Tony Benn

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I think democracy is the most revolutionary thing in the world.
There is no moral difference between a stealth bomber and a suicide bomber. Both kill innocent people for political reasons.
A faith is something you die for, a doctrine is something you kill for. There is all the difference in the world.

Anthony Neil Wedgwood Benn (3 April 192514 March 2014), known between 1960 and 1963 as Viscount Stansgate, was a British Labour Party politician and diarist who served as a Cabinet minister in the 1960s and 1970s. He was the Member of Parliament for Bristol South East and Chesterfield for 47 of the 51 years between 1950 and 2001. He later served as President of the Stop the War Coalition from 2001 to 2014.




  • I must tell the House quite frankly that if I were confronted with a Japanese at this present moment and were asked to tell him that I believed that he was wrong in the treatment of those British prisoners in his hands, I could not but accept a similar criticism from him on the question of the atom bomb. I should be quite unable to avoid it. I am afraid I must say on the question of principle here involved—this question of moral principle—that I believe it to be humbug, when so many people, women, children, old folk, were killed by the atom bombs at Nagasaki and Hiroshima. For every individual photograph that could be produced of a wounded and battered British prisoner of war in Japanese hands, I think one could find an equally horrible photograph of a victim of the atomic bomb. [Interruption.] An hon. Friend of mine says that the two things are not comparable. I do not myself believe that it is possible to draw any distinctions in war between the brutalities on both sides.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (10 May 1951)
  • With inherited liberal principles, I feel that the free movement of all people is a good thing and one to be encouraged. ... The Declaration of Human Rights has for one of its Articles the right of the human being to take a nationality, to change it, and not to be denied the right arbitrarily to change it. I realise it is not as easy as that, but most of the difficulties are definable difficulties based on facts and situations which the economic planners now available to Government Departments should be able to grasp and measure. I believe that the basic problem which prevents more immigration is an economic one. ... [T]here is a nearer approach to the ideal of universal admission in the United States than there is here. I think we could learn something from that. ... If we were to work out some form of migration policy based on these lines we would be doing some service to that free movement of populations which is a vital prerequisite to understanding in all parts of the world.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (26 July 1951)
  • The stars were just out and the crowd were laughing and joking but underneath it all was the tragedy of 6 million dead in the gas chambers and the miracle of a home for Jews after 1,900 years of pogrom and ghetto.
  • It is we, on this side, who object to dreams of empire, because we think in terms of free association and we believe that the empire that was built up was based on force and domination by this country.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (13 September 1956)
  • There can be no greater friend of Israel in this House than I am. I say that quite sincerely. I have pressed that Israel should have arms in the present situation. I believe that if ever there was a case for it, it is today, with the massive supply of Russian war materials now going into Egypt, and that Israel should have more arms at once.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (13 September 1956)


  • [T]he Treaty of Rome which entrenches laissez-faire as its philosophy and chooses Bureaucracy as its administrative method will stultify effective national economic planning without creating the necessary supranational planning mechanisms for growth and social justice under democratic control. ... [T]he political inspiration of the EEC amounts to a belief in the institutionalisation of NATO, which will harden the division of Europe and encourage the emergence of a new nuclear superpower, thus worsening East–West relations and making disarmament more difficult.
  • [O]n balance Britain would have far less influence on world events if she were inside [the EEC] than she could have if she remained outside.
    • Encounter (January 1963), quoted in Ruth Winstone (ed.), Best of Benn: Speeches, Diaries, Letters and Other Writings (Arrow, 2015), pp. 21, 22
  • Even relatively benign and temporary authoritarianism that rests upon elected power is being challenged. We are moving rapidly towards a situation where the pressure for the redistribution of political power will have to be faced as a major political issue. In a world where authoritarianism of the left or right is a very real possibility, the question of whether ordinary people can govern themselves by consent is still on trial—as it always has been, and always will be. Beyond parliamentary democracy as we know it, we shall have to find a new popular democracy to replace it.
    • Speech to the Welsh Council of Labour (25 May 1968), quoted in The Times (27 May 1968), p. 2


