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The Westminster Hour


Our Online debate on Tony Benn - February 4 2001 - What you had to say

Speaking as a Conservative with no support whatsoever for the absurd left-wing policies Mr Benn supports, I must admit the Commons will be a weaker institution when he bids it farewell.
William Rowe, United Kingdom

Tony Benn? I hate to be overtly saccharine about anyone but he is surely one of the few that truly deserve our praise. A man of such intergrity and vision and about the only Labour MP (excluding a Mr Beast of Bolsover) that can possibly keep the Blair in check. Our democratic rights will remain nonchalant unless we are blessed with another Tony Benn.
Ricky Robinson, UK

It is a shame to see a genuine MP - caring, honest, and 'in it for the people'- leaving an institution where these qualities are almost extinct. Tony Benn has fought for a social democracy all his career, and it is perhaps a shame that, ideologically, he has had little success. He overall contribution to the political scene, however, has been priceless.
Robert Paul, UK


Tony Benn's warnings on the state of democracy, world peace, the environment and the economy have proved vital in a political system dominated by careerism, patronage and unaccountable news sources.

Daniel Blaney, UK
Tony Benn is called anti-American, despite having married an American. Tony Benn's commitment to democracy is questioned by those who would favour an electoral system which would entrench patronage in our system. Tony Benn is accused of not understanding how European integration will fight globalisation when the undemocratic institutions of the EU - the commission, the central bank and the secretive Council of Ministers - are in place to implement globalisation. Why does the European Commission represent us at the WTO? Tony Benn's warnings on the state of democracy, world peace, the environment and the economy have proved vital in a political system dominated by careerism, patronage and unaccountable news sources.
Daniel Blaney, UK

Tony Benn is a truly remarkable man. His retirement from politics will mark the end of an era in British politics. They just don't make them like that anymore. Sadly many of today's new breed of politicians simply say what they are told to say by their respective party whips, without having any independence of mind, or any passionate belief in what they actually say. Thank you for your contribution to politics, Tony. Hope to hear many more words of wisdom from you in your "retirement".
Bernard Mc Eldowney, UK

I remember hearing a wonderful quotation from Tony Benn's lips when he was being interviewed, on a train, for a Panorama programme about the fight for deputy leader of the Labour Party in 1981. Tony always replies to letters. When I wrote to him asking for details, he was quick to reply with the quotation. It is from a Chinese philosopher, he wrote, by the name of LaoTzu. It is worth a wider audience. "As for the best leaders, the people do not notice their existence. The next best the people honour and praise. The next the people fear and, the next, the people hate. But when the best leaders work is done the people say, 'We did it ourselves' " This sums up Tony Benn's own philosophy, principles and practice over a lifetime of service to his constituents, to the Labour Party, to the wider electorate and to the people of Britain. They came first, way before his own political ambitions in climbing the greasy pole. Ordinary, mundane, service before the glitz and glam of leadership. Well done, Tony, and long may you serve.
Tim Weller, UK

Despite Benn's ambition in the early 1980s leading him into dubious friendships (Trots) he is a very important political figure. In particular his championing of the principle of democracy.
David Newton, UK

A great man who will be sorely missed. Interesting to read that he was a "charming and decent man" yet at the same time "a corrosive force in British public life". Clearly he is the only politician who is willing to stand by his principles and fight tooth and nail for what he believes in. We need more politicians like him. They would have to be left wing, of course.
Danny McCord, UK

Socialism was a disaster for this country in the 70's and I certainly don't believe life would have been better under Benn. However, policy aside, I cannot say a word against him. If there will ever be a more decent, honest, principled politician in Westminster, then I'll be very surprised.
Ed Bayley, USA (British)

Funny how almost all the comments were complimentary and suddenly there was a rush of Anti-Benn Pro-New Labour postings.
James Bason, UK


Amidst all the soundbites and spin, politicians like Tony Benn are a rare breed indeed: he offers genuine ideas, principles and convictions.

