Tony Benn & Nicky Wire Of The Manic Street Preachers
, September 14th, 2010 04:51
One of our favourite politicians is about to publish another book. One of our favourite rock stars is about to release another album. We thought we'd get them together. Overseen by (one of our favourite writers) Simon Price
It had to happen. There were too many parallels, and too many symmetries to resist.
One of them is Britain's most outspoken Socialist in pop, the other is Britain's most popular outspoken Socialist. One of them has just recorded an album called Postcards From A Young Man, the other has just written a book called Letters To My Grandchildren. One of them is a working class kid made good, the other was born to be a Viscount but renounced his title. One of them is 41 years old and already crippled by pessimism, the other 85 years old and still optimistic for the future.
So, with a film crew in tow, Nicky Wire and I visited Tony Benn, the iconic elder statesman of the Labour left and "one of the few UK politicians to have become more left-wing after holding ministerial office", in his Notting Hill home for a fascinating cross-generational meeting of minds.
As the Manic Street Preachers' biographer and a Quietus contributor, I was there to mediate proceedings, push the conversation along if needed and, frankly, to meet one of my all-time heroes. Therefore, staying the right side of sycophancy and maintaining a meaningful debate presented a challenge, but once the formalities and the first few awkward minutes were out of the way, I think we managed to strike the right balance.
Wire and Benn hit it off well, and there was an evident mutual respect as we covered topics such as the Miner's Strike, the Labour leadership, Cuba and Castro, the power of music to spread political ideas, the surveillance of public figures, the conflict between electability and principles, the concept of the 'just war' and the question of social class, the former minister puffing on his trademark pipe throughout.
After posing for photos and signing our books ("In Unity" to me, "Love And Peace" to Wire), he told us “Your questions were much more intelligent than the ones I usually get from the BBC.” (I bet he says that to all the guys...), and despite his frailty, he followed us to the end of the garden path and out onto the street to make sure we managed to hail a cab and to wave us goodbye.
As well as being an utterly charming old gent – everyone's favourite grandad – he's an absolute inspiration. In the cab, Wire and I instantly agreed on one thing: if we still have that kind of energy when we're into our 80s, or even give much of a shit about anything any more, good luck to us.