09 January, 2006

Who's left?

The death of Tony Banks has robbed the country of yet another articulate, well-liked and tireless politician able to couch left-wing ideas and values in a thoroughly accessible and exciting way.

It means in the space of five months a trio of engaging and profoundly popular people, each of whom managed to keep some spirit of genuinely progressive politics alive inside the Labour Party, have passed away.

It might be sentiment talking, but when in recent times has any equally well-known figure of the right provoked similar kinds of testament? When Ted Heath died last year his tributes were kind but formal - a reserved praise for a remote if dignified figure, and one who made more enemies than friends during his lifetime. When Mrs Thatcher finally shuffles off we can only imagine what kind of potently mixed obituaries will surface. I guess only Enoch Powell's death almost a decade ago came close by way of "man of the people" epithets, but his populism derived from exclusivity and fear rather than inclusivity and hope - the watchwords of Banks, Cook and Mowlam.

Thatcher's passing will probably be a strictly unemotional affair; it's difficult after all these years to still work up the energy to get angry about what she did to the country. No, it's best to preserve your anger for ruing what people like Tony Banks never got to do to the country, and what, now, they will never be able to do.


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