Mike Calderbank, UK
Tony Benn has been an inspiration to a whole generation of socialists and his radical vision of a better, fairer society will continue to inspire. His faith in parliamentarism and in the Labour party generally are surely now misplaced, yet his crusade for a democratically accountable party which reflects the interest of working people (rather than huge global corporations) goes on. Amidst all the soundbites and spin, politicians like Tony Benn are a rare breed indeed: he offers genuine ideas, principles and convictions.
Mike Calderbank, UK

Love him or hate him Tony Benn has star quality. Whether you agree to differ with him, he is a true democrat. He is honest, a rare quality in a politician, telling you his beliefs and letting you decide to agree or differ. Most of all he cares about people
Scott, UK

An inspiration, a sad loss to politics and an unfortunate end to the remaining sanity in the Labour Party. Along with it, an almost certain end to the Campaign group faction.
Comrade Thomlinson, UK

Whilst I disagree with almost everything that he has ever said, I cannot fault Tony Benn for his integrity, intelligence and compassion. His beliefs, though clearly and demonstrably wrong in my view, were argued with passion and commitment. One of the few backbenchers to regularly speak out against the undemocratic excesses of Tony Blair's government he will be sorely missed. May he continue to campaign for true democracy in this country (a reformed House of Lords being a prime example) for as long as he has the strength and will to do so. On past evidence this will be a very long time indeed.
Paul Owen, UK

Tony Benn is no doubt a man of great honesty and integrity, as your various corespondents acknowledge. but the fact is that he has devoted his political career to a body of ideas - socialism - which have been shown to be comprehensively false in theory and disastrous in practice. As with many Old Leftists, one can admire Benn's sincerity and strength of principle while being very grateful that he never got the chance to put his policies into effect.
Adam Carr, Australia

Tony Benn, Completely wrong on almost everything he says. But completely wonderful. A man of passion and belief. The opposite of 'plastic' New Labour.
Michael Fishwick, UK


May I wish Mr Benn a long and happy retirement. Sadly that is the end of the niceties.

Steven Gavrilovic, UK
May I wish Mr Benn a long and happy retirement. Sadly that is the end of the niceties. As a Labour party member, I recall Mr Benn's destructive influence on party policy during the late seventies and early eighties, when he and his cohorts hijacked the party and made it unelectable for a generation. Today the Labour party is the party of government thanks to the leadership of Tony Blair, Neil Kinnock and John Smith.
Steven Gavrilovic, UK

Tony Benn is clearly a personally charming and decent man. As a politician, however, he has been a failure and a corrosive force in British public life. His ministerial career was undistinguished by anything other than a naive enthusiasm for technology and a refusal to give up the trappings of office even when (so he later claimed) he was in disagreement with the policies of the government he served in. In opposition, he mounted a concerted campaign to ally with groups of doubtful democratic (or even, as with the Militant organisation, overt totalitarian) credentials, and pressed upon Labour a crude nationalism, an anti-Americanism apparently motivated by nothing more elevated than drawing-room snobbery, and an economically illiterate programme of mass nationalisation and deficit spending. The outcome, predictably enough, was an unelectable Labour Party. Having been active in the Labour Party at the time of his campaigns, I recall with particular distaste his invincible belief that those who disagreed with him on, for example, nuclear disarmament, were dishonourable and dishonest men. The ill temper and extremism of that time were largely his doing. I wish him a happy retirement, and regret that it has been so long coming.
Oliver Kamm, UK

At least by leaving he can highlight the bankruptcy of the Commons. For an MP to leave Parliament "to spend more time doing politics" is a savage indictment of the way Parliament has been stripped of powers and stuffed with over-loyal party hacks who simply will not challenge abuses of power by their own party.
Martyn Williams, UK

I'll never forget the sight of Tony Benn appearing on Question Time in 1983 when he tried to argue that the general election result of that year had been a good one for Labour. It was almost as though he was living in one of these parallel universes that Star Trek occasionally fall into. The net effect of his tireless campaigning over the years has been to help produce a situation that is the polar opposite to what he sought.
Robert Walker, UK

