Sunday, March 07, 2010

Love and Hate

On Friday evening, 5th March, we gathered at The Redbridge Institute for an Interview with Tony Benn. Whether you agree with him or not he is part of the fixtures and fittings of British politics. There are not that many major figures in this field where you know what you are getting. Margaret Thatcher is another. With people like these it’s not a lucky dip. You just know they mean it.

The room was full with some 200 people. Lots of local Labour faithfuls [some disillusioned] paying homage plus at least one Conservative councillor, 6 known Green Party members and a fair diversity by age, sex and ethnicity. Such is Tony's pulling power.

The event was not terribly well managed. Tony was seated at the same level as the audience, so I could not see him, and he had a hand held microphone, which for somebody who likes to wave his hands about, [see photo] meant I couldn’t hear him most of the time either.

As always with these events the questioners rambled on with a speech of their own and Tony didn’t seem to know what the question was, and frankly neither did I. It rather spoilt the evening and the only comment from Tony that I can remember that stood out was this: “The Labour Party is not a socialist party. It is a party that has socialists in it”. Rather more in years past than at present perhaps?
At the beginning of the event Sonia Klein [our hostess for the evening and the Labour PPC for Ilford North] told us that she had been getting “hate mail”. Allegedly because the meeting was being held on a Friday [Friday evening is the Jewish Shabbat] and because she has called for sanctions against Israel. She is also a Muslim, but her mother-in-law apparently is Jewish.

I don’t like this sort of thing, it’s not nice. Our current MP, Lee Scott, is Jewish and he has held meetings on Friday evenings. This is because he is usually being detained at Her Majesties Pleasure in the House on Monday through to Thursday evenings. He has also led protest marches on local issues on a Saturday afternoon.

To sanctions against Israel. This is a perfectly legitimate position to take. You or I may not agree with it, but I would want to know precisely what is meant, and indeed I am not happy with my own parties position on this, which is BDS – Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, including cultural and academic. However, I am free to argue that case, although it can get “heated” especially if one happens to be Jewish, which I’m not. But others are and sometimes they are not treated with due respect which upsets me even more.

I have to say here that the implication that the “hate mail” is coming from the local Jewish community is not necessarily true, presumably they are anonymous, and they could be and probably are troublemakers trying to stir up a bit of racial hatred. But whoever they are, they are not welcome.


  1. It's a frequent and ill-judged assumption that all Jews must be Zionists - we're not. (Not accusing you of this, B21).

    However, even amongst those of us who believe that the establishment of the State of Israel was a tragic and potentially catastrophic error, there is an inevitable tribal pull to side with 'your own'.

    And for those of my (pensionable) generation who lost family in the concentration camps, there is an emotional undertone.

    Mrs Klein is entitled to her opnion, but from a political stance, isn't it a tad naive to hold such views whilst attempting to win a constituency that still contains one of the largest Jewish communities in the UK? Especially when you add in the fact that she publicly disagrees with several other major Labour policies, surely it would be more honest for her to stand as an Independent Labour candidate?

  2. 6aintreeWhich one of the election priorities did this speech link to? Now feel v bad for being paid up bit inactive labour member.

  3. I saw Tony Benn at Ilford Town Hall in 1974. At that meeting, he sat high up on the stage, so that he was clearly visible to the few who deigned to turn up, and had a fixed microphone on a table stand, so that he could both be clearly heard and wave his hands around as much as he liked.

    Unfortunately, apart from the party faithful at the front, he didn't attract much support. My wife and I sat in the midst of a sea of empty seats half way down the hall.

    Perhaps the local Labour party remember the 1974 failure still, and treated him accordingly 36 years on! No doubt they would also prefer to forget their runaway success that year, when a packed house in Barkingside watched the Shirley Williams show - I doubt they'll invite her back this year!

    As for rambling questions and Tony's responses, surely answering a completely different question to the one that has been asked is part of the politician's art? Claiming deafness - not unusual at the age of 85 - could well be classified as an asset!

    Considering Sonia Klein's aspiration to join the most important debating society in the land, I thought she showed a very poor aptitude for chairing what was, by comparison, a very simple affair.

    One major difference I noted was that, in 1974, Tony Benn told us that the Labour Party had to rely on contributions from it's supporters for its survival, and flourished a pound note from his own wallet (money was worth a lot more in those days, of course!) which he contributed to a collection which then went round the hall (not everybody contributed, of course!)

    Perhaps he's reluctant to waste his pension on hopeless causes these days ...

  4. Judith,
    There are also, apparently, Christian Zionists, not that I have been accused of being one yet. But I have been asked if I'm Jewish. Something that had not occurred in the previous 59 years.

  5. This is a very emotive subject, and it's a lost opportunity that Sonia has not used her position to promote peace and understanding in our multicultural society rather than taking sides. Unfortunately far too many people don't bother to look at the facts from independent sources to form their opinion, with the result that they feel justified and often very hostile in their position. Too many people are led on with information that is either out of context or lies from those who have a vested interest in keeping the hostilities going.


  6. I went along to this meeting just to see if Tony Benn had learnt anything from being 'dedicated' to political scheming over so many years. He hasn't, it was the same old weary dogma, nothing new, nothing exciting, simply the politics of class envy and prejudice against achievement. His performance did Sonia Klein no favours whatoever.

  7. David - that will be very welcome news to somebody living fairly close to me.

  8. I find it difficult to believe that the decent jewish citizens of Redbridge would be sending hate mail. More likely to be a nasty element of society who are indeed stiring up trouble.

    I also agree with Tony's comment that this was a lost opportunity for Sonia!