In a society where the older generation is generally ignored and marginalised by the media, Two Old Gits comes as a welcome change. Besides, what better can you do as a former political behemoth than reflect on your life and share those thoughts with a knowledge-hungry public? Indeed, our audience’s appetite was clearly voracious, for the Music Hall at the Assembly Rooms was full to capacity.
Despite their combined age of (allegedly) 162 years, Tony Benn and Richard Holloway still pack enough firepower to draw a crowd. Indeed, when our hosts were accompanied onto the stage by Alan Taylor, introduced to the audience as a moderator and tea-pourer, spirits were lifted at the prospect of such lively debate as to need moderating. Sadly, no such debate was forthcoming despite Taylor’s claim that ‘We’re going to sort everything in the next hour.’
Rather than coming from opposite ends of the political spectrum, Benn and Holloway share many ideological similarities: Both rejected their roots - Benn his peerage and Holloway his career in the Scottish Episcopal Church - to follow what they felt were their moral paths; both were against what they referred to as ‘Blair’s War’; both have books to promote. This can occasionally make for an overly-comfortable and unchallenging experience.
This show certainly offered an interesting hour, briefly tickling topics like the Church’s attitude towards the gay community, the origins of the Labour Party (Benn sees himself as very old Labour indeed), an old-boys’-club list of famous men they have met and the Scottish vote for independence. Benn and Holloway, despite talking about serious matters with the expected conviction also allowed moments of surprising humour.
The end of the session was given over to questions from the floor. Unfortunately, some clearly well-thought-out questions were somewhat stunted from proper development by the answers from these two mouths. When a question was directed at Benn as to what happened to the soul of the Labour Party, Benn seemed to slip into pure politician-speak and skirted around a direct answer. With his age and stature is he not free to criticise the younger members of his group? Both gave the impression that whilst Politics (note the capital P) is about power, it is politics on a personal level that can make the biggest difference; our personal ability to make the right moral choices and accept disagreement and debate are essential for a healthy society. Ironically, such a statement only highlighted their lack of disagreement. The audience seemed happy with this though, and the ending applause gave a clear indication of their respect.
Benn and Holloway are incredibly interesting in their own right (whether you agree or disagree with their viewpoint) and would have benefitted from an ‘in conversation with’-style show instead of this bland format, which made them a whole lot less than the sum of their collective parts.