Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

Posts Tagged ‘Afghanistan’

More Time For Politics!

In R.Richardson, Reviews on August 10, 2010 at 3:16 pm

‘More Time For Politics: the Benn Diaries 2001 – 2007’ by Tony Benn

Non-fiction/politics/journal/autobiographical. Review by Ruth Richardson

Another volume of Tony Benn‘s diaries – his eighth – was published just before Christmas. Again it is a blend of the political and the personal, a hugely readable account of the six years since he left Parliament.

The diaries provide ample evidence of the title of this book. When he gave up being an MP, his wife Caroline said that he would “have more time for politics”. In the last six years his schedule of meetings, broadcasts, travelling and writing would have exhausted a man half his age. On the eve of his eightieth birthday, he writes: “From the time I left Parliament… I’ve made 555 speeches in around 130 towns. Did 1,089 broadcasts… and wrote 190 newspaper articles and three books. So it’s not a bad record, but I’m now getting to the point where I just want to quieten down a bit.” But he shows no signs of doing so. The following year he writes, “I’ve got 24 meetings this month. I must be absolutely out of my mind.”


The event which dominated these years was, of course, the Iraq war. Those of us who attended the huge demonstration in Hyde Park in February 2003 will remember the eloquence and passion with which Tony Benn spoke. Two weeks before that he had flown to Baghdad to interview Saddam Hussein, a visit that Tony Benn had been trying to arrange since before Christmas. The interview is printed in full and makes interesting reading.

Tony Benn wrote “A lot of people will be… disgusted that I was friendly to him, but for God’s sake it was to stop a war!” He writes of the chaos and looting in Baghdad and predicted that there would be huge problems in post-war Iraq, a prediction that we now know to be only too true.


Tony Benn’s disillusionment with New Labour, already evident in his 1991-2001 diaries, is even more pronounced. He writes of Labour Party conferences where the role of delegates is “just to look up and admire the satellite”. Blair, he writes, is an absolute control freak, and Gordon Brown has little time for trade unions or Socialism. Tony Benn is greatly concerned about New Labour’s erosion of civil liberties, as evidenced by the attempts to introduce ID cards and the Anti-Terrorism Act. “Bush’s war is being used to take away our civil liberties,” he writes.

He is, however, aware of the effect his outspokenness may have on his son Hilary’s political career. He is immensely proud of Hilary and likens their relationship to that of himself and his own father.


The love and support of his family is extremely important to Tony Benn. In between the meetings, the speeches and the journeys are accounts of happy family gatherings and holidays. Often they remembered Caroline, who died in 2000. On the first anniversary of her death they held a little family gathering of remembrance, and on the fifth anniversary he writes, “there’s not a day, not an hour, goes by when I don’t think of her.” Benn’s daughter, Melissa, and his grandchildren are frequently mentioned with pride and affection.


As in the previous diaries, there are a number of quirky encounters with people on trains, taxi drivers, his builder, and the nuns who live next door. Apparently Tony Benn got to know them when he was sweeping his front steps one Christmas morning. He writes, too, about tackling the laundry and the shopping with “my big shopping trolley”, and I liked his account of managing to sew a button on his trousers and of how proud he felt!

Tony Benn is wary of being “a bit of an old hat”. It is heart warming to read “I’ve got to develop new thoughts, have a dream, but be realistic, try and understand the world and encourage people.”

I think that that is what Tony Benn has always done. May he long continue to do so.

{Tony Benn is an honourary Clarion subscriber}


In Editorial on February 18, 2010 at 8:45 am

For many of us, 2009 was dominated by the continuing recession. Unemployment rose relentlessly, whilst who still had work to go to found that their jobs were becoming more precarious. The housing market almost dried up, and companies that had seemed a familiar part of the landscape either went out of business or struggled to survive.

Meanwhile, those banks whose actions had been a major cause of the economic crisis were bailed out to the tune of billions of pounds – whilst those who were largely responsible for the collapse of market capitalism continued to draw fat salaries and even fatter bonuses.

The past year also revealed the way in which many MPs had manipulated their expenses to line their own pockets. Of course, the worst offenders were only a minority of our elected representatives, but they were a symptom of what happens when “success” in society is measured in terms of money and greed. And their actions helped to drag the reputation of Parliament further into the mire.


As a backdrop to it all, the Afghanistan conflict intensified and the number of casualties amongst those serving over there began to escalate. Now more and more people are beginning to ask the questions, what are our troops doing out there? Isn’t it time we brought them home?

Unlike Iraq, our intervention in Afghanistan was authorised by NATO, and was thus more broadly based than Bush’s pathetically named “coalition of the willing” that followed America’s coat tails into Iraq. Those countries that have sent troops into Afghanistan include many who wouldn’t have touched the Iraq invasion with a bargepole – like Canada, Germany, and other European countries.

But, like in the UK, many of them are now questioning their role. Indeed, Canada (whose troops have suffered proportionately greater losses than those from Britain) now plans to pull out in 2011.

So why did we invade Afghanistan? Did we go in to “restore democracy” to the Afghan people? Or was it an exercise to get rid of the Taliban? Or (as Gordon Brown claims) to prevent terrorism spreading like a plague to the UK?

Any claim that we were there to plant democracy in the arid Afghan soil was surely shattered by this year’s elections there. To call it a farce is an understatement. Abuses were so blatant that it could only be seen as a distorted caricature. Votes just vanished by the million, whilst others found themselves transferred to the winning candidate like a rabbit in a conjuror’s hat. And through it all, NATO soldiers were killed and maimed to ensure that it could take place. There is no way that this could be seen as building democracy in Afghanistan.

As for “getting rid of the Taliban”, there are few if any signs that their hold has been weakened by the current offensive. And in what way can anyone claim that our presence in this unhappy country prevents the spread of terrorism? History surely suggests otherwise. Events in Afghanistan merely become a focal point – a rallying cry for those who commit their acts of terrorism elsewhere.


The coming year may well be a crucial one in Afghanistan. Here in Britain it could also usher in a new government. And this could well effect us all.

It is difficult how people will vote in the coming General Election. The betting is on a Tory victory – which would leave us all facing a very uncertain future under David Cameron. Of course nothing should be taken for granted until the votes have been counted. There is a sense of disillusion with politics and politicians as a whole. Certainly, if the Conservatives do win, it won’t arouse much enthusiasm amongst the electorate as a whole. But the very possibility of a Cameron government should be enough to concentrate our minds!

Indeed, for many, the phrase “out of the frying pan into the fire” may well spring to mind.