Facebook stalking is a terrible thing, though it does sometimes yield positive results. After having recovered from term two by attending a mass climate change rally in Coventry, and the premier of Age of Stupid in Aston – again, climate change related – I figured I was going to try and go for the hat-trick. After all, political activism is the best medicine for any psychological ailment. So it was, that on a Friday afternoon I chanced upon our incoming SU President’s status. Tony Benn, the only career politician who simultaneously falls into the categories of ‘firebrand belligerent’ and ‘national treasure’ was giving an audience in Coventry Methodist Hall. Andrew Bradley, so said his Facebook status, intended to go, and so I took it upon myself to join him.
By the end of the night I wound up losing a tenner in the five-metre walk from the cashpoint to Robbin’s Well, consequently wracking up a beer debt with the aforementioned Bradley that has yet to be paid. It was a fine evening, yet despite having made the impulsive decision to go, asked a question, had the picture taken etc, the most enduring feeling, and the one that spurs this two penn’orth, was one of quiet regret. Or more accurately, it was like the feeling you first had when you realised Father Christmas didn’t exist; slightly crestfallen, but actually not surprised in the least. Why was this? I shall explain.
The question I asked was something to do with dissident republicanism in Ulster. There’d been the recent shootings of the soldier and police officers by the Real and Continuity IRA groups. Tony Benn had just finished rattling off one of his anecdotes (and there are many, each with a bullshit-cutting crystallising effect on the listener) about how he’d talked to Gerry Adams back in the day. Lovely, I thought. When the conversation drifted towards jobs and energy, Coventry having been hard hit by manufacturing outsourcing and factory closures, that’s when the Father Christmas moment occurred. Following on from another Thatcher-busting anecdote about her calling the coal miners the “enemy within”, Andrew made the mistake of asking if “coal itself was now the enemy”. Tony Benn proceeded to suggest we dig up the three hundred years worth of coal still buried in Britain, and told us that the environmental case was being “overstated”. Shit.
But then, was it really surprising? Just in the same way my Nana occasionally comes out with Prince Phillip style racial slurs, Tony Benn is a product of a different era. The environment is something so gargantuan and yet intangible that the case for providing jobs will always be the one to hit home with voters.
I had a second Father Christmas moment last week, when I heard Nelson Mandela, the closest living thing to a temporal deity, support Jacob Zuma’s bid for presidency of South Africa. Zuma is a man so drenched in corruption that one shudders to think how anyone could vote him in. Unfortunately, the dropping of the corruption allegations will probably equate to ‘innocent of corruption allegations’ in too many voters’ minds. Whilst Benn is a national treasure, he has no real impact on politics in this country. The same cannot be said of Nelson Mandela, though. I only hope that this column is not filled in weeks to come by lamentation of the fate of South Africa. Still, it would be unsurprising.