Struggling for Social Justice and Democracy : Tony Benn R.I.P.


tony benn

As some will know I’ve never been enamoured of the notion of youth work values. For my part starting from where people are at, showing them respect,  promoting equality and diversity, being committed to a ‘give and take’, questioning dialogue are not at all the property of youth work. The struggle for social justice and democracy is a collective humanist project. Youth work can but play a part in this quest, albeit in a distinctive voluntary setting we wish to defend. In all of this the struggle for a genuine democracy is at the heart of creating a just and equal society. In this context the death of Tony Benn is a significant moment. Inevitably with his passing we witness the effort to sanitise his memory, to turn him into a  tea-drinking, pipe-smoking national treasure, best forgotten as quickly as possible. I say this, having been quite close to him when living in Chesterfield  in the 1980’s – despite the gap between his Christian socialism and my Marxist leanings. Marilyn Taylor tells a lovely tale of accompanying him on the hustings around the town with Tony carrying a box to stand on at various street corners as he encouraged the locals into political debate. In this he was an intuitive democrat, caught in the following:

“If one meets a powerful person – Rupert Murdoch, perhaps, or Joe Stalin or Hitler –  one can ask five questions: what power do you have; where did you get it; in whose interests do you exercise it; to whom are you accountable; and, how can we get rid of you? Anyone who cannot answer the last of those questions does not live in a democratic system.”

Those questions can and should be asked every day at all levels of the hierarchies we live under, not least within youth work itself. The struggle for the values youth work claims to be dear to its heart continues. And in remembering the warmth of his welcoming smile and the sound of his cultivated, yet somehow never offensive voice, forever making the links between struggles, I know, whatever our differences, that Tony Benn will continue to be with us in spirit.

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