I suppose you could argue, if you were a conservative, that Tony Benn’s greatest contribution to public life was helping to render Labour unelectable for thirteen years. There’s quite a few within Labour who might wryly argue the same thing, frankly. And plenty more who had grave doubts about the man’s ‘principled’ devotion to Socialism, a principle which seemed to visit itself on him, suddenly, in the early 1970s, when he saw the base of the party was swinging wildly to the left. He had previously been a pretty moderate and competent minister under Harold Wilson. Later he was to become a sort of cartoon bogeyman for the red top press, a role in which he revelled.
I interviewed the chap a year or so back and he was terribly frail. You could not doubt his utterly unflinching belief in political debate, in ideas, in lessons to be drawn from history. Nor his charisma, his oratory, and extraordinary influence over a large-ish swathe of Labour opinion (including me, I voted for him as deputy leader in 1981, I think it was). He was unquestionably a Big Beast, of which there are so few around these days.
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