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RIP Tony Benn 1925-2014

16/03/2014
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Tony Benn at Brighton Fringe 2012; (c) Morten Watkins

Tony Benn at Brighton Fringe 2012; (c) Morten Watkins

Many have commented on Tony Benn since his death on Friday 14 March 2014.   A giant of socialism dies peacefully at home was one of the best obituaries, appearing in The Morning Star.  By contrast much of the mainstream media comment has been distorted – and distastefully venomous about someone so recently passed.  This is testament to the real threat posed by Tony’s undiminished advocacy of socialism and social justice.  The media and the establishment it represents remain fearful of the solidarity and action that a political giant like Tony could inspire with his clarity of vision.  Tony’s writings and recordings mean that inspiration remains available to us undimmed.

Tony Benn was simply the best known socialist in Britain, a former Cabinet Minister and an RAF veteran.  The longest-serving Labour MP to date, Tony stepped down as an MP in 2001 after 50 years in Parliament, famously declaring that he wanted to spend more time on politics.  In his time dubbed Britain’s “greatest living Parliamentarian”, Tony was one of the most loved politicians of the last fifty years and consistently topped polls as Britain’s favourite politician – not least because he saw politics as a duty, not a career.

Tony Benn at Brighton Fringe 2013; (c) Morten Watkins

Tony Benn at Brighton Fringe 2013; (c) Morten Watkins

Sussex LRC was honoured by Tony’s presence at our centrepiece event for Brighton Fringe in 2012 and delighted when Tony returned again in 2013.  Tony was planning to attend Brighton Fringe again this year so, on Saturday 31 May 2014, we will now celebrate Tony’s commitment to socialism and also remember Bob Crow, with Jeremy Corbyn MP, Nancy Platts – Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Brighton Kemp Town & Peacehaven, Robb Johnson and others.

Paying an immediate tribute, Jeremy Corbyn MP described Tony Benn as “a legend of indefatigable optimism, humour and strength” who believed that ordinary people could bring about enormous change.  Jeremy continued: “It was an honour and privilege to work closely with him for decades and we owe him so many thanks in so many ways for all he taught us, from promoting public ownership of industry, to understanding our own radical history, ending racism and discrimination, opposing wars and nuclear weapons.  Above all he inspired us to understand values of democracy and honesty in our cause. There will be a big gap in the lives of millions today”.

Tony Benn steadfastly supported the miners throughout the 1984/85 strike

Tony Benn steadfastly supported the miners throughout the 1984/85 strike

Bolsover MP Dennis Skinner, who had known Tony since 1970 and was a neighbouring MP when Tony represented the Chesterfield constituency said: “I will remember him as a great member of parliament, a political activist, a great diarist, an MP who believed not only in parliamentary activity but also in extra-parliamentary activity.  He was a socialist colleague in a constituency next to mine for something like 17 years so we campaigned together and I well remember traversing the country with him during the miners’ strike in 1984/85.  He was one of the greatest assets the Labour Party has ever had.  He was a campaigner and a teacher.  His whole idea was about trying to influence people, not just in parliament but outside too.”

John McDonnell MP, current Chair of the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs which Tony founded, said: “Tony Benn was the articulate advocate of socialism who inspired my generation and gave us all hope of a fair and equal society.  He will be remembered for his principled commitment to his socialist beliefs and his principled stand on so many issues.  His passing adds to a terribly sad week for the Left, coming so soon after the loss of Bob Crow.”

John McDonnell pays careful attention to Tony Benn at Brighton Fringe 2012; (c) Morten Watkins

John McDonnell pays careful attention to Tony Benn at Brighton Fringe 2012; (c) Morten Watkins

Speaking on behalf of the RMT, Mick Cash said; “RMT is deeply saddened by the death of our close comrade Tony Benn. Wherever members of our union were engaged in struggle it was a matter of course that Tony Benn would be standing at their shoulder.  No post-war political figure did more to support and inspire the working class movement. From the town hall, to the picket line to the Glastonbury Festival, Tony Benn rose above the vilification of the right wing press to provide real leadership through some of our toughest battles.  Coming in the same week as the loss of our own General Secretary Bob Crow, a close personal friend of Tony Benn, our world has been rocked to its core but we draw strength from the knowledge that the only tribute both men would have wanted from us is a renewal of the fight for socialism and economic and social justice and that is what we intend to deliver.”
Bob Crow with Tony Benn; (c) RMT

Bob Crow with Tony Benn; (c) RMT

Such sentiments were echoed by other trades unionists, including Janice Godrich, President of PCS who “will remember Tony as a gentle and generous man, but one who burned with indignation at injustice and intolerance, and fought against it to the last… Tony’s name alone was enough to inspire us that another world is possible.  But he understood perfectly that no gains are ever won by relying on political leaders like him and that real change is never handed to us on a plate – we have to fight for it.”
Tony will be hugely missed across the labour and trades union movement in the UK and internationally, but his work lives on and Tony shall continue to inspire future generations through his writings and recordings.  Tony saw that winning the right to vote was key to further social and economic change, including the expansion of the welfare state and state education, the creation of the NHS, building decent council housing, providing justice for all with legal aid, and much more.  Above all Tony realised that real change occurs when people come together to make demands collectively, whether through trades unions or mass movements.  Continuing to fight for a real alternative to austerity, for a fair distribution of wealth in society, and for social and economic justice for all is the best tribute that we can pay to socialist legend Tony Benn.
In his last speech to the House of Commons, Hansard records Tony Benn raising five questions we should all ask of the powerful

In his last speech to the House of Commons, Hansard records Tony Benn raising five questions we should all ask of the powerful

Our thoughts are with Tony’s family and friends.  RIP Comrade.

 

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