Of the Dead, Nothing Unless Good

by David Pryce-Jones

De Mortuis nil nisi bunkum is a truth currently being illustrated in Britain.  Consider first a Union boss by the name of Bob Crow.  1983 was the year this man showed how well he could look into the future by joining the Communist Party. He exploited his Union to wage class war unremittingly. Planning the latest shutdown of the London subway, he himself happened to be with his girlfriend on a cruise in Brazil. His abuse of power and privilege was feudal in character. As Mayor of London, Boris Johnson had to deal with the consequences.  Crow’s sudden death in time to avert strike action prompted Boris Johnson to call him “a fighter and a man of character” whose loss was “tragic,” when in reality for the traveling public it was timely.

Consider next Anthony Wedgwood Benn, a cast-iron member of the ruling establishment. Inheriting the title of Viscount Stansgate and a property to go with it, and marrying an American heiress, he forged a completely phony political career for himself under the would-be proletarian guise of Tony Benn.  Doing whatever he could to transform Britain into a Soviet-style economy and society, he actually succeeded in breaking the Labour Party and unintentionally paving the way for Mrs Thatcher. A greater abuse of power and privilege is hard to imagine. Now that he has died, the BBC naturally praises him on the news and in talk shows, but mysteriously the Conservative press almost unanimously thinks he was a political giant and will be much missed.

I am not given to rude language, and so can’t bring myself to quote what Kingsley Amis has to say about Wedgwood Benn in his Memoirs.  The insult on page 298 of that book is one I have found nowhere else.  I have reason to agree with Kingsley and object to the line taken these days in the obituaries that Wedgwood Benn was decent and meant well. Sir Oswald Mosley, the British Fascist, openly threatened me with violence for what I had written.  Wedgwood Benn did it more surreptitiously.  I had imagined that he had published memoirs under the title I Did It, and I wrote a spoof review of it forPunch, a humorous magazine. Peter Jenkins was a political writer on the Guardian, but in spite of that quite a friend. He didn’t enjoy telling me that Wedgwood Benn had sent him round. He’d read my spoof review, did not enjoy it, and he would choose his moment for revenge. I’d been warned.