  • The flag of racialism which has been hoisted in Wolverhampton is beginning to look like the one that fluttered 25 years ago over Dachau and Belsen.
    • Speech at Students for a Labour Victory rally, referring to Enoch Powell who was MP for Wolverhampton South West, Methodist Central Hall, London (3 June 1970), as quoted in "Onslaught on Powell by Wedgwood Benn" by Denis Taylor in The Times (4 June 1970), p. 1
  • Change from below, the formulation of demands from the populace to end unacceptable injustice, supported by direct action, has played a far larger part in shaping British democracy than most constitutional lawyers, political commentators, historians or statesmen have ever cared to admit. Direct action in a democratic society is fundamentally an educational exercise.
    • In New Politics (1970)
  • The demand for more popular power is building up most insistently in industry, and the pressure for industrial democracy has now reached such a point that a major change is now inevitable, at some stage. What is happening is not just a respectful request for consultation before management promulgates its decisions. Workers are not going to be fobbed off with a few shares...or by a carbon copy of the German system of co-determination. The campaign is very gradually crystallizing into a demand for real workers' control. However revolutionary the phrase may sound; however many Trotskyite bogeys it may conjure up, that is what is being demanded and that is what we had better start thinking about.
    • 'Towards workers' control', The Times (5 September 1970), p. 12
  • Workers now have, through interdependence, enormous negative power to dislocate the system. Workers' control—if it means the power to plan their own work and to hire and fire the immediate plant management just as M.P.s are now hired and fired by the voters—converts that existing negative power into positive and constructive power. It thus creates the basis of common interest with local managers struggling to make a success of the business and to get devolved authority from an over-centralized bureaucratic board of management now perhaps sitting on them from above.
    • 'Towards workers' control', The Times (5 September 1970), p. 12
  • We want industry to be in the public sector, to change the power structure of our society...We have not yet carved out of public enterprise a wide enough area of management decision which ought properly to be brought within the ambit of the workers themselves.
    • Speech in Brighton (6 October 1971)
  • [M]en who would rather go to jail than betray what they believe to be their duty to their fellow workers and the principles which they hold.
    • From an issued statement from Mr. Benn on five dockers imprisoned for contempt of court (21 July 1972), cited in Jad Adams Tony Benn: A Biography (2011 ed.) p. 9
  • [The first principle of British democracy is] our prime duty to each other and to what our conscience tells us to be right. If this leads individuals into conflict with the law, those individuals must be ready to take the consequences non-violently. In our democracy no man should tell another man to break the law, nor should any man break the law to by-pass Parliament. But a person who is punished for breaking an unjust law may if he is sincere and his cause wins public sympathy, create a public demand to have that unjust law changed through Parliament. This is the first and most fundamental principle of British democracy. It has a deep moral significance. Our religious and political liberties rest upon it.
    • Speech in Bristol (4 August 1972), quoted in The Times (5 August 1972), p. 2
  • [The third principle of British democracy was that national sovereignty belonged to the people.] We lend it to our representatives to use for five years at a time. ... Any Government or MP pretending to give away these sovereign powers without the explicit consent of the people is acting unconstitutionally. Laws that pretend to take away these powers permanently have no moral authority. ... [Heath's government] will fail because they are trying to act contrary to centuries of British tradition. The people will not have it. But the resistance that is building up is not, in any sense, revolutionary.
    • Speech in Bristol (4 August 1972), quoted in The Times (5 August 1972), p. 2
  • Britain is the only colony in the British Empire and it is up to us now to liberate ourselves.
    • Speech to the Labour Party Conference in Blackpool (2 October 1972); Labour Party Annual Conference Report (1972), p. 103
  • I sometimes wish the trade unionists who work in the mass media, those who are writers and broadcasters and secretaries and printers and lift operators of Thomson House would remember that they too are members of our working class movement and have a responsibility to see that what is said about us is true.
    • Chairman's closing address to the Labour Party Conference in Blackpool (6 October 1972); Labour Party Annual Conference Report 1972, p. 349


  • [The Conservatives' Industry Act contains] the most comprehensive armoury of government control that has ever been assembled for use over private industry, far exceeding all the powers thought necessary by the last Labour government...Heath has performed a very important historical role in preparing for the fundamental and irreversible transfer in the balance of power and wealth which has to take place...The whole nature of the mixed economy operating on market forces has been transformed by this quiet revolution in a way that is not yet fully appreciated.
    • 'Heath's spadework for socialism', The Sunday Times (25 March 1973), p. 61
  • The 1973 Labour Conference will have before it the most radical programme the Party has prepared since 1945.
    • 'More equality and more democracy', The Times (1 October 1973), p. 16
  • The fines on the engineering union and the heavy damages that may be levied against the transport union go well beyond questions of economic policy and strike at the roots of free trade unionism. Conscientious objection to the law is not a criminal act. It is not the same as an attempt to overturn the Government and set up a new one, without elections, by the direct use of industrial strength.
  • It takes powers which are permanent—this is not a temporary provisions Bill—and cover all fuels. I welcome the Bill because it will enable a Labour Government to do all they want under Labour's programme for Britain...It will give us the power to control all the oil companies, all the multi-nationals, to fix their prices and their distribution systems; and under these powers every other fuel and its use, including the chemical industry, will be brought within the control of the Government of the day. This will include road transport and private transport.
  • [Edward Heath], who sold out Britain's interests to the Common Market and gave our sovereignty away without our consent—with support of Mr Thorpe and the Liberals—is not entitled to wave the Union Jack to get himself out of the mess.
    • Speech in Bristol (30 November, 1973), quoted in ' 'Democracy in danger' warning by Mr Benn', The Times (1 December, 1973), pp. 1-2
  • In developing our industrial strategy for the period ahead, we have the benefit of much experience. Almost everything has been tried at least once...The one constant element throughout this long history of policy has been the fact that these alternatives have been largely centrally decided and imposed and have been seen as problems of economics and management rather than as problems of politics and consent...Any constructive long-term industrial strategy must be developed by the longer, slower route of real consultation and power sharing, all done more openly. There is no alternative.
  • What we lack in Government is entrepreneurial ability.
    • Speech in London (6 June 1974)
  • This huge Commission building in Brussels, in the shape of a cross, is absolutely un-British. I felt as if I were going as a slave to Rome; the whole relationship was wrong. Here was I, an elected man who could be removed, doing a job, and here were these people with more power than I had and no accountability to anybody...My visit confirmed in a practical way all my suspicions that this would be the decapitation of British democracy without any countervailing advantage, and the British people, quite rightly, wouldn't accept it. There is no real benefit for Britain.
    • Diary entry (18 June 1974), quoted from Against the Tide. Diaries 1973-1976 (London: Hutchinson, 1989), pp. 180–182
  • Britain's continuing membership of the Community would mean the end of Britain as a completely self-governing nation and the end of our democratically elected Parliament as the supreme law making body in the United Kingdom.
    • Letter to Bristol constituents (29 December 1974), reprinted in Tony Benn, 'The Common Market: Loss of Self-Government', in M. Holmes (ed.), The Eurosceptical Reader (Springer, 2016), p. 38


