I was a “Bennite” (which became a considerable term of abuse in the 1980s) since the 1960s. I was brought up in a Labour household in which the premiership of Harold Wilson was the sun and in his constellation Mr Benn was the brightest of the many stars clustered around that Labour cabinet. There were so many stars – James Callaghan Roy Jenkins Barbara Castle Tony Crosland Richard Crossman Dennis Healey George Brown – but even in that company, the young, fresh-faced, bursting with ideas Wedgwood-Benn (as he was then known) stood out.
For us he seemed to exemplify the “white-hot heat” of the “technological revolution” – Mr Wilson’s wheeze for disguising his socialist purpose from a hostile media and the “Gnomes of Zurich” who, even then with their financial power had the means of destroying any real Labour government. Mr Benn was brimful of innovative unorthodoxy, and seemed just what the doctor ordered.
From his heroic ( and successful) fight to remain in the Commons upon the death of his father Viscount Stansgate – a Viscountcy which Mr Benn was to be forced to inherit – through to the Hovercraft, Concorde, TSR2, nuclear power, special edition postage stamps, tape-recording (we’d scarcely heard of it) his own interviews and speeches, he was every inch the “young Lochinvar”. Dashing, romantic, eloquent, unafraid.
The “technological revolution” cooled, the crucible crumbled but my love for Tony Benn never did which is why his death today at the age of 88 surrounded by his family whom he loved with extraordinary zeal is not just any other passing and has caused, unusually for me, the cancellation of a raft of important engagements.
I first met Tony Benn (as he was by then) at the Labour conference in Blackpool in 1974. I was 20 years old, the Secretary of Dundee West Constituency Labour Party. Whilst I was expressing my hero-worship of him, he told me that I was “the youngest constituency party secretary in Labour Party history”. It made that badge seem much brighter.
We remained in touch throughout the 1970’s as Tony Benn emerged as the most important, most popular socialist – as opposed to mere Labour – figure in Britain in the 20th century. When Mr Wilson and then Mr Callaghan’s governments (1974-79) ran into more and more troubled waters it was Tony Benn who became the parliamentary (and cabinet) focus of the fight for an “alternative economic strategy” being developed by the extra-parliamentary left and the trades unions particularly the engineering unions AUEW and TASS their supervisory section led by the immensely impressive Ken Gill.
On the eve of the Devolution Referendum in 1979 Mr Benn addressed a huge Yes Rally in Dundee’s Caird Hall attended by over one thousand people on a bitter winter’s night and gave a speech – the tape-cassette of which he sent me and which I still have – in which he gave quite simply the greatest speech for the socialist idea I have ever heard, bar none. In the vast cavernous auditorium his rolling cadences, his masterful command of the English language, his (by then) thinly coded attacks on the collapse into financial orthodoxy of his cabinet colleagues, the clarity of his call for the unity of working people on this island whilst supporting Home Rule within it, his unbelievably powerful case for democracy in our economy as well as our institutions (no-one believed in democracy more passionately than Tony Benn) still ring in my ears as I write this. It was a tour de force, even by his standards and no-one who was there will ever forget it.
Many of the words, concepts, imagery he used that night I still use in my own speeches today. Earlier he had posed in my home for pictures with my then baby daughter Lucy, today a mother of four, as he later would with her babies. His kindliness as well as his courage, intelligence, eloquence marking him out as head and shoulders above all of the political class then as now. If you can imagine the kindly old gentleman who sat at the back of the carriage in The Railway Children waving his handkerchief at the children and who came to their aid in their tragedy; that was the kind of man Tony Benn was.
Just before he launched his campaign for the Labour Party’s Deputy Leadership in 1981 Benn called my house. “Thish ish Tony Benn” he told my astonished then wife who thought it was a friend of ours playing a prank. “Oh yeah, right” she said.
He asked me if I would support his campaign. I was a full-time Labour organiser and the Chairman of the Labour Party in Scotland at the time and he knew it might put my job at risk. He promised to look after me should the worst happen and a job at his side if he won.
