“Having served for nearly half a century in the House of Commons, I now want more time to devote to politics and more freedom to do so.”
The proud socialist and prolific diarist Tony Benn has died. There are tributes aplenty across the web already, including some of his best quotations over at New Statesman. In the 15 years since retiring from Parliament Benn had become a regular on the book festival circuit and was always a big draw with his combination of erudition, wit and passion. He’ll be sadly missed.
Although at the time he was questioning the “closed list” system of candidates for election, his speech on 19th November 1998 will probably become his best known for a summary of his attitude to politicians and power as one we should all keep in mind.
“The House will forgive me for quoting five democratic questions that I have developed during my life. If one meets a powerful person — Rupert Murdoch, perhaps, or Joe Stalin or Hitler — one can ask five questions: what power do you have; where did you get it; in whose interests do you exercise it; to whom are you accountable; and, how can we get rid of you? Anyone who cannot answer the last of those questions does not live in a democratic system”
[Hansard 16 Nov 1998 : Column 685]