In the true sense of the word Tony Benn is a great parliamentarian and a great debater of any issue. He allows people to have their say before jumping in, he listens to all points of view before giving his own. His whole life has been based on fairness. I will always remember watching him years ago when he talked about power - 'If they have power, you need to ask how did they get it and how can we get rid of them' A man truly accountable to his constituents, I hope no-one insults him by offering him a peerage. The greatest parliamentarian of the last century (including Churchill and Thatcher).
Bob Sones, UK


Very few public figures in modern times have been as vilified as he has and the Tory press hounded him for years with insults that would have broken lesser men.

Tim Smith, United Arab Emirates
Very few public figures in modern times have been as vilified as he has and the Tory press hounded him for years with insults that would have broken lesser men. Politics, Parliament and the Labour Party in particular will be all the poorer when he is no longer one of our representatives.
Tim Smith, United Arab Emirates

Tony Benn deserves all of the accolades that are being expressed in this forum. He is one of the few praiseworthy giants of politics in our time. In addition to his stalwart service and inspiration for English parliamentary democracy, his integrity and eloquence against the rightward drift of the past 20 years is appreciated and will be greatly missed.
Ralph Sato, United States

For me the ones who kept the Labour Party out of power were the gang of four who left the Labour party because they could not accept the democratic procedures of the party. They helped to demonise Tony Benn and with the support of the media used him as a means of undermining the Labour Party. This has meant that many people have suffered hardship because of the dominance of the right wing in politics for so long in recent years. To answer your question of whether Tony Benn kept Labour out of power for so long my answer is no. If there had not been a Tony Benn someone else would have been the whipping boy of corporate power coupled with the media including the BBC.
Ron Bridle,UK

With Benn gone, who will defend the democratic cause? And with no-one left to keep the flame alive, what prospects are there? It doesn't bear thinking about. Sounds like a reverse version of a fairy tale in which the wicked ogres live happily, in tyranny, ever after. Westminister's honest politician.
Aurore Lester-Smith, Belgium

How can Tony Benn reconcile his deeply held views about democracy with his support for the United Nations? Here we have dozens of undemocratic countries and dictatorships passing resolutions that Tony Benn is often happy to support.
Laurence Kelvin, UK

Tony Benn has always seemed to typify high-minded, visionary, politics. So few politicians seem able to see beyond the humdrum - to see the bigger political picture. He has always been the exception - how courageous and what a role model!
Stephanie Aitchison, UK

All my best wishes and regards to the man of principle. You have been an inspiration and light at end of the tunnel to all the people who are sick of the injustice and selfish systems of the world.
Mahmud Omar Jr, Eritrean in UK

Simply the best politician we have had for the past 50 years: honest, hard working and a man of integrity.
Dil Hig, UK


Socialists world-wide will miss Tony Benn when he retires

John Williams, Ireland
Tony Benn has been an inspiration to those of us on the left in Ireland and over the years we avidly read his reported speeches. The one issue on which most Irish socialists would disagree with Tony was his support for Sinn Fein when they were engaged in their terror campaign. We felt he didn't understand the fascist nature of that organisation. Socialists world-wide will miss Tony Benn when he retires.
John Williams, Ireland

Tony Benn is not a mere idealist as suggested by The Westminster Hour. He has also had the vision to try to persuade his colleagues to avoid making huge mistakes. If the Callaghan government had listened to him they would not have allowed North Sea Oil to be exploited rapidly by private enterprise and they would have not have begun to adopt monetarist or quasi-monetarist policies which have continued to this day. These two policies have led to an over-valued pound and a continuing decline in UK manufacturing. Later on this century they may lead to a serious fuel crisis. It is a tragedy that his advice was not followed.
Geoff Wexler, UK

