The funeral of Tony Benn was held last month. By coincidence, I also attended a funeral that day. It would however be difficult to think of a place less like Westminster than the Yorkshire Wolds, which is where the funeral was, and people less like the inhabitants of the Westminster village.
As tends to happen at such events, the congregation was pretty elderly, and the hundred or so people who went to the pub afterwards (my family always enjoys a good funeral) must have had an aggregate age between them of about 8,000 years.
One was forcibly struck however by the contrast between the way old people are spoken of by politicians – the “demographic time-bomb” and all that – and the way the same people see themselves. They ate heartily and conversed volubly, discussing such innocent pastimes as bowls, caravanning and modest lunches in obscure pubs.
Intelligent in a practical sort of way, unpretentious, not too overcome with grief, they managed to cheer me up no end just by being who they were.
It is, one thought, all too easy to fall into the politician’s error of regarding the elderly as some sort of problem to be solved. These people weren’t anybody’s problem: they were simply people at their dignified best.
One only wished that a few politicians had been there, if only to see how normal people actually comport themselves. As Auden once observed, “private faces in public places are wiser and nicer than public faces in private places”. The anonymous minister might just have learned something, always assuming the said minister is capable of learning anything at all. That’s quite a big assumption, one rather fears.
by Phil Atkinson