Wikinews interviews: Tony Benn on U.K. politics
Sunday, August 12, 2007
Tony Benn, at 82 is a still an active political figure, attending rallies and giving speeches. During the 1970s he served under James Callaghan as Energy Secretary, having earlier held the position of Secretary of State for Industry under Harold Wilson.
After a number of attempts to contact Mr Benn via email, he forwarded a telephone number for the purpose of doing an interview. Following a brief discussion to explain who or what Wikinews is, and its relation with Wikipedia, Wikinews reporter Brian McNeil started putting the questions. Mr Benn speaks at length on a variety of topics, this is the first article from this extended interview covering his views on New Labour and U.K. politics.
Contrasting the situation between Tony Benn's time in government and the Tony Blair years Wikinews asked "In the last 12 years the Labour party had one leadership election which was...ceremonial. In 76-88 they had three, two that you stood in. Which do you think is better? Regular, or a 'strong man' leader that isn't challenged?"
- I think in 1997 any Labour leader would've won the election because the people wanted a change but what made 1997 different was that the British establishment didn't want a change, they wanted Mrs. Thatcher's policies to be continued and Blair gave an assurance that he would, in economic terms, follow her lead. He said, New Labour is a new political party and when Mrs. Thatcher was asked her greatest achievement, she said "New Labour". Therefore, the Labour victories in 97 [...] Blair victories have not really been Labour victories, they've been victories for a party that based so much of its polices on the Thatcher inheritance. And that's why I'm not a member of New Labour.
|... when Mrs. Thatcher was asked her greatest achievement, she said "New Labour".
- Gordon Brown's roots are in the Labour movement, which Blair's were not. He understands the history of Labour movement, he is very much committed to market forces and globalisation but he's a son of the manse and he's entitled to a honeymoon and I think his early start has been very interesting. He's distanced himself discreetly from President Bush. When he went to see Bush, Bush praised him and he praised the United States of America, which is an important thing and he choose to make his big speech at the United Nations about Darfur and now the paper today, I don't know if that is true, suggest that British troops will be withdrawn from Iraq soon, I hope that is true. He's also made one or two very interesting constitutional proposals which would give greater power to parliament rather than be a presidential system and [...] also he's made a request today for the return of all the British residents who've been detained in Guantanamo Bay. So my instinct is to give him a good start and the main thing is - Blair has gone - and I must admit, that is such a development, such an important development that my inclination is to try and give Gordon Brown an opportunity.
Wikinews asked if Tony Benn believed the U.K. should withdraw from Iraq.
- Oh yes. Well according to the papers today, it looks as if Brown may be planning to do that on the basis of the military advice he has received from the British general. But that's, I hope that's true, but it isn't confirmed.
- Well I think the contribution that Blair made to Bush was to pretend, help him to pretend that this was an international force, a coalition of the willing, where as if Britain refused to go in it would have been seen as a Vietnam and I think to that extent, Blair gave Bush what he wanted. Bush didn't get, want...or need British troops, but he wanted British political support and he got it. And I think that political support is ending.