Tony Benn is one of the most honourable men of our time. He speaks eloquently for the poor and all fair-minded, decent people of this country. He speaks with a warmth and wit which comes from an honest, intelligent mind. I am delighted to see that his family share his views: Melissa Benn's article supporting comprehensive education in the Guardian this week was excellent. My Irish parents admired him and knew that he has always represented the interests of working class people like them. I was delighted, when visiting London last October, to see Tony Benn driving a small Fiesta-type car out from the House of Commons grounds. All the MPs who left were in much grander cars! A man of principle! He'll be sadly missed.
Regina Fattorini, UK

Tony Benn is the only politician I have ever heard who truly deserves to be described as inspirational. His combination of principle, courage, eloquence, passion, sincerity and unassailable logic was bound to make many lesser politicians and commentators uncomfortable. One personal impact? My son, named after him, is now pursuing a politics degree.
John Cowen, UK


Tony Benn's great mistake was that he confused the wishes of the small number of Labour activists who go to party meetings and write him flattering letters with the wishes of the electorate as a whole.

Ned Pakenham, UK
Tony Benn's great mistake was that he confused the wishes of the small number of Labour activists who go to party meetings and write him flattering letters with the wishes of the electorate as a whole. The idea that a majority in the country have ever seen the European Community as a capitalist plot, want to nationalise the banks and big business, unilaterally disarm, or allow strikes without ballots, is demonstrably false now as it was in his heyday. The tragedy for the Labour party was that during the eighties it was vulnerable to such ideas being adopted as policy, because Benn changed the party constitution, giving the activists a decisive say in policy making. Those activists, together with the boneheads who led the trade union movement are responsible for Labour's long years in the wilderness.
Ned Pakenham, UK

Tony Benn has been a man of great principle in his handling of many social issues. He is the classic representative of the underdog in life. Sadly, he is also an old romantic. Along with many, he harks back to a different era, when the UK Parliament had a more significant role. If he sees globalisation as the threat it obviously is, he should realise that the power of multinational corporations can only be countered in the UK by sensible European co-operation and combined democratic institutions.
Nick Rabson, UK

If only we were lucky enough to have more MP's of the calibre of Tony Benn, this country would be a much better place. Practically the only member with any integrity, he has been an inspiration to me my entire adult life.
Donald McDonald, UK

I voted Labour from my first vote (I was 21 in 1967), and was a member of the Labour Party from the age of 22. I am no longer a member of the Labour Party. I did not vote Labour at the last election, and can not envisage a time when I will ever vote Labour again. Thank you, Tony Benn, for promoting the best interests of the majority of voters in this country -- if they were all like you, I'd still be voting Labour.
Margaret Leonard, UK

Tony Benn's honesty, humanity, and faith in humanity shines through whenever he speaks. He has inspired us and given us hope for the future in bleak times. Parliamentary democracy will be the poorer without his presence.
Martin & Penny Davis, UK


Benn is not as radical as he seems, because he opposes electoral reform.

Dave Womersley, UK
Benn is not as radical as he seems, because he opposes electoral reform. He complains that we are 'managed not represented': AV+, the system proposed by Jenkins, would put that right. A shame that Benn doesn't back it. I hope listeners will visit www.callfordemocracy.org
Dave Womersley, UK

I have always admired Tony Benn for his absolute integrity and courage to speak as he sees and not being swayed by others as too many in politics now worry about towing the party line. I look forward to reading all he writes. Good on him to retire from parliament to give time for politics and continue to promote true democracy. Other politicians give up parliament to make money for themselves (!) so much for their commitment to helping others! I wish Tony Benn well.
P.Rosen, UK

Rather than keeping Labour out of Government in the 80's, Benn kept them in the race. He has always allowed a sizeable minority of us to believe that there is some good in the Labour Party. The fact that there is some modicum of choice in British politics owes a lot to him.
William Grumitt, UK

Tony Benn has been an excellent example of what an MP should be. Honest, hard working and committed to the highest ideals of what it is to represent others. He is always friendly when approached and always willing to listen. Our democracy is lessened by his passing.
Richard Gowler, UK


Tony Benn will be sorely missed. There are very few honest politicians left in the House of Commons - of any party.

