Tony Benn: 3 April 1925 – 14 March 2014

IssueApril 2014
Comment by Milan Rai

Labour party left-winger and committed peace activist Tony Benn was one of those dangerous figures who can start to make you believe that the system might work after all.

He was a hereditary peer who campaigned (successfully) to be allowed to go back to being a commoner – and a member of the house of commons (where he served for 50 years). He was a cabinet minister who supported workers’ control of industry – with government grants as well as words. He grew more radical as he grew older, and more accepting of the importance of extra-parliamentary and non-party politics. Early on, friends and enemies alike expected him to become prime minister one day, but his principles just wouldn’t bend that far.

After suffering the worst vilification that the mainstream media could throw at him as a ‘loony lefty’, in recent years Tony Benn suffered the indignity of becoming a ‘national treasure’. This unwarranted demotion-neutralisation-sanctification may have been partly due to the waning of the insurgent movements of the 1970s and 1980s that both radicalised him and gave him prominence as their spokesperson.

The final word should go to his fellow Labour left-winger, the similarly tireless and principled Jeremy Corbyn MP: ‘The death of Tony Benn is devastating to me, obviously to his family, and to millions all around Britain and the world who recognised him as a friend, an honest man, and someone who passionately believed in the cause of socialism and humanity.’ Amen.

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