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Saturday, 15 March 2014

My memories of Tony Benn

There is a theme running on “Facebook” today, (Saturday 15th March 2014 and started by Isobel Waby, a “Facebook” friend), under the general heading of “My memories of Tony Benn”.
I would like to add my personal memory to that theme.

Anthony Neil Wedgwood "Tony" Benn, PC 3 April 1925 – 14 March 2014, (formerly 2nd Viscount Stansgate).

Tony Benn

In the late 1970's and 1980's, I was Chair of the Basingstoke CLP. During one of the election campaigns of that period, Tony was invited to speak at a public meeting in support of the party in the constituency.
On the nominated day, he duly arrived accompanied by Michael Meacher MP and we proceeded to the meeting. Tony always enjoyed speaking directly to the people, either standing on a box at some demonstration or as in this case a public hall. This day was no exception and the large hall was full almost to capacity with people standing at the rear, together with a good representation of local and national press.
We mounted the stage, and I indicated the appropriate seats for the speakers. As Tony went to sit, he had inadvertently moved his chair further away than expected, and missing the seat by some distance, ended up sitting on the floor, which prompted some some slight laughter from the audience and embarrassment from others, (including myself), as he picked himself up and assumed his seat at the table. After completing my introductions, Tony rose to commence his speech. He spoke for some time, without notes, but using just headings on some index cards and recording the whole speech on a small portable tape recorder which he had placed on the table. In a conversation afterwards, he told me that it was a technique that he always used at public meeting, thereby retaining, for future use, a complete record of what he had said.
(From that day onwards, it was a practice that I always employed when speaking in public or in the Council Chamber).
On returning to work a few days later, it was noticeable that a number of work colleagues who could not be described as Labour party supporters, remained critical of Tony Benn and his political views. When asked if they had been at the meeting, or even knew what he had actually said, the response was that they did not have to be at the meeting as they had read it in the paper. Sadly, an all too familiar mind set. The fact that the majority of the press and media reports were mainly concerned with Tony Benn missing his seat, rather than the content of his speech seemed lost on many people.

I shall always remember that day and be thankful that I had the privilege to meet and spend some time in conversation with a man who, I consider to be one of the greatest minds and intellects in British politics.
A man in fact, who was the greatest Leader of the Labour party and Prime Minister that this country never had.