Without hesitation I supported him and threw myself into the campaign as the Scottish organiser. It proved a bitter and divisive battle, crystalising exisiting divisions within the movement and, when Neil Kinnock and a group of left wing apostates who included Robin Cook backed a “soft-left” rival John Silkin to split the Benn vote created new divisions some of which never healed.
The Labour Party had never seen a mass exercise within its ranks quite like it; and has since taken steps to ensure it never will do again. Thanks to democratic reforms within the party pioneered by Benn himself the choice would be made, not merely by MPs but by the rank and file of the party and the unions then affiliated, enthusiastically, in their millions. Benn chased every vote. Though supposedly handling Scotland I traveled with Benn the length and breadth of the country. If you’d believed the media Benn was then, literally, mad bad and dangerous to know. If you believed the evidence of your own eyes, he was the most exciting and inspiring leader in the land.
I remember one occasion in particular in a motor-way service station near Liverpool. We stopped for tea and toast (Benn rarely actually ate real food), Tony, me and Hugh Wyper the then legendary Scottish union leader and Hugh’s wife. First virtually every person in the station came over to greet him. Then, wearing their aprons and chef’s hats all the kitchen staff did the same (alas there were no camera phones then so each person had to get a time-consuming autograph) then people started coming in from the petrol-station forecourt leaving their vehicles unattended then Tony gave an impromptu speech. It felt like a popular revolution. And maybe it could have been.
At the height of his campaign when he seemed to be about to carry all before him, Benn was struck down by an obscure illness The Guillain – Barre Syndrome which attacked his nervous system, confined him to bed, and left him shaky on his legs for the rest of his life. It seemed suspicious at the time, and it still does now. Especially after what happened to Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez and other left wing leaders in Latin America.
For that to sound less fanciful one must recap on what Benn might possibly have done. He might have won the deputy leadership of a Labour Party then regarded as a natural party of government. And quickly thereafter, its leader. He would have pulled Britain out of NATO and from the EEC. He would have scrapped Britain’s vastly expensive, unaffordable and essentially useless nuclear He promised public ownership and workers control of the commanding heights of the British economy. He would have nationalised the banks and many other industries including pharmaceuticals. He would have mounted a profound challenge to the rich and powerful in Britain and beyond, AND he had mass popular support in doing so.
The media hysteria had to be experienced to be believed. Think Scargill, Livingstone, Crow, add it all together and double it. It was that bad. Whole pages in serious newspapers were given over to cod-psychologists making the case that Tony Benn was, literally, insane.
But Benn-mania was taking on Beatles levels in the ranks of Labour. With the whole Labour establishment against him, as well as the whole of the British ruling class and its media echo-chamber, Benn was winning. As we gathered on the eve of the fateful Labour Conference in the Brighton conference centre the buzz was simply electrifying. When the result came and the right-wing candidate Dennis Healy was announced the winner by the hair of an eyebrow – well less than 1% – a result achieved only by the votes of a raft of Labour MPs, traitors who promptly defected to the now-forgotten SDP – the rest of us lost our heads. But Tony kept his, taking his brilliant and beautiful America wife Caroline by the hand and walking to the nearest fish and chip shop on the Brighton sea-front for a rare slap-up.
Kinnock picked up his 30 pieces of silver later and is now an establishment clown (along with his wife) in the House of Lords. The remnants of the SDP (which helped keep Thatcher in power for a decade), now serve in David Cameron’s Tory government.
Benn lost his Bristol seat due to boundary changes in 1983, was re-elected in Chesterfield with the support of the Derbyshire Miners (he was among other things the most whole-hearted of the Miners supporters) before “giving up parliament, to spend more time on politics” and continued to the end to support the socialist alternative to barbarism and war. He died and will forever live as the Honorary President of the Stop the War Coalition, leading the greatest mass movement in British history. He was the greatest leader Labour, and Great Britain, never had.
