In an interview he gave in 2000, Tony Benn once recalled Clement Atlee’s analysis of post-War Britain: “Well, Attlee was in World War I. When he came back, he was the mayor of Poplar in the East End of London. He saw the terrible poverty, and he said, “If you look around the world, what are the problems? They’re all caused by the private ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange.” And in the manifesto of 1945, he said the prewar slumps were not acts of God; they were the result of too much power in the hands of too few people, who behaved like a state within a state, and we have to take our future into our own hands. He was a very remarkable man. I sat with him in Parliament for some time before he retired”. Tony Benn echoed these sentiments when describing the global free-market economy: “Well, it’s not really new, is it? In the 19th century there was a global economy — it was known as the British empire. We sent troops to India. They very obligingly brought the goods we produced in Birmingham, and they would send us cheap raw materials. If they didn’t, we had the redcoats to put them in their place”.
When asked about corporate influence, he gave a reply that reflected the possibilities to bring about change in the era he represented: “It’s corporate power that it’s about. I mean, the political power of a big corporation — I’ve dealt with them all my life. I mean, I was the energy minister, so I used to deal with the oil companies. And Esso once came to me and said, “We’re not working with you because you’re of a different political philosophy.” So I said, “Thank you very much,” and they went out. I had all the North Sea oil and I had to allocate it, so I didn’t give any to Esso. They came back a year later, and they were on their knees. Amoco wouldn’t cooperate, so they didn’t get any more North Sea oil, so they sacked their top management and came back and got it [from me]. I mean, we’re much more powerful in dealing with big corporations than anyone believes”.
Tony Benn talked of the hatred of some political systems of democracy: “Knocker O’Connell. … He did a political poem for me, and one line was this: “‘F’ stands for freedom, what Britain brags about. If you can’t afford your dinner, you’re free to go without.” And that was the sort of freedom that capitalists believed in. You were free to starve if you weren’t rich. This idea that keeping people down is the way you get freedom is ridiculous, because the world is dominated by multinational corporations that have never been elected. You can’t get rid of them. … You can’t get rid of corporations. And they are the ones who are dictating what sort of a world we live in. I think capitalism has one thing in common with communism: They both detest democracy. I used to go to Moscow on ministerial visits, and I’d meet the central committee for the Communist Party, and they had not been elected. And I would meet the commissars, and they had not been elected. And then I’d go on a ministerial visit to Brussels, and I’d meet the commissioners; they hadn’t been elected. I’d meet the central bankers; they hadn’t been elected. Communism and capitalism want to run society from the top, and you’re allowed to decide whether your want Bush or Gore or Blair or Major, but you’re not allowed to discuss capitalism in Russia or socialism in the West. Do you see what I mean? It’s a very interesting thing to observe. Market forces destroy democracy by putting money above the voting machine or the ballot box”.
If Tony Benn were alive today, and concluded that the only choice offered to voters was one of who was to govern a Britain ruled by American corporate interests, and concluded that this was not a choice, and voting in this system was a meaningless exercise in selecting tweedle-dee over tweedle-dum, and, advocated the overthrowing of this system, would he, or anyone holding such a belief, be classed as a terrorist under the Conservative Party’s proposed broadening of the definition of terrorism?
Under the Conservatives’ new proposals, groups could be subject to banning orders if ministers “reasonably believe” that they “threaten democracy”, or might ferment “public disorder”. Individuals who meet the same criteria would be subject to “extreme disruption orders”, stopping them from taking part in public protests, banning them from certain public locations; stopping them broadcasting their views, and not allowing them to work with “vulnerable individuals or children”.