14 Mar 2014

Tony Benn: ‘most dangerous man’ to ‘national treasure’

Labour MP for 50 years, cabinet minister, socialist firebrand in opposition, anti-war demonstrator – Tony Benn was never at a loss for words, as his most striking quotes show.

Labour MP for 50 years, cabinet minister, socialist firebrand in opposition, anti-war demonstrator - Tony Benn was never at a loss for words, as his most striking quotes show (Getty)

Despite his fervour, Tony Benn was not personally abusive… unless he had been a member of your cabinet.

He famously said of Harold Wilson: “In the end, the tragedy of Harold Wilson was that you couldn’t believe a word he said.” The feeling appears to have been mutual, with Wilson saying Benn “immatures with age”.

If the Queen can reject the advice of a minister on a little thing like a postage stamp, what would happen if she rejected the advice of the prime minister on a major matter? If the crown personally can reject advice, then of course the whole democratic facade turns out to be false. As postmaster general in the 1960s, Benn proposed issuing stamps without the Queen’s head on them (she was not amused)

The flag of radicalism which has been hoisted in Wolverhampton is beginning to look like the one that fluttered 25 years ago over Dachau and Belsen. On Enoch Powell, 1970 general election

(The EEC) is really dominated by Germany. All the common market countries except the UK have been occupied by Germany, and they have this mixed feeling of hatred and subservience towards the Germans.

(Edward Heath) sold out Britain’s interests to the common market and gave our sovereignty away without our consent. Benn campaigned for a no vote in the 1975 referendum on EEC membership

If I rescued a child from drowning, the press would no doubt headline the story, ‘Benn grabs child’. On the media, 1975

We are paying a heavy political price for 20 years in which, as a party, we have played down our criticism of capitalism and soft-peddled our advocacy of socialism. Speech to Labour conference, 1976

No medieval monarch in the whole of British history ever had such power as every modern British prime minister has in his or her hands. Nor does any American president have power approaching this. Arguments for Socialism, 1979

The UK is only superficially governed by MPs and the voters who elect them. Parliamentary democracy is, in truth, little more than a means of securing a periodical change in the management team, which is then allowed to preside over a system that remains in essence intact. Explaining his move to the left

This tragic and unnecessary war. On the Falklands war, 1982

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. On Labour’s heavy defeat at the 1983 election, the Guardian

I think Mrs Thatcher did more damage to democracy, equality, internationalism, civil liberties, freedom in this country than any other prime minister this century. The Thatcher Factor, Channel 4, 1990

If democracy is destroyed in Britain it will be not the communists, Trotskyists or subversives but this house which threw it away. Commons speech about Europe, 1991

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. Announcing he was standing down from parliament, 1999

Benn: ‘Does Iraq have any weapons of mass destruction?’ Saddam Hussein: ‘There is only one truth and therefore I tell you, as I have said on many occasions before, that Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction whatsoever.’ Interview with Saddam Hussein, Channel 4 News, 2003

If you are invaded you have a right to self defence, and this idea that people in Iraq and Afghanistan who are resisting the invasion are militant Muslim extremists is a complete bloody lie.

I joined Dad’s Army when I was 16, and if the Germans had arrived, I tell you, I could use a bayonet, a rifle, a revolver, and if I’d seen a German officer having a meal I’d have tossed a grenade through the window. Would I have been a freedom fighter or a terrorist? Stop the War conference 2009

(Labour has) 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, 2006