Brown, Benn and the original red Ken

Nick Robinson, who was in the crowd at Islington’s Remembrance service on Sunday, has been unpicking the meaning behind Gordon Brown’s big foreign affairs speech. Private Eye portrays the Prime Minister as a Soviet-style Supreme Leader, and now it seems we have the kremlinologists as well.

Do they find Gordon a bore? I was talking to a distinguished member of the Labour party recently, who confessed that while she disliked what Blair said, she found him easy to listen to; whereas with Gordon she felt she ought to listen but ended up switching off. Many people find all politicians a turn-off; or would never tune in in the first place. For those who are interested we have more opportunities than ever; politicians pop up on YouTube or Richard & Judy as well as Today or Newsnight.

I grew up listening to political debate on the radio, with Any Questions a Saturday lunchtime fixture. On Saturdays, Dad would cook. He’d make porridge, eaten while listening to Ed Stewart and Family Favourites on the radio (Nellie the Elephant, the Wombles and Donny Osmond). Then off to the shops and back for lunch to Any Questions. We listened to great speakers and great characters from Tony Benn to Enoch Powell (Dad – a lifelong Labour party man until he quit over Iraq – would call it Fascists’ Forum), and my favourites Shirley Williams and David Penhaligon. They were never boring. Other regulars included Sue Slipman and Richard Marsh, Keith Joseph and David Alton, Teddy Taylor and Margo Macdonald. As well as the politicians, trades unionists like Jack Jones, Arthur Scargill and Rodney Bickerstaff featured much more than their successors do today.

Tony Benn is planning a comeback. He wants to stand for Kensington & Chelsea; the BBC quotes him as saying, “I believe in peace, not taxing students with enormous loans and securing a referendum on the EU.” Sounds rather Lib Dem to me, Tony.

Both my parents were active in the Labour party and the community, serving as school governors, standing for the Council, and running various voluntary groups. My Dad, Ken Ansell, was ‘red Ken’ long before Livingstone. Growing up in an activist household, I thought being political was normal; by the time I realised it wasn’t, it was too late! Dad served a term on the Council in the 1970s and went on to be a magistrate. How he managed to be a councillor in an age before email and home computers is a mystery. In his working life he was one of the original ‘white heat of technology’ boffins; Dad even knows how to make polonium-210 -something of which my teenage boyfriends were blissfully ignorant.

Now despite being a decade into ‘retirement’, Dad still leads walks, researches the family history, helps run church groups and organises Christian Aid week fundraising. As well as all this, he has always been a great Dad, teaching my brother Phil and me how to swim, cycle, master maths and move house – and even coping with my early attempts to drive.

Why the trip down memory lane? It’s his birthday today; happy birthday Dad.



  1. Dominic said

    Happy birthday Bridget’s dad 🙂

  2. Thinking about boring politicians – I think its got a lot to do with the rise of the professional politician.
    So many people work in politics, become a councilor to become an MP or MEP… They have no experience of the world outside politics and this can make them very insular and thus boring to many people.

  3. Tio said

    Is Gordon Brown the worst prime minister we have ever had?

  4. Isla said

    Just googled your dad. Bought 2 lovely hand painted prints at car boot sale. Fab. Signed by Ken Ansell. Is it your dad?

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