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Two Tonys - Benn and Blair: one ignited a flame in our hearts, the other set fire to Iraq

Who best served the two flames burning in the human heart: the flame of anger against injustice, and the flame of hope you can build a better world? Tony Blair? Or Tony Benn?

This article was originally published in March 2014, a week after Tony Benn died, and when Tony Blair was still the so-called 'peace envoy' for the Middle East.

AFTER the death of Tony Benn, at the age of 88, the world is a little bit darker place, says Derrick O'Keefe. A shining light of progressive politics has passed away:

Tony Benn spent his final years supporting grassroots, activist campaigns, while Tony Blair has spent his years since leaving office rubbing shoulders with dictators and oligarchs – often as a highly paid consultant to venal and powerful figures. Benn will be remembered kindly by history; Blair will go down in infamy as a war criminal.

Where is Tony Blair today?

Tony Blair was last sighted flying his £30 billion private jet to Israel, still banging the drums for illegal wars and intervention in other people's countries, whether it be Syria, Iran or Ukraine. In Matt Carr's words, "Blair took his country to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, supported Israel’s wars in Lebanon and Gaza, and has never yet seen a war that he did not support".

Blair has amassed over £70 million since he left office in 2007, mostly from "consultation" contracts with dictators, despots and merchant bankers. The latest addition to his ill-gotten pot is £3 million he wheedled out of the US aid budget for Africa.

Tony Blair cannot travel anywhere in the world without fearing that there will be an attempt at a citizen's arrest to have him held to account for his Iraq war crimes which have slaughtered one million Iraqis and devasted the country.

Tony Benn very rarely attacked individual politicians, famously insisting that it was issues, not personalities, that counted in politics. But a rare exception was what he said shortly before he died about Tony Blair:

"What he did was to commit a war crime. There's no question about that. He gave a private assurance to Bush that, if Bush wanted to attack Iraq, he would support him."

It is unlikely that Tony Blair was thinking of Tony Benn's call for him to be brought to trial for war crimes when he commented on his death:

"Tony Benn was one of those rare things - a genuine radical for all his life. He was a fearless campaigner and a legendary figure for the Labour movement. Even when I disagreed with him, I always had enormous respect for his brilliance, his passion and his commitment to the people of Britain and of the world."

The legacy of Tony Benn

Tony Benn died on 14 March 2014 but his memory will live in the hearts of all those who want to see a peaceful and just world. Far from having little influence on politics and change, as some claimed,

He was in the forefront of opposing wars, apartheid, racism and sexism. In this he was often in advance of establishment opinion, but equally often in agreement with public opinion. He was loved precisely because he did articulate views shared by many outside the corridors of power.

Lindsey German, convenor of Stop the War Coalition, wrote in her obituary of Tony Benn:

"Everywhere you went with Tony, people came up and spoke to him. Doormen, taxi drivers, shopkeepers and just people in the street wanted to shake his hand. He was loved by millions for his straightforward talking and for his opinions, which chimed more with theirs than the mainstream politicians."

As Gary Younge wrote, "The two things that stood out were his optimism and his persistence. He believed that people were inherently decent and that they could work together to make the world a better place – and he was prepared to join them in that work wherever they were."

And Tony Benn was very clear about how he wanted to be commemorated:

"I would like to be remembered for having encouraged people. It sounds very innocent, but if you have given people confidence that they can do something, that is a real achievement. I look back and think: “Have I always explained things to people truthfully? Have I always said what I meant and meant what I said?” And as a result of that, have I encouraged people to have confidence in themselves? All I would want on my gravestone would be: ‘Here Lies Tony Benn: He Encouraged Us.’"

He summed up his political career with these words:

From the beginning of time there have been two flames burning in the human heart. The flame of anger against injustice, and the flame of hope you can build a better world. And my job is to go round fanning both flames.

Our job, and the best commemoration there can be for Tony Benn, is to carry that same flame. His undying legacy will be in our commitment to organise, fight injustice and campaign for peace.


Tony Benn Night 2015

This year's annual TONY BENN NIGHT, remembering the great campaigner for peace and justice who inspired and encouraged us, takes place in London on 8 November. Tickets for a night of music, comedy and speeches cost just £5. BOOK NOW...

Source: Stop the War Coalition

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