  • We have come to the end of a chapter in our industrial history. The industrial system to which the Tory Party adheres—at least officially and in its manifestos—has failed us. ... It is no use blaming working people or the unions if they have to work in ancient factories with obsolete equipment producing old-fashioned goods at unecomonic prices and earning low wages as well. Working people not only are not responsible for the weakness of British manufacturing industry. They have hitherto been denied the tools and tackle that they needed to put it right. ... We have got to make a fresh start now. We have got to get investment up, and to get it up as soon as we can. If the market economy cannot or will not give us that investment, we must do it direct.
  • If I had rescued a child from drowning, the national press would no doubt have headlined the story “Benn grabs child.”
    • Remarks to the National Executive Committee (26 February 1975), quoted in The Times (27 February 1975), p. 3 and The Times (28 June 1999), p. 3
  • We have confused the real issue of parliamentary democracy, for already there has been a fundamental change. The power of electors over their law-makers has gone, the power of MPs over Ministers has gone, the role of Ministers has changed. The real case for entry has never been spelled out, which is that there should be a fully federal Europe in which we become a province. It hasn't been spelled out because people would never accept it. We are at the moment on a federal escalator, moving as we talk, going towards a federal objective we do not wish to reach. In practice, Britain will be governed by a European coalition government that we cannot change, dedicated to a capitalist or market economy theology. This policy is to be sold to us by projecting an unjustified optimism about the Community, and an unjustified pessimism about the United Kingdom, designed to frighten us in. Jim quoted Benjamin Franklin, so let me do the same: "He who would give up essential liberty for a little temporary security deserves neither safety nor liberty." The Common Market will break up the UK because there will be no valid argument against an independent Scotland, with its own Ministers and Commissioner, enjoying Common Market membership. We shall be choosing between the unity of the UK and the unity of the EEC. It will impose appalling strains on the Labour movement...I believe that we want independence and democratic self-government, and I hope the Cabinet in due course will think again.
    • Speech given in the Cabinet meeting to discuss Britain's membership of the EEC, as recorded in his diary (18 March 1975), Against the Tide. Diaries 1973-1976 (London: Hutchinson, 1989), pp. 346-347
  • The industrial crisis now facing Britain is far deeper than is generally appreciated; and so therefore the scale and scope of the national industrial strategy needed to overcome it is correspondingly greater. ... It is no exaggeration to say that Britain's whole future depends upon major investment in the expansion and reequipment of our manufacturing plants, aimed at restoring British industry to a competitive position in world and home markets. Such an investment programme will be a huge and lengthy task. It would involve us as a nation in spending some £6,000m a year on capital investment in manufacturing, double what we have been spending.
    • Article for Trade and Industry, quoted in The Times (4 April 1975), p. 1
  • He has a deep contempt for Britain, the British people and parliamentary democracy. He is trying to climb back to power via the Treaty of Rome, and put Britain under government from Brussels for ever. In 1970 Mr Heath solemnly promised that he would not take Britain into the Common Market without the full-hearted consent of the British people. He broke his pledged word then, and he now says he will not accept a 'No' vote on Thursday. Heath promised more jobs and higher living standards inside the EEC. These promises were all broken, and he now tells us we are so poor we cannot come out; beggars can't be choosers. That is false, too. Heath's leadership has been a total disaster for the British people. The Tory Party threw him out.
    • Speech at an anti-EEC rally (3 June 1975), quoted in 'Heath attack by Mr Benn', The Times (4 June 1975), p. 6
  • Through me the energy policy of the whole Common Market is being held up. Without opening old wounds, it pleases me no end.
    • On not attending an EEC meeting in order to attend a Labour rally (12 December 1975), quoted in 'Mr Benn delays EEC meeting', The Times (13 December, 1975), p. 1


  • [Written shortly after the death of Mao Zedong (the older Mao Tse Tung transliteration is used in the source)] In my opinion, he will undoubtedly be regarded as one of the greatest — if not the greatest — figures of the twentieth century: a schoolteacher who transformed China, released it from civil war and foreign attack and constructed a new society there. His influence throughout the world has been immense, based to some extent on power I suppose, but also on his tremendous achievements ... [H]e certainly towers above any other twentieth century figure I can think of in his philosophical contribution and his military genius.
  • When we have a majority we will do it. I think the days of the Lords are quite genuinely numbered.
    • On Independent Radio News (12 November 1976), quoted in The Times (13 November 1976), p. 2
  • Anyone from abroad will tell you that it is the class system that really lies at the root of our problems, economic and industrial. The House of Lords symbolises that.
    • As quoted in Yorkshire Post (22 November 1976)
  • It is an indisputable historical fact...that Marxism has, from the earliest days, always been openly accepted by the party as one of many sources of inspiration within our movement, along with—though much less influential than—Christian Socialism, Fabianism, Owenism, trade unionism, or even radical Liberalism. Marxism is not synonymous with communism and it is not true that there is growing up in the Labour Party a dominant group which believes in violent revolution, the one-party state and suppression of democratic rights.
    • Statement for Labour's National Executive Committee in defence of Andy Bevan, a Marxist who had been appointed Labour's National Youth Officer, quoted in The Times (16 December 1976), p. 14
  • If Parliament, public and press have now braced themselves to accept the plain and obvious truth that Cabinet discussions are interesting, vigorous and sometimes revolve around alternative policies, why should even the disclosure of an outline of the points at issue—while these discussions are in progress—be guarded against so relentlessly and so ineffectively from any risk of publicity? ... Secrecy in decision-making does not occur by accident or default. It is because knowledge is power, and no government willingly gives up power to the Commons, the public, or anyone else. Open government would disclose more about the processes of decision-making, including the workings of the Cabinet committee system, reveal the roles of officials and advisers, and involve both admitting and encouraging pressure upon ministers. ... If parliamentary democracy is, as I believe, a unique system of government, partly because it allows us to learn from our own mistakes in time to correct them, the raw material of that experience must be made available in time to use it for that purpose.
    • Speech to a Press Gallery luncheon (14 February 1977), quoted in The Times (15 February 1977), p. 4
  • North Sea oil could be a mask which conceals the decline of our economy. Don't think it will necessarily solve our problems. Britain was in a process of de-industrialization and it was essential that the revenue from oil should be used for reinvestment in industry. I have seen industry after industry in this country upon which our living standards rest going down because of the lack of investment. I have seen it in shipbuilding, aircraft, machine tools, the motor industry, motor cycles and electronics. Public investment and ownership were critical parts of the recovery of a society whose living standards and public service rested upon manufacturers.
    • Speech to the annual conference of the London Co-operative Society's Political Committee (16 October 1977), quoted in The Times (17 October 1977), p. 17


