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Last modified: 16 July 2004
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Brighton Branch reports

Tony Benn
Tony Benn in Brighton. Photo Fred Pipes

Tony Benn at the Arts Club, 6 August 2003

Former Labour cabinet minister Tony Benn, now the godfather of British socialism, spoke out against virtually everything New Labour stood for, when he gave a speech, followed by lively discussion, to the Brighton and Mid Sussex branch.

Eighty five people came to hear one of Britain's longest serving MPs speak his mind, now he has been unshackled by the restrictions of the Commons, when he addressed NUJ members and guests at the Sussex Arts Club, Ship Street, Brighton.

It was one of the most successful events every organised by the local branch of NUJ. So many people attended, despite the 4.30 pm start, that a larger room had to be quickly set up at the last minute. Among the audience were former MI5 "whistle-blower" and NUJ member David Shayler and his partner.

Tony Benn, now 78, proved he had lost none of commitment to the socialist cause and if anything had moved further to the left as he approaches his eighties.

The former MP for Bristol South East and Chesterfield, who retired from the
Commons at the last general election said "The purpose of being old is to encourage the young. I am engaged in a permanent election campaign with no polling day at the moment. I am a socialist and not a supporter of New Labour."

Mr Benn accused Prime Minister Tony Blair of treating the public with contempt. "I am not a member of New Labour and I don't want to be. I want to see this country run on socialist lines not on a business basis." He attacked the Mr Blair for going to war against Iraq on the flimsiest of evidence and said the way in which the case for Britain going to war had been presented was a fraud.

"The Government is being run by spin doctors who are hand in glove with a few selected members of Lobby journalists based at Westminster. "If a Lobby journalist writes something the Government does not like, they are left out briefings, and then even more briefings if they write about being left out of briefings. This is not the way to run the country. "Luckily the British electorate has a basically high level of intelligence and they are able to see through it. People are not apathetic. The electorate does not like a Government which tells them what they should do"

Mr Benn said he believed the local and regional Press played an important part in any democracy as they were closer to the community. "Any change must come from the bottom up." Mr Benn said the media had been conned over Nelson Mandela while he was in jail in South Africa.

"I remember reading a headline: 'Tony Benn meets well-known terrorist.' The
next time I met him he was the President of South Africa and had just won the Nobel Peace Prize" Mr Benn, speaking before the inquiry into the death of David Kelly and the Government's role in beefing up the need to go to war with Iraq said he believed it would prove the Government did hype up its case, "This war was not about weapons of mass destruction it was about Bush and Blair wanting world domination. It was an illegal war and a criminal act against another nation which has done no harm."

He said Tony Blair was running a neo-Conservative Party, but the former Labour cabinet minister whose son Hillary is Home Office minister refused to advocate a vote for any other party. "The only alternative to Blair is a Labour Government. I am working towards the return of a Labour Government which will reclaim the democratic rights of the people of this country."
Rowan Dore

Rowan Dore wrote up this short account of May 2004's speaker's visit:

Former editor of the Daily Mirror Roy Greenslade, now a media commentator or as Karen Hoy of The Argus describes him 'a media icon', was the guest speaker at our May meeting.

It was a timely opportunity to hear the views of the former Argus sub editor and NUJ activist as days earlier one of his predecessors , Piers Morgan had been sacked for publishing fake photographs of Iraqi prisoners being tortured.

Roy said he would not have published the photographs had he still been editing the paper as he was 'too cautious'. He said picture editors on national papers had immediately spotted the pictures were faked and staged.

Roy said he believed Piers would have kept his job had he admitted the pictures were fake after a couple of days. 'It was his continued insistence that the pictures were genuine that was his downfall'. Roy denied that he 'sold out' his union beliefs as he moved up the journalism management tree, first as managing edior of the Sunday Times and then editor of The Mirror.

He told of his time as editor of the Mirror under Robert Maxwell, talking about the interference of Maxwell during the 14 months he edited the Mirror between 1990 and 1991, eventually parting company with a large pay off.

Roy went on to write a best-selling book Maxwell's Fall after Bob Maxwell's death in November 1991. Roy in answer to a question from Sam Thomson of The Argus said he was surprised the new-look paper was targeting 35-year-old women with kids as the ideal reader. 'If The Argus is, then it is not that evident. I believe it is stupid for what is still basically an evening paper to concentrate on one group of readers.

'I don't think there are enough 35-year-old women married women with two kids living in Brighton to make that marketing ploy a success. The Standard has made a success of a niche market but there are more people living in the Standard's circulation area'.

The former Mirror editor said he believed the number of national newspaper titles would remain the same for the next few years.