Tribute to Tony Benn

(March 14, 2014)


In a week in which two giants of the left in British politics have passed away, I remember fondly, the profound impact that Tony Benn had on my own political journey.

Like so many historically politically divisive figures Benn was loved and loathed in equal measure yet as his passing proves, one thing united both sides, admiration. In my opinion, that is because the qualities of the man are unquestionable.

Few people in the contemporary Westminster village have the same articulate grasp of the British people; their wants, desires, day-to-day challenges and ideological exasperation with the political classes, than Tony Benn.

He was a household name and for many, a national treasure. He had an uncommon faith in the ability of ordinary people to do extraordinary things which is why, perversely, despite possessing all the capabilities necessary, he never climbed to the summit of the political greasy pole.

For much of his 88 years he was a major figurehead of the political left. In a century when the Labour and Trade Union movements achieved significant improvements to the rights of workers; increases in pay, the implementation of the national minimum wage, the National Health Service and improvements to Health and Safety in the workplace, Benn should rightly take credit for the leading role that he played in the promotion of progressive politics.

My last memory of Tony Benn came just a couple of months ago when I asked him to sign a couple of books for me, which he kindly agreed to. Through his son, Hilary, he arranged for them to be sent back to me via the internal parliamentary post. They got lost, or at least I thought they had. However, by error, they ended up being returned to the office of Jacob Rees-Mogg! Imagine his shock!

Jacob, (who despite disagreeing with virtually every single thing I stand for, is actually always rather pleasant to me) sent the signed Benn books back to me. When I spoke with ‘The Mogg’ about this aberration and suggested he should have read them, he simply said, “Perhaps I could have learned something useful”? Perhaps he could!

Tony Benn’s passing is a sad day and my thoughts are with Hilary, his family and friends at this difficult time.

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