In an article for The Nation remembering his friend Tony Benn, who he describes as ‘a proud radical, an anti-colonialist, a socialist without apology and the inspiration for generations of activists, organizers, parliamentarians, presidents and prime ministers around the world’, John Nichols recalled Benn’s five questions, which he believed should always be asked of those with economic, social and political power:
• What power have you got?
• Where did you get it from?
• In whose interests do you use it?
• To whom are you accountable?
• How do we get rid of you?
Benn asked these questions everywhere he went, Nichols remembers. ‘I saw him write them on the chalkboards of classrooms and lecture halls. I heard him repeat them at rallies, protests and marches. I think his favorite of the questions … was: “How do we get rid of you?”
‘“Anyone who cannot answer the last of those questions does not live in a democratic system,” Benn explained.’
We must hope that the holders of wealth in our society, including foundations and individual philanthropists, have good answers to question three since they can have none for question five.
Toni Pearce, president of the UK’s National Union of Students, described Tony Benn as ‘a thorn in the side of the establishment, a fierce critic of unaccountable elites, and a true champion of the powerless, the poor, and the dispossessed’. He will be much missed; in the UK politics will be much the poorer without him. In his memory, we can keep asking his questions.
Caroline Hartnell, is editor of Alliance magazine.