  • [T]he Opposition [Conservative Party] have consistently resisted, from the time when they were in office until now, any extension of British control over oil in the North Sea. ... The development of the North Sea is going on apace. But we believe that it is right that the British people should have a growing share in the benefits of the North Sea. ... It passes my understanding why a party which used to pretend to speak for the national interest should regularly denounce any extension of British control and ownership of the oil in the continental shelf.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (5 April 1978)
  • He said he did not approach the EMS proposal in a theological way. In his view the West German Government wanted it in order to cripple their competitors; the French wanted it because they wished to be equal to the Germans; and the EEC commissioners wanted it because they believed in a federal Europe. "It would mean that a British government could only get permission to devalue, if we wanted to, if we made big cuts in public expenditure. It would be quite impossible to implement Labour's Programme, 1976 and party conference decisions if we went into EMS. We ought to make it clear...that we are not prepared to go into it and we would veto it if it was not in the national interest."
    • Remarks during the joint meeting of the Cabinet and the Labour Party National Executive Committee (23 October 1978), quoted in The Times (24 October 1978), p. 1
  • More and more communists are coming to realize that socialism without democracy is no socialism at all. ... I believe that the next decade will see the growth in democratic socialism against the ideas of monetarism and corporation.
    • Speech to the European Republic Committee at the American Club in London (25 October 1978), quoted in The Times (26 October 1978), p. 5


  • I think that having 24 people around the Cabinet table whose future depends upon maintaining the good will of one man is fundamentally undemocratic and it would be far better if Cabinet ministers were accountable to the Parliamentary Labour Party.
    • Interview for London Weekend Television's Weekend World, quoted in The Times (11 February 1980), p. 2
  • [T]he Party must have a much wider appeal. We have thought of the Party a bit narrowly, in terms of economic and industrial policy, as if every problem could be solved by setting up a quango. We have got to think of the appeal to women, to blacks, to the wider peace movement, the ecological movement and the regions. We have got to think out the whole devolution argument... You and I come from old-fashioned radical liberal families, and libertarianism is what it is about.
    • Remarks to Michael Foot (18 November 1980), quoted in Tony Benn, The End of An Era: Diaries, 1980–90, ed. Ruth Winstone (1992), p. 49
  • I listened to a man called Pat Robertson, who runs a right-wing born-again Christian evangelical movement. It was such a hair-raising programme that it undid all the optimism that I had begun to feel when I came to this conference. This guy Pat Robertson, who looked like a business executive of about forty-five with one of those slow, charming American smiles, was standing there with a big tall black man beside him, his side-kick, and he talked continuously about the Reagan administration, about the defeat of the liberals, about Reagan's commitment to the evangelical movement. He had a blackboard showing what in the nineteenth century "liberal" meant. He then wiped that from the blackboard and said that today the liberals are Marxists, fascists, leftists and socialists.
    Then he showed an extract of Reagan saying, "We want to keep big government out of our homes, and out of our schools, and out of our family life." He went on and on for an hour like this. At the end, he said, "Let us pray", and, his face contorted with fake piety, pleaded with Jesus to protect America, "our country".
    I couldn't switch it off. It was so frightening, the feeling that we are now entering a holy war between that type of reactionary Christianity and communism. It is a thoroughly wicked and evil interpretation of Christianity.
    • Diary entry (7 December 1980), quoted in Tony Benn, The End of An Era: Diaries, 1980–90, ed. Ruth Winstone (1992), pp. 57-58
  • People who have 'come out' in the last two or three years by their own action make themselves vulnerable in an atmosphere of fear and suspicion caused by rising unemployment... The present inequality relating among other things to the definition of privacy, the differing ages of consent, the exclusion of the Armed Services and the Merchant Navy cannot be justified and must be completely swept away from the statute books.
    • Speech to the launching of the National Council for Civil Liberties' booklet Gay Workers: Trade Unions and the Law (27 January 1981), quoted in The Times (28 January 1981), p. 4
  • The Peasants' Revolt came as feudalism was breaking down in Britain, just as capitalism is breaking down today. Mass unemployment, the destruction of the welfare state, the health service and comprehensive education, would not be accepted, any more than would nuclear weapons based on British soil. We will not be satisfied until there is justice in Ireland. We will not allow the House of Lords to prevent us from doing what we want to do, nor the Community in Brussels, nor American generals in the Pentagon to decide what our future can be. The only way we can change Britain and the world is when working people gather together and decide whether they will change it. When we have decided we will change it, no power on earth can stop us.
    • Speech in Blackheath (4 May 1981) to celebrate the 600th anniversary of the Peasants' Revolt, quoted in The Times (5 May 1981), p. 2
  • Those who argue that constitutional questions such as party democracy are irrelevant top the political struggle against Mrs Thatcher's Government are misreading the whole history of our movement. If constitutional issues are irrelevant, why did the Chartists have to fight so hard in the nineteenth century? Were the twentieth century suffragettes engaged in irrelevant activity when they were fighting for the vote? Constitutional questions are the key to power in a parliamentary democracy and have played a crucial role in the development of our movement.
  • The Poles have had the courage to stand up to the Kremlin. The British people must now stand up to the Pentagon and close all their nuclear bases here.
    • Speech to a CND rally (24 October 1981), quoted in Jad Adams, Tony Benn (Macmillan, 1992), p. 420


