Friday, June 05, 2009

House Points: Tony Benn and pirate radio

My House Points column from today's Liberal Democrat News. I had meant to compare Tony Benn to Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova and Steve Davis, who all became wildly popular once they started to lose sometimes, but Margaret Rutherford and Oliver Smedley rather took over.

...that was Cream with “White Room"

We find the bogeymen of the recent past comforting. In Monday’s debate on illegal radio broadcasts both the MP who called it and the minister who replied emphasised that these modern stations are nothing like the pirate ships of the 1960s.

Yet in the sixties the pirates were not so cuddly. Oliver Smedley, one of the more colourful Liberal candidates of the period and the man behind Radio Atlanta, was tried for murder after shooting the owner of a rival station. He claimed self-defence and was acquitted.

You would not know it from Richard Curtis’s recent film, but the minister who sank the pirate ships was Tony Benn – or Anthony Wedgwood Benn, as he then called himself.

Benn is himself a beneficiary of this phenomenon. Once seen as a dangerous demagogue, today he occupies a place in the nation’s affections somewhere between Alan Bennett and the late Queen Mother.

He is seen as a great eccentric. So it is no surprise that he is a distant cousin of Margaret Rutherford – a stalwart in such roles in post-war British films. It runs in the family: Margaret's father murdered his own father (who was Tony Benn's great-grandfather) by banging him repeatedly on the head with a chamber-pot.

But is Tony Benn entitled to this status? Do the sweet young things who hang upon his words about global warming know that when a minister in the 1970s he forced through the construction of the coal-burning Drax power station?

Or take his party piece. There are five questions we should ask politicians: “What power have you got? Where did you get it from? In whose interests do you use it? To whom are you accountable? How do we get rid of you?”

That is not what he said when he met Saddam Hussein in 2003:
"I have 10 grandchildren and in my family there is English, Scottish, American, French, Irish, Jewish, Indian, Muslim blood, and for me politics is about their future, their survival. And I wonder whether you could say something yourself directly through this interview to the peace movement of the world that might help to advance the cause they have in mind?"
But now it’s time for Traffic with “40,000 Headmen”...


Blognor Regis said...

Cream's White Room released October 1968, pirates shut down August 1967. (Apart from the fugitive Radio London.) Sorry. I had a hunch because, IIRC, the final Perfumed Garden's few psych tunes are some Procul Harem and Sgt Pepper. There's a lot of proto psych in the form of San Fran blues.

Anyway, sorry. Always a joy to hear the tale of chamber pot though.

Jonathan Calder said...

The pirate ships on Rutland Water kept going for longer.

At least I got Traffic into Lib Dem News.