In Shakespeare’s words “He was a man, take him for all in all; I shall not look upon his likes again”
George Galloway MP
House of Commons
14th March 2014
Over the last couple of weeks a western-backed (and armed) military junta slaughtered many hundreds of Egyptians in broad daylight live on television. The death toll, still concealed, may have been thousands.
The west confined itself to disapproving words and calls for “restraint” on “both sides” – even though the victims were unarmed.
In Syria hundreds of people have just been slaughtered in circumstances which are entirely unclear, and the west is about to launch (in our case without parliamentary approval with the prime minister acting from a beach in Cornwall) a military attack with entirely unforseen consequences on Damascus.
There is a “Wag the Dog” element about this, and indeed the war of President Clinton’s penis satirised in that masterful award-winning movie has already proved a handy diversion from Egypt before its even started.
It is entirely implausible that the Syrian regime chose the moment of the arrival of a UN chemical weapons inspection team to launch a chemical attack on an insurgency already suffering reverse after reverse on the battlefield and steadily losing international support with each new video showing them eating the hearts of slain soldiery and sawing of the heads of Christian priests with bread knives.
In the absence of conclusive evidence one would have to believe that the Assad regime was mad as well as bad to have launched such a chemical attack at a time when it is in less danger than it has been for almost a year. I do not believe that Bashar is mad.
There is ample evidence that the Syrian rag-tag-and-bobtail insurgency, dominated by the most extreme fanatic franchises of Al Qaeda, has access to chemical weapons, indeed any weapons the rag-tag-and-bobtail coalition behind them can get to them.
The US has a long history of using such weapons – and worse – and not just in SE Asia. In the destruction of Fallujah in next door Iraq they slaughtered thousands with the same kind of cocktails.
Israel regularly shares its own chemical weapons stockpile with their neighbours in Gaza. Check the pictures of phosphorous gas raining down upon the UN schools and hospitals in Operation Cast Lead if you don’t believe me.
Britain introduced chemical weapons to the middle east in the first place, dropping gas on the “uncivilised tribes” of Iraq in the 1920s and wondering in parliament “what all the fuss was about”.
Does anyone believe that the foul dictatorships of the Gulf – like Saudi Arabia – wouldn’t give the Syrian rebels some of their chemical weapons? Especially if the purpose was to draw the big powers into the war?
Does anyone believe that a Syrian rebel army whose vile atrocities abound on YouTube wouldn’t use them, for the same purpose?
So now we wait for the summer-surprise attack on yet another Arab country by the former colonial powers. Another summer, another Muslim country under murderous bombardment by the last people on the planet whose motives are trusted by anyone in the Muslim world.
Meanwhile, the money, and the weapons, keep on flowing to the Egyptian junta. The blood of some people, as always, turning out to be of far greater consequence than the blood of others…
George Galloway MP
House of Commons
Design by Gayatri
As the death toll mounts and the pile of lifeless children grows higher the same old suspects loom into view.
The Bush and Blair Corporation formerly known as the BBC plumbs new depths though. Three Israelis are “killed” whilst twenty times that number of Palestinians have “died” with the former of course deserving first billing in the story. I knew that Palestinian blood was cheap, just not quite that cheap.
Sky News (my phone IS on guys?) play follow the leader, Rupert Murdoch, dementedly tweeting his slavering support for Israel’s murderous attack.
Little Willie Hague the bon vivant Foreign Secretary takes to the floor of the House (as opposed to Geoffrey Archer’s) to dispatch verbal gunboats bearing “Great” Britain’s peremptory demands; foremost of which is that the victims of the mass murder must stop their aggressive behaviour. Even Gilbert&Sullivan couldn’t make it up.
The moral vacuum that is President Barak Obama says the same. That’s Obama who “couldn’t look at Netanyahu’s face” (as he conveyed to Sarkozy and millions more via an unguarded microphone) whose presidency the Israel lobby tried so hard to destroy. Obama who has no more need of any lobby, need raise no more campaign billions, who knows the truth but continues to tell the lies. Of them all it is of him for whom I feel most ashamed.
