Tony Benn proves apathy doesn't rule

SO POLITICS in this country is dead, is it? Apathy might rule in elections – but last night more than 1,000 people were prepared to shell out £13 each to hear one of the great political figures of the 20th century share his own philosophy with us for two hours.

Tony Benn at the Ipswich Regent last night.

SO POLITICS in this country is dead, is it?

Apathy might rule in elections – but last night more than 1,000 people were prepared to shell out £13 each to hear one of the great political figures of the 20th century share his own philosophy with us for two hours.

This might have been dismissed as "entertainment, not real politics" by leading members of the local Labour Party – but no one at the Regent was left in doubt that this was a political event.


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"It's called an Audience with Tony Benn," our host said at the start, "But really it's just a public meeting – and I've been speaking at public meetings since I was first elected to the House of Commons 51 years ago."

To warm up the audience, Mr Benn treated us to 45 minutes of political memories and to his analysis of current events.

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He touched on everything from how he met Oswald Moseley and Ramsey Macdonald as a child through to the Gulf War and the Hutton Inquiry.

Then after a tea-break – Mr Benn has long been famous for consuming gallons of the stuff – he spent more than an hour answering questions from the audience.

This must be a risky strategy – I thought he was bound to get some ridiculous points raised.

But in the event all the questioners brought up interesting topics that he was able to deal with. Most were from his political friends – but there were a couple from local Tory councillors.

No one will have gained a blinding revelation about Mr Benn's political philosophy at the Regent last night.

But one comment did stick in the mind: "In politics, some people are signposts and some are weather-cocks.

"The signposts are those who see where they think society should go and try to point the way. I've always tried to be like that – and Maggie Thatcher was a signpost as well although she was pointing in the wrong direction.

"The weather-cocks are those who look at which way the wind is blowing – by looking at opinion polls and focus groups – before deciding what to do."

Who could he have been thinking of?

PAUL GEATER.

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