Hypocrisy Celebrated with Sentimentality

The life and times of Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn had the richest flavor of hypocrisy. Born an aristocrat, he inherited the title of Viscount Stansgate but dropped it and then constructed a phoney proletarian personality as Tony Benn. Marrying a rich American heiress ensured that he would not have to suffer the penalties of the hardline socialism he was wishing onto everyone else. A pacifist, promoter of a Soviet-style economy, giving Soviet Communism the sole credit for winning the World War, praising Mao, he was wrong about almost everything, and oh! so sincere about it that large parts of the public overlooked the fact that Tony Benn was only exercising in modern guise the privilege of Viscount Stansgate to tell everybody else what to do.

For royalty and prime ministers there is a ceremony known as lying in state, whereby their coffin is placed in Westminster. Mr. Wedgwood Benn was not given the full works, but his coffin was nevertheless placed in Westminster — the last person honored in this way was Mrs. Thatcher. Next to Parliament and Westminster Abbey is Saint Margaret’s Church, traditionally associated with weddings and memorial services for aristocrats. The funeral service for Mr. Wedgwood Benn was some sort of ultimate instance of double standards. Here was an assembly of Communists, IRA leaders, oddballs like Mr. George Galloway who so much admired Saddam Hussein, and Michael Heseltine, the Tory politician who brought down Mrs. Thatcher. The theme that seemed to unify the congregation was that they had all done damage to Britain. At the close of the service, they sang The Red Flag not once but twice.

What explains this hallucinating nonsense? I suggest that Mr. Wedgwood Benn can be sentimentalized like this precisely because he achieved nothing and turned out to be a danger to nobody. Had he been successful and Britain gone through the revolution that he preached, half this weeping congregation would have been suddenly dry-eyed and busy cutting down the other half. Failure has its mercies.

David Pryce-Jones — David Pryce-Jones is a British author and commentator and a senior editor of National Review.

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