Then there’s the middle east “peace envoy” ( now THAT’s going well, huh?) the war criminal Tony Blair. Not since Caligula appointed his horse a pro-consul of Rome has there been a more grotesque appointment than that of Mr Blair as a middle-east “peace envoy”. Dripping in blood (pockets stuffed with blood money) from head to foot having climbed to his pinnacle over a mountain of dead middle-easterners. Blair too is very clear about it; its Hamas what is to blame!
As I once told a Sky News interviewer during an earlier part of the war six years ago (Anna…my phone IS on?) this crisis didn’t start when Sky news turned up…
Israel is murdering Palestinian women and children because there is Palestinian resistance in Gaza.
There is Palestinian resistance in Gaza because the 1.5 million people, mainly refugees, who live in Gaza have been under siege for more than five years, totally blockaded in what David Cameron called a “huge prison camp”, to punish the people there for how they voted in a free election. For Hamas.
The people are refugees because their country, Palestine, has been wiped off the map. Thirteen million Palestinians now live under siege, or illegal occupation, in illegally annexed territory, as third class “citizens” in what they call Israel, or in their millions as refugees and exiles outside of their country. The vast majority have no passports, papers, status, rights, or hope. What they do have are the titles to the houses and lands from which their families were driven by “Israelis. And they have their eternal legal and moral right to return to their homes.
The Palestinians could have resigned themselves to the destruction of their society by “superior” western, European, settlers more than sixty years ago. They could have quietly entered the museum of “Ex” nations. We could today be visiting that museum, viewing their garments in the glass cases, lamenting their lost culture.
But they refused to go quietly into that good night. They still exist because they resist. They will not be quiet. They will not surrender. Even if abandoned by the rotten rancid corrupt cowards who rule virtually every Arab regime. Even if abandoned by the so-called “Jihadists” who are too busy murdering other Arabs and Muslims to notice the Palestinian blood and tears running in rivers right by them. Even if every last western journalist, feasting upon their suffering turns their face away. As long as 100 Palestinians remain alive they will never surrender their rights.
Friends of “Israel”; know this. As long as there is no justice there will be no peace. As long as there is no peace in the middle-east there will be no peace in the world. You have been warned.
[George Galloway MP]
On this day in 1983 the Reverend Jesse Jackson embarked on his first attempt to win the presidency of the United States of America. Before then, it was an impossible dream. Twenty years before, black people in America had to sit at the back of the bus, piss in a separate pot – indeed a separate washroom – eat at a different lunch counter, go to a separate school, almost never go to university.
Black people in America scarcely ever voted, found it hard to get registered to vote. Outright racists, segregationists, like Governor George Wallace were pillars of the Democratic Party. Places like Mississippi were still burning with Ku Klux Klan fiery crosses, strange fruit – lynched black men – still twisted and turned whilst hanging from southern trees.
The Reverend Jackson’s electrifying run for president that year began to change all that for good. His three million votes in that campaign and his six million votes in 1988 directly paved the way to the presidency of Barak Obama. After Jesse Jackson – who would have made a better president than Obama – there was no turning back, for African-Americans, for the Democrats, for the United States of America.
Thus his endorsement this very day of Lee Jasper our Respect candidate for the forthcoming Croydon West by-election in South-West London is worth his weight in gold for us. That Jesse Jackson is following our democratic rising against the politics of austerity, neo-liberal economics, imperialism, occupation and war is a compliment in itself. That he rates our candidate Lee Jasper so highly is not only a vindication of our choice but might be worth serious numbers of votes too.
We have been attacked, as always, this time for “targeting” black voters (24% of the total electorate), making a change from the usual charge that we are “targeting” Muslim voters – there are 10,000 of those in the constituency. Except we are being attacked for “targeting” those voters too.
Of course the only sense in which we are “targeting” either is that we are asking them to vote for us.
