Friday, 21 March 2014

Socialist Sorcery

I haven't written anything about the deaths last week of two of our most prominent socialist personalities, Tony Benn and Bob Crow, because I don't really have a great deal to say.  Unless you suspect some sort of co-ordinated assassination plot -- unlikely, given that the two of them were probably the Right's greatest media assets -- it merely seems one of those odd coincidences that might, at most, reinforce a belief in astrology.

As a radio listener, primarily, I always thought of Bob Crow as as a fat man with a thin man's voice, and Tony Benn as a thin man with a fat man's voice.  Profound, eh?  I did hear Tony Benn speak a few times in my days as a NALGO activist in Bristol, and shook his hand twice: he was our local MP in those days, and would often come along to address our meetings, especially in those early years of the Thatcher government, when it seemed that there was still everything to fight for.  As many have said in their Benn obituaries, he was a mesmerising, old-school orator, but one whose spell-binding effect lasted precisely until you stepped out of the meeting-hall and breathed the tobacco-free air.  His career as a politician was somewhat similar: he could move rhetorical mountains while he spoke, but diminished into a smouldering, jut-jawed sulk as soon as he stopped.

But, talking of spells and astrology, I heard Tony Benn read some extracts from his famous diaries on Radio 4 on Thursday morning, covering the early Blair years.  At one point he described exchanging gifts at Christmas, and how he'd given his wife Caroline, an academic and educational reformer, an aromatherapy kit, which struck me as an odd choice.  I was then slightly astonished to hear Benn describe, in those familiar, measured, rational cadences, how -- it being a full moon -- Caroline had gone out into the garden that night to bury half a potato, in order to charm away a wart.

Eh? Witchcraft! Who knew?  But, I must say, I felt rather fonder of the whole Benn Family Project, knowing such things had gone on in their Holland Park home, and that he felt able to share them with us.  I wonder if there was a little Blair mannekin stuck with pins somewhere in the house?  I do hope so...  It would have been a sort of Blair witch project, wouldn't it?


Martyn Cornell said...

I had that Tony Benn on my doorstep once - he was canvassing in Ealing in 1994 for his son Hilary, who was a local councillor before becoming an MP. Knock on the door, open it, instantly recognisable face, ditto recognisable lisping voice asking if I could be counted upon to come out and vote for Labour on election day. Fortunately I wasn't too startled to be able to say: "Certainly, Mr Benn!" But it says something for the man that he was prepared to beat the streets in a local government election, albeit for his offspring: I doubt too many MPs do that. Did you see, btw, that his eldest son (not Hilary) has now inherited the title Tony fought to refuse, and is now Viscount Stansgate? For some reason I find that amusing.

Mike C. said...


Yes, as politicians go, he was a decent man, though I think other politicians found his loyalty to ideas, rather than people, rather trying...

Didn't know about the title -- what a prat! Mind you, if "Lord Stevenage" is ever on offer, I might get in the queue...