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14 March 2014updated 28 Jun 2021 4:45am

How Tony Benn beat Ali G at his own game

“Is it called the welfare state because it is well fair?”

By media mole

Among his many more impressive achievements, Tony Benn also holds a rare accolade – he came out of an interview with Ali G looking better than when he started.

 

Benn defended the right to vote and the welfare state (“is it called that because it is well fair?”); explained patiently that the miners weren’t lazy; strikers weren’t just “pulling a sickie” and women didn’t have children just to claim benefits. (Until now, we hadn’t realised that Ali G was a Daily Mail leader writer in disguise). He even firmly told Ali G (played by comedian Sacha Baron Cohen) not to disrespect women by calling them “bitches”. 

As he wrote in the Guardian afterwards:

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That should be the end of a simple story of an old man being completely fooled by a comedian in a hoax interview – but there was a sequel which showed it all in a very different light.

Lots of young people came up to me in the street, or wrote in to say how much they had enjoyed the programme and how glad they were that I had stood up to him.

… In fact, the programmes were exactly what Channel 4 had said they would be – a chance to present politics to young people. Ali G is a very clever man, and I am beginning to wonder if that was what he actually intended to do. If so, perhaps he can help explain New Labour by interviewing the prime minister about the Third Way.

Tony Benn. Maximum respect.