Tony Benn and the Coalition of Resistance


Amazing that such a simple Guardian phrase can strike such dread into the heart -- “Tony Benn and 73 others.” It sounds as though some cloning experiment has gone terribly, terribly wrong -- as if the people behind Frankenstein foods have diversified into Frankenstein fools.

There is also a picture of an avuncular-looking man smoking a pipe. It is of course none other than that alleged national treasure, Anthony Neil Wedgwood Benn, former 2nd Viscount Stansgate -- whose name and style make him sound like a cross between a plate, a flowerpot man, a chocolate biscuit, and a sluice. But he is nothing so useful, nor is he as cuddlesome as his pipe suggests.

Benn is the descendant of non-conformist Liberal MPs whose family money came from the furniture industry -- which may explain why Tone became a Cabinet minister. A crucial influence was his mother, who told the gullible lad that the Bible was a sort of proto-Das Kapital, in which the prophets were always right and the kings always wrong. This gross over-simplification has shaped a whole career, during which the self-described “Free Radical” has been free to be mostly wrong, and even when he is right then invariably for the wrong reasons. There are few irresponsible ideas Tony has not embraced, or tediously “radical” causes he has not rushed to defend in his strange slurping tones, armed only with his anorak and that prophetic pipe -- and of course the whole weight of postwar history.

He is therefore an in-demand pundit, a "Political Hero" to both the New Statesman and BBC Radio 4 listeners -- and even a folk festival performer. Some of his speeches have also been set to “ambient groove,” although the content is much more likely to guarantee ambience than groove.

At the age of 85, most would be content to rest on their laurels (or thistles). But TB still has shag in his pipe. He has become the figurehead of "Coalition of Resistance," which aims to oppose the other Coalition’s cuts in spending. These cuts will, the anguished anguish:

…target the most vulnerable -- disabled people, single parents, those on housing benefit, black and other ethnic minority communities, students, migrant workers, LGBT people and pensioners.

There is to be a jamboree on 27 November, at which the 74 Musketeers will be able to demonstrate their combat-readiness. For many, the day will be a long-awaited opportunity to make their mark for the first time. Tony may be a national treasure, but most of the others aren’t even national trinkets. For every highly-paid bigmouth (Trevor Phillips, Lee Jasper and Ian Rankin are also signatories), there are at least ten nonentities-in-waiting.

Step forward, Michelle Stanistreet, deputy general secretary, National Union of Journalists -- Frank Cooper of the National Pensioners Convention -- Viv Ahmun, director Equanomics UK. It will be a big day for you, Alf Filer, Socialist Resistance -- Robyn Minogue, UoArts NUS officer -- Matteo Mandarini, Historical Materialism editorial board -- and Joe Glenholmes, Unison, life member Birmingham Trades Union Council. In short, it will be a gala occasion for the whole revolutionary Rotary Club.

This knitting circle of nits will be joined by many of those who signed up to their “radical alternative” vibe. Support came inevitably from sillylittleman -- “This is very good. … And about time.” Other groupies said, “I love & admire tony benn what he says goes” and “Thank fuck for Tony Benn” -- a sentiment which when read carefully sounds oddly ambivalent.

Then came the less ambivalent -- “Mr Anthony Wedgewood Benn, you are yesterday's man, cheerio!” and “This is pretty hilarious. Even for a Graun article this breaks the hyperbole records.” And the frankly puzzled -- “I can’t make head or tail of what he is saying.”

Even amongst The Godly, there are Doubting Thomases. The Bennophile JacktheNat was worried that “Tony has not been a conspicuously literate person when it comes to economics.” And Neptunian -- “The repulsiveness of some of the signatories dissuades me from joining in with this.” Others were worried about the dearth of hands-on types -- and these worries will not have been allayed by the dearth of a website or e-mail address, while Tony’s website bears the dynamic message

This website is currently unavailable as it is being completely redesigned to add new content during 2005.

Some felt the statement did not go far enough –

Damn, not the kind of resistance I was hoping for.

One wonders what this correspondent has in mind. Perhaps it is the truly terrifying measures recommended by stevibaldi –

Everyone should get a copy of the Philanthropist (hard back) and batter the tory (I include cleg in that) bastards with it!

How can the government stand such punishment?