  • The violence of the press attacks on Aslef, and the sustained and bitter hostility of the media towards the Labour movement is responsible for the refusal to handle some newspapers on the railways. Day after day Fleet Street conducts its campaign against working people, ignoring their interests, distorting their arguments and abusing their representatives. Working journalists can no longer evade their moral responsibilities by shielding behind their editors, nor editors by shielding behind their proprietors. Nor can arguments based on the freedom of the press be used as an excuse to deny freedom of expression to millions of people who have lost their jobs, suffered cuts in living standards or in essential health and education services.
    • Speech to the press (26 January 1982), quoted in The Times (27 January 1982), p. 1
  • [Journalists tell me:] "I didn't write the headline; the editor told me to say that. I will lose my job if I put it differently". But journalists were not exempted from what was happening in society. Their role could be likened to the Jews in Dachau who herded other Jews into the gas chambers.
    • Speech to the press (26 January 1982), quoted in The Times (27 January 1982), p. 1
  • It is wholly wrong to blame Marx for what was done in his name, as it is to blame Jesus for what was done in his,
    • The Benn Heresy (1982).
  • I think the SDP really is a very right-wing party. In a funny way it’s more right-wing than Mrs. Thatcher because Mrs. Thatcher is an old-fashioned liberal, if you know what I mean, she believes in market forces and small government. But my knowledge and experience of the SDP is that they believe in a centralised system, they believe in a federal Europe in which we would only be a province under Brussels, they believe in retaining the American bases, they want a statutory pay policy so they would govern the wages of everybody without proper negotiation. I think they're a very hard right party and I think the Labour Party which has now got a decent policy as a result of all the work we’ve done is going to pick up a lot of support this year.
    • Afternoon Plus on ITV (29 January 1982)
  • I do not think we have a free press in Britain today. There is not a single newspaper that I can buy, not one in Britain that reflects my political position. And The Times, dare I say to you, is really disreputable. It does not print truthfully and faithfully what happens and it pretends, because it is printed in small print that it is above argument. But it is a political propaganda instrument like The Sun, but it is printed in rather better print and rather shrewder language.
    • Press conference in Athens (12 March 1982), quoted in The Times (13 March 1982), p. 5
  • I tell the Prime Minister that this is an ill-thought-out enterprise and will not achieve the purposes to which it is put.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (7 April 1982) on the Falklands War
  • When it comes to it, we shall have to make sovereignty negotiable, either by ceding it to the United Nations or arranging a transfer in some other way... Do not use that as an excuse for war. We cannot kill for flags today.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (29 April 1982) on the Falklands War
  • He (John Ball) was preaching socialism long before Marx, Stalin or Brezhnev. He said things would not go well for England until all property was held in common. He was hanged, they cut his stomach out and he was drawn and quartered, his body cut into four pieces. That was the way they treated the Militant Tendency in 1381.
  • The House of Commons represents only one third of the legislative structure, which under our unwritten constitution consists of the 'Queen in Parliament' within which the Crown prerogatives and the real powers of the House of Lords still play a significant part. Only the House of Commons represents the people and it is the only democratic arena in which Labour can win a majority... The fact is that the British constitution, parliamentary system and machinery of government are far from democratic in both theory and practice and they are full of obstacles for those who want to use them to bring about reform by democratic means. The Crown prerogatives, most of which are exercised by ministers, confer immense powers which can, if abused, frustrate the wishes of the electorate... The use of either prerogative power in a controversial manner in Britain would draw the monarchy into the heart of the political debate.
    • Article for New Socialist quoted in The Times (27 August 1982), p. 2


  • Establishment necessarily involves a subtle corruption of the spirit of the church because it is safely embedded in the wider establishment of society, which includes the privileged and the powerful... How can those Christians who see monetarism being so cruelly applied to the old, the sick, the homeless, women, the black community, and the young unemployed, lead a struggle against this injustice from within an established church subject to a Cabinet and a parliamentary majority composed of those very people who are responsible for implementing those very policies?
  • The general election of 1983 has produced one important result that has passed virtually without comment in the media. It is that, for the first time since 1945, a political party with an openly socialist policy has received the support of over eight and a half million people. This is a remarkable development by any standards and it deserves some analysis.
  • [T]he 1983 Labour manifesto commanded the loyalty of millions of voters and a democratic socialist bridge-head in public understanding and support can be made.
  • It would be inconceivable for the House to adjourn for Easter without recording the fact that last Friday the High Court disallowed an Act which was passed by this House and the House of Lords and received Royal Assent — the Merchant Shipping Act 1988. The High Court referred the case to the European Court...I want to make it clear to the House that we are absolutely impotent unless we repeal Section 2 of the European Communities Act. It is no good talking about being a good European. We are all good Europeans; that is a matter of geography and not a matter of sentiment. Are the arrangements under which we are governed such that we have broken the link between the electorate and the laws under which they are governed? I am an old parliamentary hand — perhaps I have been here too long — but I was brought up to believe, and I still believe, that when people vote in an election they must be entitled to know that the party for which they vote, if it has a majority, will be able to enact laws under which they will be governed. That is no longer true. Any party elected, whether it is the Conservative party or the Labour party can no longer say to the electorate, "Vote for me and if I have a majority I shall pass that law", because if that law is contrary to Common Market law, British judges will apply Common Market law.