Richard Cotton, UK
Tony Benn will be sorely missed. There are very few honest politicians left in the House of Commons - of any party. I have always supported the Labour Party precisely because there are people like Tony Benn within its ranks. The people of Chesterfield are very fortunate to have such a great parliamentarian as their representative. The sad thing is that he is likely to be replaced by yet another Blairite clone and the only thing to be said for them is that they are marginally better than the Tories!
Richard Cotton, UK

And so, with the passing of the Bennite light, it can be rehabilitated, japed about, and smothered in fulsome praise and heartfelt respect from the bitter foes who would have gone to the barricades to stop it. Let's be clear - Benn is a liberal first and foremost, at best a state capitalist of the old mode, a petty nationalist and down at heels reformist. Principled? Perhaps. An old campaigner and star performer, definitely. But his career has proven only one thing - the whole path of trying to get to the top of political power and reform capitalism is a spectacular waste of time. What sort of Socialist remains in a Party which they openly state has never been a socialist organisation?
Bill Martin, UK

Tony Benn is an original and individual politician: on many issues, one cannot predict how he will think, but one can be sure there will be a humane and intellectually rigorous basis to it. I've often disagreed with his conclusions, but he has never been less than invigorating and honest. He may have been bad for the Labour Party, but he's been very good for parliament and for debate in Britain.
Brian Eversham, UK

There is no one quite like him. He is a real breath of fresh air and each time I hear him I am renewed once again. He certainly has encouraged and supported many people. He is retiring as an MP but his campaigning work will surely go on. All power to him. We hope he will come and take part in a globalisation meeting here at the centre of the known universe - Milton Keynes!
Bill Kennedy, UK

Tony Benn represents one of the few people in a form of power to question the very nature of democracy in the Labour party and Parliament. The Labour Party will be a poorer place without someone who questioned the democratic deficit many individuals in power hold. He was not a beacon of the Left, but rather a believer in equality, freedom and democracy. He advanced socialism and you can judge his significance by the hateful and personal attacks launched by many in his party unwilling to let the membership speak.
Jamie Melrose, UK


He was a champion of parliamentary democracy and stood up for the rights of elected Members of Parliament as champions of their constituents.

David Brackenbury, UK
I very much doubt that I have ever agreed with any of Mr. Benn's political views. But yet...he was a champion of parliamentary democracy and stood up for the rights of elected Members of Parliament as champions of their constituents. A man of courage and absolute integrity, he was one of the rare voices of honesty that has stood out in a Government of spin and media manipulation that has treated Parliament with such contempt.
David Brackenbury, UK

It's a shame that New Labour has shed so many of its beliefs over the years. Mr Benn's views are more relevant today than ever before with increasing poverty, globalisation and the relentless manner in which 'New Labour' has sidelined Parliament, the public and representative democracy. Tony Benn is arguably the greatest politician in the post war era.
Dipesh Kana, UK

What is remarkable about the man is that he is consistent and principled. His ideas were never particularly original, just correct. As John Peel is to music, Tony Benn is to British politics.
Andy Suitsu, UK

The importance of an MP like Tony Benn is his unshakeable belief in the convictions he holds. His long stand for democracy versus the anti-human effects of capitalism, along with his rejection of image-makers and spin-doctors, make him a shining example of the type of person needed in Parliament today.
Carl Evans, UK


Mr Benn is the last of the great parliamentarians. They don't make them like that anymore.

