Say what you mean and never wrestle with chimney sweep

I love this saying that Tony Benn used to dig out regularly:

Say what you mean

‘My dad said to me, say what you mean, mean what you say, do it if you have a chance and don’t attack people personally. I’ve found that a brilliant guide.’

It’s not just about saying whatever spills out of your brain, nor is it about being ‘nice as pie’ all the time. No, it’s about having the confidence to challenge people on their ideas, in the realm of politics, honestly, rather than passively aggressively attacking people in the shadows, behind their back. Come out, have a pride in your thoughts and ideas, state them clearly, be ready to be challenged – and admit when you’re wrong.

Mind you, Tony Benn’s dad also used to say:


“Never wrestle with a chimney sweep.”

What he meant was: if somebody plays dirty with you, don’t play dirty with them or you’ll get dirty too.

There’s a massive temptation to go to war against people who drag everything down to the personal and manoeuvre against you like some sort of modern Machiavelli. I’m always amazed at how people have the time for this, when there’s so much urgent campaigning and organising to do. Do they stay up 24 hours a day? Perhaps. Maybe they have problems sleeping at night…


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