Miles Salter mourns one of the great characters of British public life
Tony Benn’s passing marks a sad day in British politics. He was a conviction politician, a man of tremendous integrity who believed in the Left and spoke out for a more fair, balanced and peaceful world. As I write this, the tributes are pouring in via the radio, the web, Facebook and Twitter.
Benn, who was an MP for 50 years, was a brilliant speaker. He was passionate in his advocation of fair, indiscriminate treatment for all people.
He was president of the Stop The War Coalition for the last decade, and tirelessly trooped round the country to meeting after meeting. Glastonbury Festival, anti-war demonstrations, BBC debates – you name it, Benn was there.
Five years ago, I heard him perform The Writing On The Wall with folk musician Roy Bailey at Beverley Folk Festival. I was hugely impressed by their mix of humour, anecdote, music and a vividly told story of the Trades’ Union movement.
Benn and Bailey were a great team. They joked about their age and it was a fantastic, moving show.
I managed to get the pair of them to come to York Literature Festival in 2012. Benn, aged 86, was glassy eyed. He struggled a little to remember the order of the show, and Roy Bailey had to remind him what to say at different points.
But the audience loved hearing the veteran politician.
Afterwards, he signed books and had his photograph taken with members of the audience. Some of Benn’s family turned up for the gig.
I was thrilled that he was in York, and to have the chance to introduce him. We didn’t get a chance to talk for long, but the audience’s appreciative silence when Benn spoke said it all.
There was a conviction to what Benn said, and how he said it, that was palpable. People recognised that.
His integrity came from his deep belief in the principles that he stood for. He really wanted a better world. He really wanted a more peaceful world.
Unlike so many of today’s politicians, who fail to give a straight answer and who side with big business and corporate power, Tony Benn stayed true to his convictions. If only we had more like him in today’s parliament.
He was a good man.