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The Lichfield Garrick was packed for an evening with veteran politician Tony Benn.
Mr Benn is the latest in a long line of eminent public visitors to visit Lichfield over the last few years including Ann Widdecombe, Michael Portillo and General Sir Mike Jackson.
Tony Benn followed a different format last night, explaining that he was lot more interested in listening and learning than talking, as we are living in very interesting times. After a general introduction, he went straight to the audience for questions, and the evening had a flavour of an old fashioned political meeting.
The 84-year-old served almost continuously in Parliament from 1950 to 2001 when he left to “spend more time involved in politics” and has never been far from controversy. He served in successive Labour Governments as Minister of Technology, Secretary of State for Industry and Secretary of State for Energy, and it said of him that he is one of the few former Ministers to move more to the left after leaving Government.
Charming, affable and highly articulate, Mr Benn was no less controversial last night than at any time in his long career. Consistently against both the war in Iraq, and Afghanistan, Mr Benn asked why can’t the collective power of people be harnessed for the good, instead of for killing people. He noted that the NHS was founded in a time when the UK was bankrupt after the Second World War, because it was believed that the Health of the Nation was in the National Interest.
Tony Benn urged the audience to get involved in democracy, asking the question, “what else do you do?” to people who are being negative about the democratic process.
The evening was a fascinating insight into the mind and values of one of the great Parliamentarians of the second half of the 20th Century, and the Garrick was an excellent venue for the occasion. I can only hope that more speakers of his calibre come to Lichfield in the future.
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