Lindsey German: Tony Benn's legacy will be his undying commitment to fight injustice and campaign for an equal society, and to oppose the endless war and militarism that are such a blight on today's world
The loss of Tony Benn is a loss for our whole movement. He was a good friend to the Stop the War Coalition, of which he remained president to the end. One of his last speeches was at the Stop the War international conference on 30 November 2013. He was a socialist, someone with a deep commitment to social change, who was principled to the end.
Tony was from a privileged and highly political background, the son and grandson of Liberal and then Labour politicians. He would have become Viscount Stansgate in the early 60s if he had not fought a long legal battle to renounce his peerage and to continue as an MP in the House of Commons. This he did, first in Bristol then in Chesterfield. He became an important minister in the Wilson Labour governments, standing for deputy leader in 1981 after Labour’s defeat by Thatcher.
Almost uniquely for someone in his position, he moved to the left as he got older. As an MP he campaigned over a range of issues, supported the miners during their year long strike in 1984-5, was committed to equality and women’s rights, was an internationalist who opposed empire and apartheid, and a socialist. But in my opinion his most important work came after he left parliament as he quipped ‘to spend more time on politics’.
This was after the death of his remarkable wife Caroline, a fine socialist campaigner and author. He dedicated the rest of his life to campaigning and was absolutely tireless in doing so.
He travelled round the country speaking at meetings large and small, always to a delighted reception. He opposed the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and was right there last year when we campaigned successfully against war on Syria. He fought the BBC when it refused to broadcast the Disasters Emergency Fund appeal for Gaza" during the Cast Lead bombing by Israel in 2009. He helped found the People's Assembly and he was completely committed to united work. He disliked sectarians and couldn’t understand why some on the left spent their time attacking one another.
He loved young people and would spend hours talking to them after meetings, when great queues would form to talk to him and ask him to speak at other meetings. He carried with him a little stool to sit on (he loved gadgets of all kinds), a flask of tea and a cheese sandwich.
He never left Labour, but was critical of much of its politics and always encouraged people to be involved in activity as their starting point in politics.
He was also a good friend to me personally, always supportive, always willing to speak at meetings and demos, always polite and political. I often visited him at his house in Holland Park and then in the flat round the corner he moved into when it became too much for him. We would sometimes go for a pizza, where he always chatted to the waiters. Everywhere you went with Tony, people came up and spoke to him. Doormen, taxi drivers, shopkeepers and just people in the street wanted to shake his hand.
He was loved by millions for his straightforward talking and for his opinions, which chimed more with theirs than the mainstream politicians. In recent years when I spoke alongside him he received rapturous applause. Last year's People's Assembly gave him a standing ovation, and he will be on everyone's minds when we gather tomorrow. His legacy will be a commitment to organise, fight injustice and campaign for an equal society. It will also be to commit to fighting against war and militarism.
Our condolences to his children, grandchildren, all his family and friends. Thanks for everything Tony. You will always be in our hearts.
Tony Benn's last public speech for Stop the War at the International Peace Conference on 30 November 2013
As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.
Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.
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