THE generosity of the tributes paid to Tony Benn reflect his immense contribution to British politics – and the void created by the death of one of the great conviction politicians of his age.
A divisive individual, his views were driven by deeply-held convictions not readily associated with today’s generation of leaders who allow opinion polls to determine policy. Mr Benn’s wit and wisdom was summed up by a newspaper article that he wrote just over 25 years ago and in which he concluded: “I did not enter the Labour Party 47 years ago to have our manifesto written by Dr Mori, Dr Gallup and Mr Harris.”
One can imagine Mr Benn smoking his pipe and pouring a cup of tea from his flask, two of his enduring trademarks, as he came up with a precise form of words that would engage his friends and foes alike.
A RAF pilot during the war, he was to become one of the most independent-minded voices of his generation – he famously renounced his hereditary peerage so that he could still stand for election for the House of Commons and eventually became the proud MP for Chesterfield towards the end of his Parliamentary career.
A man who never needed any introduction – unlike so many of today’s prototype politicians – and who used a great intellect rather than political spin doctors to back up his arguments, the best tribute that can be paid to this extraordinary veteran is that he engaged with ordinary people. He actually left Westminster in 2001 “to spend more time in politics” and his one-man shows in retirement were sell-outs because his arguments were always argued with such passion.
As he wrote in 1994: “I think the truth is that the Labour Party isn’t believed any more because people suspect it will say anything to get votes.” It is a charge that could never be levelled against Tony Benn, who took the quality of debate in this country to a level that few, if any, have been able to maintain. Even his fiercest opponents would listen in grudging admiration of his eloquence and passion for politics that saw this lifelong rebel become regarded as a national treasure.
Because of this, public life will be diminished without his many and varied contributions.
How to power Yorkshire forward
IN DAVID Cameron and Nick Clegg’s defence, they have said they are committed to empowering the North and have put in place a policy framework that is beginning to devolve real decision-making powers to Yorkshire.
However, change will not happen overnight. It will take time for the new network of local enterprise partnerships and other bodies to make a major impact and they are having to do so without the public money that was lavished on quangos like Yorkshire Forward.
However, there is still a belief, ahead of next week’s Budget which will set the economic backdrop to the next election, that the Government has not gone far enough in embracing the ideas set out by Michael Heseltine.
This is certainly the view of Roger Marsh, who heads the Leeds LEP and who is a prominent member of the HS2 Growth taskforce. Speaking at yesterday’s Yorkshire Fastest 50 award which celebrated the success of the area’s SMEs, he believes that the region needs greater powers if Yorkshire is to become a net contributor to the national economy.
It’s an important point. Only London, the South East and East Anglia generate more money
than they receive in handouts from the Government, a state of affairs which needs to change if the North is to be less dependent on the public sector in the future.
‘Manners maketh man’ endures
IT is not surprising that parents worry about their children’s use of mobile phones and other new technology. This is still one area of life where their expertise is likely to be inferior to the know-how of their offspring, who have grown up in the computer age.
Yet, while parents do need to retain a semblance of control, not least to protect their children from undesirable characters who misuse the internet, they also need to ensure that the use of mobile phones, for example, does not become addictive.
Many youngsters think that there is nothing wrong with texting their friends while they eat.
To older generations, this is simply rude. And they’re right. For the assertion made by William of Wykeham, a Chancellor
of the Exchequer in the 1400s, is as relevant today as it was 600 years ago when he coined the timeless phrase ‘manners maketh man’.