Colin Gillies, Netherlands
Mr Benn is the last of the great parliamentarians. They don't make them like that anymore. Where are the great old Tories and Labour members who were not afraid to speak their minds and were certainly not afraid of the whips or party leaders. Only one is still in the Commons and that is Tam Dalyell, the instigator of the West Lothian Question.
Colin Gillies, Netherlands

Tony Benn has been more of an inspiration to me than any other politician in post-war politics. I knew, after much thought, that if the Labour Party was good enough for Tony it was good enough for me. He is the greatest leader of the Labour Party and Prime Minister this country never had. We would be a role model country of the world had he been PM. He makes the most difficult social problems seem so simple to solve with a socialist common-sense we are lacking all too much. At 28 I'm a Labour councillor in my town and the shining light of Benn has shown me the way forward like no other.
Simon Holland, UK

Tony Benn is an inspiration to many people like myself who believe in a better world and a brighter future. His selfless promotion of the socialist cause cost him his own glittering career in the Labour Party but his personal contribution to democratic socialism is his real lasting achievement. Anyone who has heard him speak, even his enemies, must rate him as one of the great orators of our time.
Dave Pardoe, Russia

Tony Benn represented the Left's best chance of a leader since Bevan. A true enlightened radical spirit whose demonisation in the British right wing press served to prove his challenge to injustice.
Robert Chance, UK


The only minister to run his ministry using his civil servants and not allowing his civil servants to run him

D. Pearson, UK
The only minister to run his ministry using his civil servants and not allowing his civil servants to run him. A unique circumstance in modern politics and a true Labour politician
D. Pearson, UK

I have always enjoyed listening to Tony Benn's debates and have admired him for his in-depth knowledge of nation and international current affairs. He never hesitated to speak the real truth, even if this means contrary to his party policy. That is why I believe he is a great politician and asset to British politics. I wish him all the best.
S.Yowhans, Eritrea

After having read his diaries (I expect the final volume) one thing, if I am allowed, I can only say: I wish we had one Benn here in Greece to awaken the conscience of my fellow citizens. We badly need one. Farewell, Big Tony.
Antonios Karvounis, Greece

Even as a conservative I am very happy to pay a warm tribute to Tony Benn. He has been one of the most honourable politicians in Westminster, guided by his conscience and not by partisan interests. That made him at times a very uncomfortable MP, but only because he pointed to flaws in the reasoning of other politicians. His contributions to parliamentary debates rank in my view among the best, both in oratory and content. Nobody should doubt his commitment to parliamentary democracy and sovereignty, which he underlined with memorable speeches. I most vividly remember the debates leading up to the Gulf War in 1991, when he stood almost alone in opposition, when most people could not understand why, including myself. But his speeches, led by powerful intellect, made me respect him and understand his honourable position. Even though one may not agree with him, his voice is one that should be heard as often as possible, since it reflects valid and valuable concerns on many aspects in our lives. The departure of Tony Benn from the Commons does not only mean the departure of a staunch left-winger, but also the departure of a great defender of democratic values. Westminster loses one of its greatest post-war MPs.
Georgios Filioussis, Belgium


That he is the last speaker and debater of any real quality in public life goes without saying. What will we do without him?

Paul Miller, UK
Benn's alternative economic strategy was the only credible intervention during the last period when this country made a real political change of direction - i.e. the decision to go for monetarism taken during the last Labour Government in 1976. His constitutional reforms, his radical transformation of the internal culture of the Labour Party (which ironically led eventually but directly to the election of Tony Blair as leader) are important but over-emphasised compared to his seminal contribution to the national debate on economics. That he is also the last speaker and debater of any real quality in public life goes without saying. What will we do without him?
Paul Miller, UK

I respect Mr Benn immensely. He is a man of integrity and eloquence who has laboured for the cause of democratic socialism for 50 years through so many changes in the Labour Party. Frankly, 20 years ago, I did not support his far-left approach but often the "Bennites" were a problem more then Mr Benn. The Labour leadership has moved so far to the right that even the "soft left" which I identify with can treasure Mr Benn's total commitment to democracy and accountability. He will be much missed but as he said, he is retiring to devote more time to politics. I believe him and I wish him well in all his future endeavours. He is a true Comrade!
Brian Delaney, USA

One of the few politicians I have ever felt I could trust. He always stuck to issues and refused to engage in the common mud slinging prevalent in UK politics today. My trust in Westminster as a whole will be diminished by his departure.
Bob Thomas, UK

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