Tony Benn – as authentic as they come

“If you say what you believe and believe what you say, that’s the test of authenticity.”

With the passing of Tony Benn this morning, British politics grew a little dimmer.  Many will have differed with him politically, but few would disagree that this was a man who would stop at nothing to have his say.

A former BBC Radio producer before a 50-year career in Parliament, he famously and doggedly defied the Beeb’s self-imposed ban against broadcasting an appeal for the people of Gaza by reading out the fund’s address on air.  Even when the laws of the land seemed to deprive him of his seat in the Commons, he campaigned vigorously for the right to renounce his peerage and stand again, not as Viscount Stansgate but as plain Mr Tony Benn.

He belonged to a class of politician whose numbers seem to grow fewer and fewer.  He was man of deep conviction, never afraid to argue his case but always willing to abide by the collective responsibility of cabinet government.  The worst thing you could say of him was that he had some wild ideas – a radical in the proper sense of the word.  He fought hard for what he believed in, fashionable or not.

Fans of Spitting Image will remember the News at Benn.  “Earthquake in Guatemala; Thatcher responsible”. It is fair to say that if Spitting Image went to the trouble of ridiculing you, you were doing something right.

The tributes that have flowed in from Left and Right are testament to a great parliamentarian.  “Tony Benn – he encouraged us. If that’s on my gravestone, I shall die a happy man.”