Friday 14 March 2014

Tony Benn (1925-2014)

Like many of you I guess (perhaps making dodgy assumptions about your age), Tony Benn has been a presence in my life for what feels like forever. 

I'd almost forgotten until today (when it all came flooding back to me), just how much I disliked the man and everything he stood for when I was a teenager back in the 1980s. (I really did.)

His double act with Eric Heffer (who, BTW, I spotted deep in thought during my trip to parliament with Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman) sent shivers down my Thatcherite spine. 

He was a genuinely dangerous man back then - a man who espoused extreme left-wing views and who came within a whisker of becoming Labour's deputy leader in 1981, and who would have become a powerful figure in British politics had Labour won the 1983 election (with Michael Foot as Prime Minister.) That would have been an absolute disaster for the country.

The threat posed by Tony Benn fell away in the late '80s, and when we passed into the '90s I found myself in the odd position (for me) of agreeing with him during the ferocious debates over Europe under John Major. His arguments about the lack of democracy in the EU rang true (and still do).

Then came the last twenty years of his life where he became an avuncular, eccentric, slightly batty 'national treasure' - partly thanks to his many, many appearances on the BBC. (During much of that time I'd sunk into semi-apathy over politics and was voting Labour, but Tony Benn was still there in my Radio 4-listening ear.) He could be great fun to listen to.

Had he mellowed, or merely grown old? 

Well, many of his views remained as wrong-headed and extreme as ever (especially over Israel), but by that stage his autumnal air of kindliness, good-humour, earnestness and dottiness made him seem more like Margaret Rutherford-in-drag than a dangerous left-wing demagogue - and I've always loved Margaret Rutherford (and found out today that they were actually related)... I'd just smile and think, 'Ha, ha, that's just Tony Benn being a loveable old lefty, bless 'im! Bleedin' national treasure, that's what 'e is, and that's for sure, cor blimey, guv!'

There's been a lot of fine writing about Tony Benn today but, as this is a blog about BBC bias, let me focus instead on the matter of obituaries. 

Before we look at the BBC's obituary, here are the introductory paragraphs from a couple of today's other obituaries. 

What do they say about the biases (or lack of biases) of the two selected media sites? Which is left-wing, and which is right-wing? Bonus points: Which media sites do you think they actually are?
1. Tony Benn, who has died aged 88, was Labour’s most controversial late 20th-century figure, leading the Leftward drive that arguably marginalised the party for a generation.
A boyish enthusiast recognisable by his pipe, tape recorder and outsized mug of tea, he aroused greater emotions than any contemporary bar Enoch Powell and Margaret Thatcher. Yet he rewrote the Constitution by securing Britain’s first referendum and refusing to become the 2nd Viscount Stansgate. Labour’s longest-serving MP (almost exactly 50 years), he won 16 of 17 elections fought, served in three Cabinets and saw his son Hilary enter the Cabinet too.
2. Tony Benn was one of the few British politicians who became more left-wing after having actually served in government.
He became the authentic voice of the radical left with the press coining the term Bennite to describe the policies espoused by those resisting attempts to move the Labour Party to the middle ground.

As such, he became a bogeyman for the right in British politics, with delegates to Conservative conferences displaying Ban the Benn badges in the style of CND's Ban the Bomb logo.
Later in life, the former firebrand politician became something of a folk hero as well as a campaigner for a number of causes, particularly opposition to UK military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Well, the first is fairly balanced but tilts rightwards. It's the Daily Telegraph.

The second obviously sounds like a left-wing site's take ("authentic voice of the radical left", "bogeyman for the right", "folk hero"), but I've read the Guardian's obituary and the Guardian is less obviously left-wing than this. 

Is it the Morning Star then? No. 

It reads (to me) like something that lies (politically) between the Guardian and the Morning Star. Which media site could that possibly be then (as if you couldn't guess!)?

Yep, it's the BBC

If you ever fancy doubting your own feelings that the BBC is left-liberal-biased then please feel free to recall this pair of obituaries.


UpdateIncidentally, if can see behind the Times's paywall, you really ought to read Matthew Parris's take on the Right's reaction to the deaths of Mr Benn and Bob Crow: They weren’t heroes. So why sing their praises?
I confess to slight stirrings of respect for the unsentimentality of the Left: not for Crow’s stupid opinion or Benn’s poisonous beliefs, but for their refusal to dissemble about people they thought bad for our country. Given their beliefs they were right to hate Margaret Thatcher. She would have hated them; in death as well as in life.
But enough of two wrongheaded men who would have dragged Britain on to the rocks if they could. They achieved nothing. The waters will now close over their heads. The more interesting question is why so many moderate Britons are reluctant to say what we really think about the dead icons of the Left?

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