Every party “targets” the voters they think most likely to respond to their policies, don’t they?
So what are our policies, and why would black (Christian, Hindu, Sikh) and Muslim voters be most likely to respond to what we stand for?
Well, Respect is the anti-racist party in Britain. New Labour (renamed by the criminal Tony Blair) the right-wing Conservatives and their peculiar bed-fellows the Liberal-Democrats have all played the racist card in recent years, issuing forth their “dog-whistle” pitch in an attempt to attract the “Little Englander”, “hunt the immigrant”,” scapegoat the Muslim” section of the electorate and ahem, curry favour with the rabid yellow press which whips such sentiments up.
Respect is the anti-war party in Britain. It emerged out of the great movement against the Afghan and Iraq wars, when millions marched against these catastrophes and were betrayed by their parliamentarians. Respect opposes all British imperial wars. New Labour, the Conservatives, and the Liberal Democrats continue to support what they have now re-named the “mission” in Afghanistan, even though the public in overwhelming number oppose it. Britain has neither the blood or the treasure to waste on the plains of Afghanistan where so many other occupation armies have bled and suffered only later, too much later, been forced to withdraw in ignominy.
Respect is the anti-austerity party in Britain. We reject the idea that the working people and the poor, the unemployed, the pensioners, the young people, should pay the price of capitalist failure and bankers’ greed. All the other parties support the savage cuts in public spending and the services the money funds. We say, reverse these cuts; the working people have already paid. Many are suffering from the freezing blasts of austerity. Black and minority ethnic communities are suffering the most.
My victory in the Bradford West by-election six months ago – the biggest swing in British post-war history – when Respect won a landslide victory with a majority in the “safe” Labour seat of over ten thousand votes showed that nowhere is “safe” any more for the parties of austerity and war. That a politics of democratic insurgency has been born, and that Britain is not immune from the radicalisation sweeping mainland Europe, Latin America, the Arab world and beyond.
The attacks upon us – and the campaign hasn’t even officially started – are a clear sign that the lamestream political class and their mouthpieces in the media are running scared. As well they might be. When all they have to offer is more blood, more pain, more poverty, why shouldn’t they be scared that the people, if offered a better way, might just choose it.
[George Galloway MP]
If you can help Respect’s Croydon campaign, with financial donations or in any other way, please contact us at www.respectparty.org
Comandante Che Guevara Lynch
Born June 14th 1928
Murdered 8th October 1967
45 Years Remembered
Che Guevara was one of the men of the 20th century. Born in Argentina (with the blood of Irish rebels flowing through his veins as his father said) he played a leading role with Comandante Raul Castro and Comandante Camillo Cienfuegos under the leadership of Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro in the liberation of Cuba from fascistic dictatorship.
He helped build the socialist foundations of Cuba as Minister for the Economy and Governor of the Bank of Cuba.
He participated in the military defence of Vietnam against US imperialism and fought by the side of the greatest of all African leaders Patrice Lumumba (later assassinated by the imperialists) in the Congo.
Che Guevara led an uprising of the Bolivian revolution against dictatorship and in October 1967 he was captured by the forces of reaction and, after consultation with Washington, murdered by the agent Mario Teran on the orders of the CIA.
Sensing his assassin’s cowardice Che told him “What are you waiting for?” – “Kill me now, I am only a man”.
Seldom can the word “only” have been less appropriate.
Mario Teran and all of the servants of the CIA who participated in the murder of Che Guevara met with revolutionary justice; each and every one of them being consigned to early and violent deaths.
The blood of Guevara watered the earth of Bolivia which fructified in the victory of the Bolivian revolution under the leadership of Evo Morales.
Che Guevara never died in truth, his face his spirit and his sacrifice are to be found throughout the world wherever the flags of freedom fly.
Hasta Siempre Comandante. Hasta la Victoria Siempre.
Comandante Che Guevara: Presente!
George Galloway MP
October 8th 2012