If Tony Benn Were Born Today He'd Be a Libertarian Street Fighter

First Bob Crow. Now Tony Benn. So that's two of my 'Any Questions' sparring partners gone in one week. They had quite a bit in common. Both were very much of the old school hard, socialistic left. Both were fiercely anti-EU. Both were treated with an affection which could be absolutely maddening if you happened to be sharing a panel with them.

Benn, especially, was so indulged that if he'd amiably suggeshted the nationalisation of all industry, the replacement of the Union flag with the hammer and sickle, and the execution of the Queen, he would still have got a delighted laugh from presenter Jonathan Dimbleby and whoops of adoring applause from the audience.

"Hang on a second," you wanted to yell at them. "You do realise that if this delightful, pipe-smoking, tea-drinking old cove had got his way when he was in government the British economy would look like North Korea's by now?" (His fellow MP Cyril Smith once said of him that Benn had done "more to damage British industry than the combined efforts of the Luftwaffe and the U-boats").

But to be fair to Benn - de mortuis nil nisi bonum, and all that - he was a product of the ignorance of his era. Born in 1925, Benn grew up in an age when fighting the right (or rather what was thought of as the right: fascism) was the fashionable political cause and when (briefly) the left was considered heroic, noble, anti-tyrannical.

Had he been born fifty years later, I think he would have seen the world very differently. In fact, I don't think he would have been a barking mad lefty at all, but rather an out-there libertarian in the manner of Max Keiser.

Check this, from his Wikipedia entry:

By the end of the 1970s, Benn had migrated to the left wing of the Labour Party. He attributed this political shift to his experience as a Cabinet Minister in the 1964–1970 Labour Government. Benn attributed his move to the left to four lessons: 1) how "the Civil Service can frustrate the policies and decisions of popularly elected governments"; 2) the centralised nature of the Labour Party allowing to the Leader to run "the Party almost as if it were his personal kingdom"; 3) "the power of industrialists and bankers to get their way by use of the crudest form of economic pressure, even blackmail, against a Labour Government"; and 4) the power of the media, which "like the power of the medieval Church, ensures that events of the day are always presented from the point of the view of those who enjoy economic privilege.

Does that sound to you like a recognisable figure from the modern, statist, quango-worshipping, EU-friendly, central-government-loving left? Me neither.

There's barely a word in Tony Benn's analysis of what was wrong with politics in the 1960s that a classical liberal or a libertarian wouldn't agree with today: we're still in thrall to the machinations of the corporatist/bankster class; the legacy media still does the hegemony's bidding; the civil service continues to tend towards bigger, less efficient government; power is still far too concentrated in Westminster when it should be devolved in order to make our politicians more accountable for their incompetence.

Tony Benn, I now belatedly realise, would have been a wonderful comrade-in-arms to have in the ongoing war against the tyranny of the political class. Such a damned shame he was born eighty years too early to appreciate who he really was: not a tiresome, benighted lefty at all but a libertarian street-fighter.


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