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The ghost of Tony Benn stalked PMQs

19 March 2014

3:45 PM

19 March 2014

3:45 PM

Tony Benn, the most divisive left-wing figure since the war, united the house today.

David Cameron paid tribute to him as an orator, diarist and campaigner. Ed Miliband praised his determination to ‘champion the powerless’ and hold the executive to account.

Miliband moved to Crimea. He called Sunday’s plebiscite ‘illegal and illegitimate’. Cameron trumped him with a curious phrase that bolted a bit of punchy modern sloganising onto a fragment of olde Englishe slang. The referendum, he said, had been ‘spatch-cocked together in ten days at the point of a Russian Kalashnikov’.

The leaders, both keen to denounce Russia in the most savage terms, swapped promises about travel bans, asset freezes and economic sanctions. Then Cameron broke clear of Miliband and suggested booting Russia out of the G8 forever.

Steady, Dave. If they exclude our sportsmen in retaliation we could forfeit the chance to lose the World Cup in 2018.

Miliband moved from one area of consensus to another. Benn, first. Then Crimea. Next mental illness. He wanted the PM’s assurance that mental health deserved ‘equal footing’ with other disorders in the NHS.


Already done, squire, said Cameron. Using the swankier phrase, ‘parity of esteem,’ he noted that the relevant laws had been passed some time ago.

Very odd for Miliband to choose such frictionless topics at PMQs. Mood swings, manic depression, paranoia and so on are massive issues. But they offer no opportunities to make political trouble for the PM. Was Miliband using bi-polarity to conceal his tactical weaknesses? A part of me said yes, and a part of me said no.

Miliband wants to promote mental health through ‘changes to the NHS constitution’, which sounds a bit like re-writing the Ten Commandments. Cameron had an easier solution. Equality of provision, he said, is now ‘referenced in the mandate given to workers.’ He added that £400m has been invested in ‘talking therapies.’

Bully for Hampstead. A new couch for every shrink.

Tony Benn popped up again. John Whittingdale mentioned that Benn’s ‘ancestral seat of Stansgate’ lay within his constituency. The Tories chuckled ironically.

Kerry McCarthy, for Bristol East, mentioned that Benn had represented Bristol for many years. She evoked his combative spirit by asking why, in food-bank Britain, the prime minister is seeking to re-introduce hunting ‘by the back door’.

Cameron lectured her about rising growth and ‘the dignity’ available to the unemployed who return to work.

No Labour MP made the obvious contrast between posh-boy Benn and posh-boy Dave. Benn was an elitist who liked to torment the elite whereas Cameron is an elitist who likes to defend it.

They were too polite to say so.

The Tory view is that Benn was a toff who loved the poor so much he wanted more of them. And had he captured Number 10 he’d have succeeded.

They were too polite to say that either.

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Show comments
  • Fergus Pickering

    Oh come on. We’ve had more than enough about the old fool.

  • Smithersjones2013

    Of course the other possible reason why Miliband seemed so tame at PMQ’s is that in reality this is now a zombie government that has run out of steam with a lame duck Prime Minister whose own Ministers (including those close to Cameron’s closest allies) now seem to be contemplating his inevitable departure and so there is little for Miliband to challenge them on.

    We should all rejoice that thanks to fixed term Parliaments we have another 14 months of this to come. Oh joy……….!

    • Fergus Pickering

      What a curious argument. Or perhaps I shouldn’t cll it n argument. More like a grunt.

    • Frank

      We do not pay the Leader of the Opposition to sit on his bum until this government just falls apart (which it clearly is). He is supposed to be setting out his vision of an alternative approach to the very many problems Britain faces (and I say that as someone who would sooner walk naked down Whitehall than vote for Miliband).

  • Wessex Man

    Ah, PM’s Questions, of all things paying tribute to this old fogey, who would have made an even worse mess of this country if he could. I bet Call me Dave will be organising a State Funeral next!

    • anyfool

      Not quite sure he would of been worse than Brown, with Benn he would have just made you poor, Brown made you poor and saddled you with massive debt to mask it.

    • Smithersjones2013

      You shouldn’t be overly critical of a true blooded Eurosceptic like Benn. Would the country have been in a worse mess if he had led us out of the EU?

      PS Given Benn’s attitudes to other things (like giving up his peerage), I imagine he will have ensured that his funeral will be relatively humble affair for a politician of such stature.

      • Wessex Man

        but he’s not organising it is he?

      • Frank

        “….a politician of such stature..”? What planet are you living on? He was madder than a box of frogs and would not retire from parliament. He may have been charming in person, but that doesn’t make him a politician of any stature.

  • HookesLaw

    I congratulate Cameron on being a decent human being. He was wise to ignore that Benn talked rubbish, wrote nonsense and campaigned on behalf of the absurd.

    • HookesLaw

      Oh and ‘Mood swings, manic depression, paranoia’… lets keep the kippers out of this for once.

      • Wessex Man

        You cheeky person you, if I a member of UKip want to tell the truth about brother Benn I will. Antony Eden to you Sir!

      • Smithersjones2013

        Benn amongst other things was a crusader for Sovereignty, Democracy and
        personal liberty so its no surprise that a despot like yourself should
        be so opposed to him

        And I’m sure people will urinate on your memory just as you have done Benn’s particularly as I cannot think of a sadder more deranged old urinal than you!

        • GnosticBrian

          Would that be the same Tony Benn who was Minister for Technology when the UK supplied Israel with plutonium and other materials to facilitate their nuclear weapons programme?

          • mikewaller

            He also (1)”encouraged” Rolls-Royce to sign up to the RB 211 project which bankrupted them; and (2) approved the building of Drax power station, the direct effect of which was the closure of many smaller coal burning power stations by driving them down the merit order. The latter move made sound economic sense, but actually reduced the amount of coal burned and consequentially, jobs for miners.

            Hearing the self-regarding old fool on the radio this morning thanks to his appalling tapes was almost enough to make me bring up my breakfast.

        • Frank

          Benn also loved Sein Fein and Mao, and the quicker he vanishes into well deserved obscurity the better.
          I am sure that Britain can produce better crusaders for all the good things you want.

    • Frank

      Cameron is a decent human being, he is just useless as a party leader and PM.