RIP Tony Benn (1925-2014) 50 years a British Labour Party MP
“My contribution to the Labour party is that I know the British establishment inside out and what they’re up to.”
The roots of Benn’s socialism were stubbornly non-Marxist.He was an English radical like his near contemporary and fellow Labour MP
Michael Foot (1913-2010) and
Robert (Bob) Crow (1961 – 2014) trade union leader and General Secretary of the RMT from 2002 until his death earlier this month.
Tony Benn was a member of the Labour Cabinet which put the troops on the streets of Northern Ireland in 1969, originally to protect Her Majesty’s Catholic subjects from the violence and brutality of Her Majesty’s Unionist and Loyalist subjects.
“Northern Ireland was not an issue in British politics until the civil rights movement,”.
“I was in the cabinet in ’69 when we sent the troops in, but even then you couldn’t get anyone in Dublin to take any interest.
“People in Britain were not particularly interested.
“The cabinet never discussed Northern Ireland in the period ’66 through to ’70, I don’t think.
“Indeed we didn’t discuss it much in ’74.
“We discussed it briefly at the time of the Birmingham bombing and of course arrested innocent men.
“We discussed it briefly during the Ulster Workers’ strike.
“But the British aren’t really interested in Ireland unless there’s trouble. And if there is trouble – then it’s too sensitive to deal with”.
He was a member of the Labour Government, which, in the late 1970s, withdrew the de facto status of political prisoner from jailed Republicans and Loyalists in Northern Ireland. That act triggered the conflict in the jails during which Republican prisoners went for years wearing only blankets, and which, under the Thatcher government, culminated in the hunger strikes of 1981.
He publicly supported Sinn Féin and the unification of Ireland and repeatedly tried (unsuccessfully) to get the House of Commons to accept a Bill committing Britain to withdraw from Ireland.
2002: His view on how to resolve the political impasse after thee GFA/Belfast Agreement.
“It all seems to me like the latest example of a unionist veto on progress,” he explains.
“I think that David Trimble is under very heavy pressure from his party, and walking out because of the latest events, is really just a way of trying to stop progress.
“In my opinion, the British government should say, ‘Right, if you don’t want to participate, we will indeed have direct rule, but it won’t be from London, it’ll be from London and Dublin, jointly’.
“John Reid and Mr Blair would then work with the Taoiseach, which would put a lot of pressure on the unionists to stay in, because they certainly don’t want that to happen.”
“Sadly, it seems as if the rejectionist wing are saying, ‘we don’t want this, we want to go back to when we dominated the North,’ and Sinn Fein can be depicted as just a lot of wreckers.
2005: He suggested to Sinn Féin leaders that it abandon its long-standing policy of not taking seats at Westminster. Sinn Féin argue that to do so would recognise Britain’s claim over Northern Ireland, and the Sinn Féin constitution prevented its elected members from taking their seats in any British-created institution
His single most important motto in life:
“Don’t think someone else will do it for you,” he said. “You have to do it for yourself.“