  • I have five questions that I ask people who have power, and I recommend them to the House. If I see someone who is powerful, be it a traffic warden, Rupert Murdoch, the head of a trade union or a Member of Parliament, I ask myself these five questions: "What power have you got? Where did you get it? In whose interests do you exercise it? To whom are you accountable? How can we get rid of you?" That last question is crucial. We cannot get rid of Jacques Delors; we cannot get rid of the [European] Commission. We can get rid of a Government; but we cannot get rid of European legislation that a Government have entrenched during their period in office—be they a Labour Government with the Tories coming or the other way around.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (21 May 1990)
  • The Labour party believes in the traditional values of society—in the idea that we have responsibilities one to another and that we are not just greedy all the time, looking out only for ourselves. Without being personal, the philosophy that has been propagated over the past 10 years has been wicked and set man against man, woman against woman and country against country and to build on nationalism and racism...and all the damage that has been done by the Conservatives has been disgraceful...I have a measure called the Margaret Thatcher (Global Repeal) Bill...It would be easy to reverse the policies and replace the personalities—the process has begun—but the rotten values that have been propagated from the platform of political power in Britain during the past 10 years will be an infection—a virulent strain of right-wing capitalist thinking which it will take time to overcome.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (22 November 1990) on the day Margaret Thatcher announced her intention to resign.
  • All war represents a failure of diplomacy.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (28 February 1991)
  • If democracy is destroyed in Britain it will be not the communists, Trotskyists or subversives but this House which threw it away. The rights that are entrusted to us are not for us to give away. Even if I agree with everything that is proposed, I cannot hand away powers lent to me for five years by the people of Chesterfield. I just could not do it. It would be theft of public rights.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (20 November 1991) during a debate on the Treaty of Maastricht.
  • The word 'socialism' on my poster has not lost me a single vote. People will support you if you're serious. My complaint about the Labour movement is that it hasn't done any teaching for 40 years; it has always been on the defensive. Thatcher was successful because she was a teacher. Her values, of course, were rotten.
    • Remarks during the general election campaign, quoted in The Times (3 April 1992), p. 12
  • The plain fact is that every single policy that has been attempted by British cabinets has failed — partition, Stormont, power sharing, direct rule, internment without trial, "supergrass" trials, CS gas, strip searching, even the Anglo-Irish Agreement. ... I have long held the view that what we are discussing is not so much an Irish problem as a British problem in Northern Ireland. ... The real problem can be traced to the continued British presence in Northern Ireland. ... by the end of the century I believe Britain will have withdrawn from Northern Ireland just as it has done from so many colonies in the past.
    • 'They are Britain's troubles', The Times (27 October 1993), p. 16
  • Had a long talk to the Chinese First Secretary at the embassy — a very charming man called Liao Dong — and said how much I admired Mao Tse tung or Zedong, the greatest man of the twentieth century. He said that I couldn't admire Mao more than he did. I asked him how Mao was viewed now. He said Mao was 70 per cent right and 30 per cent wrong; the Cultural Revolution didn't work. He said he had been named after Mao — it was amusing.
    • Journal entry for 6 June 1996 in Free at Last!: Diaries, 1991-2001 (2003) p. 371
  • On 24 October 1945...the United Nations charter was passed. The words of that charter are etched on my mind and move me even as I think of them. It says: "We the peoples of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our life-time has brought untold sorrow to mankind." That was that generation's pledge to this generation, and it would be the greatest betrayal of all if we voted to abandon the charter, take unilateral action and pretend that we were doing so in the name of the international community.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (17 February 1998) during a debate on Iraq


