgate) on his dad's death. Having been elected to the House of Commons for the first time in 1950 (aged 25), and as a committed democrat and ambitious politician, this obviously caused a problem for Benn: By law, when he inherited the seat in the undemocratic and politically inferior Lords, he would not be allowed to sit in the elected House of Commons.

A Personal Bill introduced by Benn that would have allowed him to renounce his peerage was defeated and in 1960 he had to leave the Commons for a period of three years. In 1963 the Peerage Act was changed, allowing a Hereditary Peer to give up his or her title until their death, and Tony returned to his position as elected MP for Bristol South East.

By the time of Labour's election win in 1963 under Harold Wilson, Benn had emerged as a leader of the traditionally Socialist party's left wing. From 1966 to 1970 he was Minister of Technology and in Labour's next Government (1964-1979), Prime Ministers Wilson then Callaghan kept him in their Cabinets. From 1974 to 1975 Benn was Secretary of State for Industry and from '75 until the General Election defeat in 1979 was Secretary of State for Energy.

In response to the 1979 defeat, and the Conservative party's (under Thatcher) apparent distinct change in direction (to the right), Michael Foot was elected leader of Labour and the party took a Democratic Socialist stance, it's most left wing for many years. In 1979 Benn published a book, Arguments for Socialism, and several of the ideas it presented were taken up by Labour as policy. In 1981 he challenged Denis Healey for the deputy leadership of the party on behalf of the 'hard left' and lost by a fraction of a percentage point.

Somewhat ironically, the only time that Benn lost his seat in a General Election was in 1983, when the party's manifesto was probably as close to his Socialist beliefs as it ever had been in his career. In addition to the loss of his own seat, the Labour Party's bad defeat in 1983 was a blow for Benn, though with characteristic optimism he made it clear that he was happy that "eight million people had voted for a socialist programme."

Benn regained a seat in the Commons in 1984 in a by-election for the Chesterfield constituency, but he has not been at all involved in the Labour Party's 'modernisation' which has stretched from 1984 through Neil Kinnock and John Smith to today's new Labour under Tony Blair. He resigned from the Commons at the 2001 General Election, according to him to "devote more time to politics," and, being fought for by someone else, Benn's Chesterfield constituency fell to the Liberal Democrats. His former constituents wanted Labour, not new Labour, Benn stated.

Despite failure in the political mainstream, Tony Benn has always remained independent and has been one of the House of Commons' (and the country's) great orators and has used this skill throughout his career to fight passionately and, to an extent, convincingly for Democracy and Socialism: Unlike many on the left, when arguing for Socialism Benn does not sound like - well - a complete idiot.

Or, Me vrs Tony Benn

Tony Benn is also known affectionately as "Wedgie" Benn, after his middle name, Wedgwood. He was the Labour Party's longest ever serving MP, though many in the hierarchy were glad to see the back of him. Many people, often regardless of political persuasion, admire him for his outspoken views and propensity to defy Party policy for what he thought was right.

He is certainly one of Britain's greatest orators, though only in the way successful magicians are able to distract an audience with an illusion. His arguments are usually well delivered and normally strike a chord with the audience. Yet he sometimes relies too much on panache and his own following to win an argument. The following was a true experience.

Last year (2003), at the University of York, Tony Benn came to give a Stop-the-War speech - essentially saying how the United States was evil and Tony Blair a fool for following George Bush. The first thing I noticed was, as previously mentioned, a lack of dates, figures, quotes, etc. He, like many good speakers do, read without notes but also without evidence. Second he took a call to C-SPAN in the middle of the presentation, which I thought demonstrated his desire to be in the lime-light. He had mentioned the impending call several times beforehand - he had never struck me as a modest sort of chap. Third he lit his pipe and smoked, despite the student "in charge" reminding him the hall was a non-smoking building. I thought this was very ironic, considering a few minutes earlier he had criticised the Americans for playing by a different set of rules than those they expected of other nations.

The final point is perhaps the most important. I asked him that if the conflict was merely about oil, as he had strenuously claimed throughout, then why did the US and UK not just do what they had done in the 1980s - snuggle up to Saddam Hussein and have him pump the oil out and lower the price. Certainly it would have been cheaper than the cost of the war, rebuilding and so forth. Then I mused if oil was at the heart of the matter, at least where France and Russia were concerned. He had built them up as moralistic opponents to the war, so I asked if their stake in the oil fields and debts with the Saddam regime might have influenced their positions?

He was quiet for a moment and gave me a rather nasty look (I was sitting near the front so I could see clearly). He then, unsurprisingly but still dissapointingly, ignored my question and (of course) had many of the mindless students assembled applauding loudly by the end of his point. But I was pleased that a humble person such as myself had made the "great" Tony Benn uncomfortable for even a short time. Or, I mused to myself, is he that "great"? An excellent orator discounts an opponent's argument before establishing his own. Those who ignore it are just politicians (or lawyers, of course - but so many politicians are). So I realised that he was just the same as those in Westminster and Washington DC whom he has always spat so much bile at. He just has a different doctrine. So next time you hear Tony Benn speak, ignore his verbal flourishes, his emphatic gestures and listen to what he's saying. Behind the magic, he's just an ordinary man with a lot of tired, irrelevant ideas.

Tony Benn's own story can be read in The Benn Diaries, 1940-90. The latest edition of his diaries, Free at Last!: Diaries,1991-2001, was released in October 2002. Reviews of both were inevitably mixed, many people feeling they were inaccurate and often smug. I reserve judgement as I have not read either (and do not intend to).


I would like to point out that I do not despise Tony Benn. I just wished to dispell the myth about him to the many, many non-British noders.

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