It must have been sometime in early 1979. The Interior Secretary and I had just finished our morning review of public and government affairs matters. Andrus turned and asked, “What can you tell me about a member of the British Parliament, Anthony Wedgewood Benn? The British Embassy called to set up a meeting for him with me.”
“All I know is the conservative press has called him “the most dangerous man in Britain,” I replied, adding “I don’t know why but I’ll do a briefing page for you before you see him.” Andrus added the Embassy had not said why, they had just asked for the meeting.
A week later one of the more fascinating figures Andrus ever met was sitting in his office. Memories of the meeting came back to me as I read the news of Benn’s death on March 14th at the age of 88.
A voluminous writer and speechifyer, Benn was long-time member of Britain’s Labour party, but a more apt description was that he was a true socialist. He waged an eight-year battle to renounce his peerage because rather than take his father’s seat in the House of Lords he wanted to sit in Parliament where the action and power really were.
He won a seat from the Bristol Southeast and Chesterfield riding and his native intelligence soon captured the attention of his party’s leadership. He first served as Minister for Industry in the Labour government of Harold Wilson, then as Minister for Energy for Prime Minister Jim Callaghan.
His reason for visiting Andrus ostensibly was to discuss energy policy in the United States under Carter and since Interior oversaw offshore oil leasing and onshore coal leasing, programs that generated through royalties considerable income for the U.S. Treasury, he wanted to probe Andrus’ views. I couldn’t help thinking though that Benn was trying to take the measure of Andrus, that the Brits knew the former Idaho governor was one of the very few stars in the Carter Administration.
By the time he came to see Andrus critics were charging that he had almost single-handedly destroyed the Labour Party (And thereby helped to clear the path for Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative Party’s rise to power), and Rupert Murdock’s press was calling him “bonkers.” (more…)