Multinational companies now aim to run the world... by buying both political parties in America and expecting a pay-off whichever one wins — and that is totally anti-democratic.
The danger is very great because the power is so overwhelming and the American capacity to bully, bribe and blackmail people into going along with their wars is something you mustn't underestimate.
  • The big question today is 'Will globalisation allow democracy to survive?' On one side we have the multinationals, the International Monetary Fund and the European Union. I want to help to redress the balance on the other side.
  • The issues raised in the historic conflict between Charles I, resting his claim to govern Britain on the divine right of kings, and Parliament - representing, however imperfectly, a demand for the wider sharing of power - concerned the use and abuse of state power, the right of the governed to a say in their government, and the nature of political freedom. The Levellers grew out of this conflict. They represented the aspirations of working people who suffered under the persecution of kings, landowners and the priestly class, and they spoke for those who experienced the hardships of poverty and deprivation. They developed and campaigned, first with Cromwell and then against him, for a political and constitutional settlement of the civil war which would embody principles of political freedom, anticipating by a century and a half the ideas of the American and French revolutions.
  • Well I came across Marx rather late in life actually, and when I read him, two things: first of all I realised that he'd come to the conclusion about capitalism which I'd come to much later, and I was a bit angry he'd thought of it first; and secondly, I see Marx who was an old Jew, as the last of the Old Testament Prophets, this old bearded man working in the British Library, studying capitalism, that's what 'Das Kapital' was about, it was an explanation of British capitalism. And I thought to myself, 'Well anyone could write a book like that, but what infuses, what comes out of his writing, is the passionate hostility to the injustice of capitalism. He was a Prophet, and so I put him in that category as an Old Testament Prophet.
  • People at the top do not want to share their power. They’ve always got some marvellous reason: I’m following my religion; I’m following the laws of economics. Even Stalin: I’m representing the vanguard of the working class, so please don’t cause trouble. That is the battle that every generation has, and yet we mustn’t be pessimistic about it...
  • The Morning Star had an article by George Galloway, and in it he said, "Britain is currently run by a blood-splattered, lying, crooked group of war criminals." Now, first of all I think that's a totally ineffective way of getting your case across, but secondly, last November George pleaded with me to try to persuade the National Executive to let him stay in the party. So if I'd succeeded, he would have been still a member of a party currently run by a "blood-splattered, lying, crooked group of war criminals". It put me off George Galloway in a fairly fundamental way.
  • My Great-grandfather was a Congregational Minister and my Mother was a Bible scholar, and I was brought up on the Bible, that the story of the Bible was conflict between the kings who had power, and the prophets who preached righteousness. And I was taught to believe in the prophets, got me into a lot of trouble. And my Dad said to me when I was young, "Dare to be a Daniel, Dare to stand alone, Dare to have a purpose firm, Dare to let it (be) known."
    • Interviewed by Kevin Zeese in Counterpunch (19 December 2005).
  • [The Labour Party]'s never been a socialist party, but it's always had socialists in it, just as there are some Christians in the Church, it's an exact parallel.
    • Today programme (10 February 2006).
  • I was born about a quarter of a mile from where we are sitting now and I was here in London during the Blitz. And every night I went down into the shelter. 500 people killed, my brother was killed, my friends were killed. And when the Charter of the UN was read to me, I was a pilot coming home in a troop ship: 'We the peoples of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind.' That was the pledge my generation gave to the younger generation and you tore it up. And it's a war crime that's been committed in Iraq, because there is no moral difference between a stealth bomber and a suicide bomber. Both kill innocent people for political reasons.
    • Question Time (22 March 2007).
  • I rang John Rees because I heard that George Galloway had attacked the Respect party at some conference, so I thought it would be useful to know what was going on. John said that George was very much a loner, but that he was in contact with some fundamentalist Muslims in his constituency; that on a left-right basis he was on the right, not the left.
  • If we can find the money to kill people, we can find the money to help people.
    • Interview with Michael Moore in the movie Sicko (2007).
  • An educated, healthy and confident nation is harder to govern.
    • Interview with Michael Moore in the movie Sicko (2007).
  • I think there are two ways in which people are controlled. First of all frighten people and secondly, demoralize them.
    • Interview with Michael Moore in the movie Sicko (2007).
  • People in debt become hopeless and hopeless people don’t vote. They always say that that everyone should vote but I think that if the poor in Britain or the United States turned out and voted for people that represented their interests there would be a real democratic revolution.
    • Interview with Michael Moore in the movie Sicko (2007).
  • Choice depends on the freedom to choose and if you are shackled with debt you don’t have the freedom to choose.
    • Interview with Michael Moore in the movie Sicko (2007).
  • I think democracy is the most revolutionary thing in the world, because if you have power you use it to meet the needs of you and your community.
    • Interview with Michael Moore in the movie Sicko (2007).
  • The way change occurs to begin with, if you come up with a good idea, like healthcare, you're ignored. If you go on you must be mad, absolutely stark-staring bonkers. If you go on after that you're dangerous. Then, if the pressure keeps up there's a pause. And then you can't find anyone at the top who doesn't claim to have thought of it in the first place. That's how progress is made.
    • Interview with Michael Moore in the movie Sicko (2007) Probably derived from older version:
  • First they ignore you, then they say you're mad, then dangerous, then there's a pause and then you can't find anyone who disagrees with you.
    • The Columbia Dictionary of Quotations, Robert Andrews, Columbia University Press, 1993, ISBN 0231071949, 9780231071949. A similar quotation is almost invariably attributed to Gandhi, but more likely derives from a 1914 US trade union address:
      • "And, my friends, in this story you have a history of this entire movement. First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you. And that, is what is going to happen to the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America." General Executive Board Report and Proceedings [of The] Biennial Convention, Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, 1914. Google Books
  • When you think of the number of men in the world who hate each other, why, when two men love each other, does the church split?
  • The key to any progress is to ask the question why? All the time. Why is that child poor? Why was there a war? Why was he killed? Why is he in power? And of course questions can get you into a lot of trouble, because society is trained by those who run it, to accept what goes on. Without questions we won't make any progress at all.
    • Interview in Creating Freedom (2013).


  • I don't think people realise how the establishment became established. They simply stole land and property from the poor, surrounded themselves with weak minded sycophants for protection, gave themselves titles and have been wielding power ever since.
    • Cited in Roy Whitaker, The Time is Out of Joint (2017), with no source provided.


  • The way a government treats refugees is very instructive because it shows you how they would treat the rest of us if they thought they could get away with it.
    • From Neal Ascherson:

If we teach children morality, what will we say about the arms trade? (21 January 1996).

The al-Masari affair overflows in all directions with moral relativism. My own view is that to expel a political asylum-seeker because his country threatens to cancel business contracts with Britain is absolutely wrong. And it is not only wrong but dangerous in the long term to us all. This is because of one of the Laws of Politics that I wrote long ago into my little black notebook: "The way a state treats its aliens is the way it would treat its own subjects if it dared".

Quotes about Benn



  • [Tony Benn is] an Old Testament prophet preaching the sort of New Jerusalem he wants to see.
  • Well then, who had he had time for, during his 24 years in the Party, if he didn't like collectivists and didn't like moderates? There was a pause. "Well, Benn. I have a high opinion of Wedgwood Benn. He is committed to a form of collectivism, but at least he is honest and original. I'd like to see him leading the Labour Party."
    You could have knocked me down with a feather. But, I said, would not Benn's leadership of the Labour Party make it still more likely that the country would go collectivist, with the inevitable erosion of our liberties as outlined by Johnson in his "Farewell"?
    Not necessarily, Johnson replied, because Benn was a genuine democrat, and might, when it came to the crunch between collectivism and liberty, choose liberty. But it would be too late by then! Well, said Johnson, it might be. But at least Benn leading Labour and Thatcher leading the Tories would present the country with "a proper chloice" between collectivism and individualism.
    This struck me as dotty.


