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Paul Foot on Tony Benn

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Paul Foot on Tony Benn (LRB, 22 February 1990):

For nearly a century, Labour MPs have been going to Parliament to change the world, but have ended up changing only themselves. Tony Benn is unique. He went to Parliament to change himself, but has ended up determined only to change the world. This extraordinary conversion has taken place not on the backbenches, where a young socialist’s revolutionary determination is often toughened by being passed over for high office, but in high office itself. Indeed, the higher the office Tony Benn occupied, the more his eyes were opened to the horror of capitalist society, and to the impotence of socialists in high office to change it.

Comments on “Paul Foot on Tony Benn”

  1. I saw Tony Benn at the Hay Festival and asked him what he thought about the 1945 Labour Government. He said that they had rationed bread because the German people were starving and that “I couldn’t imagine a government doing that now”. It was a great answer, especially as Thatcher, on the hustings in ’45, was talking about making them suffer. It wasn’t, in the end, a matter of Benn’s politics: it was his passionate commitment to the idea of democracy; to the power of people to make a difference. RIP

  2. Simon Wood says:

    Politics is the art of the possible. Benn pursued the art of the impossible. Bob Crow simply fought his corner rather than take on the whole world or an idea of the world. Whilst one person cannot be another – indeed, this would be a waste of people – the two fellows were at the opposite ends of the scale, though united this week. Who will fill their shoes? Or tea mug?

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