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If you think all the big political parties are the same - you're right! The bosses have got three parties - isn't it about time we had one of our own?
Tony Benn evades the issue
Tony Benn can still draw a crowd. Over 200 students packed into a recent Stop the War Society meeting at University College London to hear him speak.
The meeting aimed to mobilise students to attend the 8 October anti-war demonstration and it certainly assisted that. But Benn's strategy for the way forward was disappointing.
Benn said that ours is the first generation that has at its fingertips, through the development of technology, the means to solve the world's problems. But the problem, he explained, is one of control. And that is why it is important to vote – if everybody voted we would have the most radical government ever.
He is right, of course, that while the means to solve all the world's problems exist, the vast majority of us do not control those means. Most of the world's wealth and resources are in the hands of a tiny minority.
And he is right in implying that masses of ordinary people are to the left of the government. But it is wrong to conclude that if we all voted in the next election we would have a radical government. All the main parties are much the same, and as long as they are the only candidates, we will not get a radical government.
At that time it looked like a general election was on the cards. Tony Benn told the meeting he was considering standing again as a Labour candidate (for Kensington, where he lives).
From the floor, I challenged him on this. All the main parties are parties of cuts, privatisation and war; they all support a system where the wealth is sucked up to the tops of society.
Under Gordon Brown, the Labour party's already almost non-existent democracy has been virtually eradicated. If Tony Benn is to stand for parliament again, wouldn't it be better if he stood as an independent, anti-war, anti-cuts candidate, using the election to help rally all those opposed to war, cuts and privatisation, as a step towards forming a new party that would stand in the interests of ordinary working people?
Benn could have allowed genuine discussion by putting forward his case for socialists staying in the Labour Party to try to reclaim it. He opted instead for ridicule, deliberately misrepresenting what had been put to him by listing all the left groups he could think of and trying to raise a laugh from his student audience.
I interjected to say he could play a part in drawing together different forces, not just political groups, but striking postal workers, other trade unionists, community campaigners etc. But Benn dismissed this by saying that you cannot build a party around an individual.
Of course checks and controls on any leaders or public figures by a genuinely democratic party are essential. But prominent individuals can be important in promoting and inspiring new developments. Benn only needs to look to Oskar Lafontaine who is spearheading Germany's new Left Party or to Keir Hardie in forming the early Labour Party in Britain.
Bob Crow, leader of the RMT railworkers' union, has rightly declared that the Labour Party is finished as a workers' party and that there needs to be a new party. The RMT is considering standing a list of candidates in next May's Greater London Assembly elections.
The Campaign for a New Workers Party advocates a broad anti-cuts, anti-privatisation list, with the RMT at its head, but drawing in other trade unionists, campaigners and socialists. The RMT's London regional council has now supported just such a proposal, put forward by a CNWP supporter.
A serious debate is taking place about the need for a new party in meetings, workplaces, pubs and at breakfast tables countrywide. The process towards one will not be straightforward but genuine dialogue is needed. Unfortunately, by choosing to ridicule rather than discuss, Tony Benn is throwing away the potential role he could play.