  • He was a very good Postmaster General, all those coloured stamps, still going well. Tony's obsessed with shop stewards. That is why he liked planning agreements, because they would be run by shop stewards. We were having a shadow cabinet meeting and I asked for any other business. There was a deep sigh because we knew Tony would have something. And he said, I have just attended a meeting of the Bristol Aerospace workers, I think it was, and they just passed a resolution saying that they should have the right to sack the management at a week's notice. I said, why should they have a week? Why not give them just a weekend to clear out their lockers? I have always said about Tony that he immatures with age.
  • Some of the Civil Servants used to contribute a lot to counter-briefing directed against Tony Benn on the assumption that he being anti-Europe everything he said should be resisted. I disliked this intensely. This kind of official politicking is one of the most unattractive aspects of the Civil Service... There is a sort of top Civil Servants' mafia. I soon found that they were trying systematically to get pro-European Ministers to gang up against anti-European Ministers. I used to receive briefings from the Foreign Office beginning with: "We expect Mr Benn to say the following..." I made it clear that these briefings about what Mr Benn would say and in the view of officials ought to say should not come from officials in the Department of Energy.
    • David Owen, Personally Speaking to Kenneth Harris (1987), pp. 110-111
  • Failure is always much more interesting than success, and Tony Benn remains in many ways the most fascinating left-wing figure of our time. These Diaries, covering the dawn of his Ministerial career ... serve as an opportune reminder of just how much he has thrown away. What they reveal is a young politician of the highest promise who a quarter of a century ago appeared to have the world of Labour politics at his feet.
  • The story of the Postmaster General and the Queen and the conflict that arose between them over the need to have the monarch's head on every postage stamp provides easily the best part of this book (those who would dismiss it as trivial merely betray how little they understand the true nature of the power structure in Britain). It offers, in fact, a highly illuminating constitutional parable and one that Crossman, for all his desire to produce a twentieth-century Bagehot, was never quite able to match. No one interested in the political influence of the Crown, the intrigues of the civil service or the highly traditionalist character of Harold Wilson as the Queen's First Minister can afford to ignore it.


  • It is ironic that Tony Benn's ministerial career should have left only two monuments behind — the uranium mine in Namibia he authorised as Energy Secretary, which helps to support Apartheid and is in territory illegally occupied by South Africa, and an aircraft [Concorde] which is used by wealthy people on their expense accounts, whose fares are subsidised by much poorer taxpayers.
  • Another star was Tony Benn, at that time still rattling his full complement of syllables as the Hon. Anthony Wedgwood Benn. From start to finish he and I have rarely agreed on anything, but he was always a courteous and effective debater, an English patriot, and as time has made socialism more and more a thing of the past, even a traditional figure. But perhaps we enjoy a sympathy based on our religious roots. When Tony became President of the Union I was invited to a celebration, attended by his father Viscount Stansgate, which, true to Tony's Nonconformist principles, was teetotal.
  • Last night I had a talk with Tony Benn. He was the only person even half-right on the subject of North Sea oil. And how fascinating he is to talk to! His mind is so quick and versatile – but the loony prejudice (and this of course the motivation that keeps him active) never far below the surface. 'We want an Asia economy so as to be like Singapore – with its penal code' etc.
    • Alan Clark's diary (7 January 1996), quoted in Ion Trewin (ed.), Alan Clark: A Life in his Own Words: The Edited Diaries 1972 –1999 (2010), pp. 594–595


  • Tony Benn is described as a politician by those who have never met him.
  • One of the twentieth century's most committed parliamentarians.
    • Adam Tomkins, "What is Parliament for?" in Bamforth N. and Leyland P. (eds.), Public Law in a Multi-Layered Constitution (Oxford, Hart, 2003), p. 53
  • Tony Benn was at his apogee [in 1980], the hero of the left with an appeal that went far beyond their relatively small numbers. He was to me an enigma. Personally he was the sweetest of men, concerned about his friends and colleagues, ready to help, funny and self-effacing. His socialist values ran deep, owing more to the Levellers of the English Civil War than to Marx or Trotsky. The iconic leader for him was Colonel Rainborough of Cromwell's New Model Army, the man who declared during the famous Putney Debates: "The poorest he that is in England hath a life to live as the greatest he." Benn's charisma overwhelmed his reason, and his eloquence washed away his logic when he was responding to an adoring audience. One of my journalist friends observed that, during his speech to the conference, Tony held forth through the applause, not pausing for it to die down. He seemed to be in a self-induced trance. Indeed, some of his own supporters began to get worried. Comments were made on his staring eyes, even his sanity.


  • He was an absolutely brilliant speaker ... he had such clarity of expression. [He was] a charming, nice man. He made enemies and kept enemies but on the whole most people regarded him with a good degree of affection long before it came to the stage when it was thought he could cause no harm. He was out of step for many years with whoever was in the charge of the leadership. He wanted to make people think and that was an admirable thing.
  • 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.
  • In the final decade of an extraordinary political life, Tony Benn was a great friend of Liberty and human rights. He spoke to packed audiences up and down the country against internment and identity cards and for values of internationalism and humanity. And he often shared the stage with speakers of different political stripes with considerable generosity. I shall never forget his many kindnesses to me, including when he ripped up a prepared speech he was about to deliver, in order to make my own nervous and novice remarks sound slightly less unplanned. In an age of spin, he was solid, a signpost and not a weathervane.
  • He did one great thing in his life: he changed the constitution of the House of Lords. Apart from that he symbolised the sort of left-wing nuttiness that nearly destroyed the Labour party in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
  • [Benn was an] iconic figure of our age. He will be remembered as a champion of the powerless, a great parliamentarian and a conviction politician. Tony Benn spoke his mind and spoke up for his values. Whether you agreed with him or disagreed with him, everyone knew where he stood and what he stood for. ... He believed in movements and mobilised people behind him for the causes he cared about, often unfashionable ones. In a world of politics that is often too small, he thought big about our country and our world.


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