Following a suggestion from John Bercow, Speaker of the House of Commons, Black Rod is to seek permission from the Queen for the body of Tony Benn to lie overnight in the chapel of St Mary Undercoft on the eve of his funeral. Baroness Thatcher is the only other politician to have been accorded this honour. De mortuis nil nisi bonum. Of course. But still we might ask whether such an honour is appropriate in Benn’s case. And, since Baroness Thatcher was the only other recipient of the honour, comparisons are both fair and inevitable.
Margaret Thatcher cleared up the mess which the socialist policies advocated by Tony Benn had made of the country. She defeated the destructive and illegitimate miners’ strike of 1984-85. Benn publicly and vigorously supported the miners’ leader, the Communist Arthur Scargill whose intention was to bring down the Tory government – aided and abetted by money in brown envelopes from the Soviet Union. (This is not an urban myth but its truth is testified by Peter Walker, the then energy secretary and closely concerned). Mrs Thatcher defeated the Argentinian aggression in the Falklands. Benn opposed that defensive war. She was a patriot with a strong belief in private property and political liberties. Benn presented himself as a democratic socialist but his extreme ideological commitment would, if ever we had suffered the catastrophic misfortune to see him in power, have reduced Britain to the sort of state tyranny and economic failure of East Germany under the Communists.
John Bercow said last week: “Tony Benn’s time as an MP spanned more than fifty years and he is one of only two MPs to be awarded the Freedom of the House – the other being Edward Heath – in recognition of his very long and distinguished service as an MP.”
Says it all really
Tony Benn will only lie overnight. Edward Heath lied all the time.