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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Friday, June 27, 2003
    Benn's a treat
    The Guardian reported that Tony Benn is going to Glastonbury this weekend, to open the 'Left Field' stage. That figures. Well, if so then he's on a tight schedule in his present mission to take politics to the people, touring the country with pipe and flask seeking to energise the population to get up, stand up, be involved.

    Tonight he's at The Phil. This afternoon he was at Wallasey Town Hall and I was there to hear him. Warm, generous and greatly entertaining, Benn's a treat. He's fond of saying that to carry on in politics he had to leave Parliament, and he truly hopes his "Audience with..." tour does energise the many who will go to hear him. He's very optimistic about the people's desire to engage in this way.
      "I think people are fed up with sound bites, spin, sensation and scandal from politicians. What people really want is a chance to discuss issues that affect all our lives, the things that really matter, and we have a discussion in a sensible uninterrupted and civilised manner"
    We had a good natter this afternoon, not me personally but us as a body of 250 people plus Benn in a big leather armchair onstage. Familiar territory, the sorts of answers you'd expect from him, deeply committed and never dull, always stimulating. Always true to a sense of calling to work with the people, for the people, to let his everyday encounters in surgeries and school halls define his political ethics and policy commitments.

    Hopefully we'll see a lot more of this sort of forum. And hopefully we'll see a lot more of Benn, too, although his health is beginning to let him down. Today he was struggling with a hearing problem. Among his humourous tales was the one of a heckler in one recent meeting who was very persistent but who Benn, of course, took on:
      "I told him, look, if you want to carry on then you have your own meeting and let us get on with ours. It was then pointed out to me that all the man had been asking for was to open some windows as the hall was very warm."
    And, among many references which resonated to me at all levels, there was this old and ever-hilarious one:
      "I'm a socialist and I'm a member of the Labour party. The Labour Party has never been socialist. Of course, there are some socialists in the Labour Party, it's like, to use another example, there are some Christians in the church...."