When Tony Benn addresses his supporters in Edinburgh this Friday. the recent difficulties experienced by the MP for Leitlt. Ron Brown. are likely to add an extra dimension to the proceedings.

Benn sprang to B rown’s defence when he came under attack for dropping the Mace and refusing to tnake an adequate apology. It remains to be seen whether the Chesterfield Ml’. noted for his personal asceticism. will continue to line up alongside the increasingly beleagured MP for Leith. now in hot water on account of his alleged shower antics.

Benn is renowned for his dislike of ‘personality politics‘. When I met him in Liverpool last weekend he was making no bones about why he and [iric l leffer. his running mate for the Labour Party Deputy Leadership. were standing. "l‘he campaign for the leadership is not personal in any way.‘ he assured tne. ‘I am certainly not offering myself as a better person or a better socialist. I am trying to indicate a direction which would win the support we will need not just to get seats around the Cabinet table but the authority to make the changes that are needed if the outcome is to be better for working people and their families.‘

When I put it to him that many people. including the present leadership. considered that his candidature would prove divisive at a time when Labour desperately needs to present a united front. Benn was unequivocal in his response. ‘We struggled very hard to get the right to stand. to get an electoral college. Once you start saying that democracy is dangerous. where do you stop'.’

"l‘he campaign so far has had an effect. The present leadership didn‘t do much to support the miners or the printers. but they are supporting the seamen. I think that is because there is a leadership contest.‘

Whilst declining to be drawn into the business of naming names he made it clear that he has little respect for many of his colleagues of days gone by. "l‘he people at the top. you know. in Parliament. have got there up a ladder called the status quo and therefore to suggest that we change the status quo is to suggest a defect in the system by which they personally have arrived.

‘I have known many Labour Ministers go into a Department with a Red Box and a chauffer driven car who think that the day they get there

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The irascible Tony Benn. Labour MP for Chesterfield and currently contender for the party‘s leadership. speaks in Edinburgh this month. Steve Briggs caught him in action in Liverpool.

that socialism has arrived. All that‘s happened is that they've arrived. It's a very easy mistake to make.

‘We have to search for confidence in ourselves and not look for some leader who is going to do it all for us. That is one ofthe great illusions created by a media-orientated democracy. We sit at home and watch democracy as if it was the ()scar Awards in l lollywood.‘

What then are his fears about the current leadership'.’

‘My yvorry at the moment is that we are being led towards not so much another policy as towards no policy.

We tell people "V'ote Labour and we will do whatever you tell us through the opinion polls.” ()n that basis I don’t think that people will vote Labour. Whatever you say about Mrs'l'hatcher at least you know where she stands.

‘When people ask. “If we vote Labour next week. will there be devolution in Scotland. will we keep all the American submarines out of the Holy Loch'.’". l have to say. “I can‘t tell you. but vote Labour because we‘re better than they are.” And people are not fools. They say. “Well. let us know when you‘ve decided.”

The atmosphere at the Liverpool rally. one of the first of what promises to be an exhausting nationwide tour. was electric. Over 1000 people had squeezed into St (ieorge's llall. designed to hold only 500. before the organisers were forced to close the doors. l)oing his best to keep order in a good-humoured fashion. 'l‘erry

liields .\Il’ opened proceedings by assuring the audience that the rally had not been arranged to provide a platform for liric l lefl'cr‘s ‘petulance and prima donna attitudes.‘ nor to satisfy those looking for confirmation of the portrayal of 'l‘ony Benn as a ‘lunatic with popping eyes.'

’l‘hc said ‘lunatic'. eyentually introduced by l-‘ields somewhat confusingly as ‘( )ur friend liric'. appeared unfa/cd by the excitement and. to the delight of the crowd went. straight for the iugular - though not mentioning the current leadership by name.

‘( 'omrades. if you want socialism. you do it yourself. w here you live and where you work. You don’t wait lor somebody at the top to tell you w hat to do and what you can‘t do. 'l'hat's the most important lesson I have learned.‘

l le then moy ed on to deal with l.ill‘kllll".\ Achilles heel. defence:

"l‘here wasone lady. the only woman . in my life who has absolutely . totally -

silenced me at a meeting. I‘ll tell you ll()\\ she did it. She said It) me. "Mr Benn. I‘m not voting labour because I don‘t agree with your defence policy I asked "Why?" She replied. "\lt‘ Benn. yve had [0 fight the Russians in the last war and we may have to fight them in the next." I had no answer. ll l'd told her the truth it would have been too insulting.’

The crowd loved it. Belttts's combination of wit and political

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passion. delivered in a laid-back. self-deprecating manner was just what the comrades in Liverpool had come to hear. Although the 57 varieties of'l'rotskyist grouplet were well represented in the audience. their grumblings went unheard. Each time the master paused for breath the crowd took it as a signal to cheer. and cheer they did. As he drew to the end of his speech. St (ieorgc‘s Hall was vibrating with a mixture ofapplause. laughter and excitement.

When it became clear that he had finished what he had to say ~ and it wasn't easy to tell because he continued to stand in silence with a bemused smile on his face the crowd rose spontaneously to give

him a standing ovation worthy of any

’l'ory Party conference.

After a not so spontaneous chorus of "I‘he Red Flag' and the ‘lnternationale‘. I made my way out of the hall and down the steps towards the station. Kindness itself. I was surrounded by many Liverpudlians all eager to ensure that I had enough reading matter for the train home. After refusing many offers of copies of .S'm‘iu/isl ll'orker. .Wffflulll. 'l'lu’ :Vt’XI Step and New (hmntlmfs‘l Revimv. I eventually escaped. having recovered my tape recorder from Benn. who had kindly agreed to sit it beside his own whilst he was speaking.

lfthe Liverpoolexperience is any thing to go by. those who attend Benn‘s meeting in the Assembly Rootns. at 7.30pm on l‘riday 27 May are in for a treat.