Tony Benn – not a leader but a champion


I had the pleasure of meeting Tony Benn in 1979 when he was campaigning for the May General Election (won by the Conservative party).  He stood on a box outside my flat in South East London in front of a small polite crowd and I listened in awe to his passionate speech.  He was already a hero of mine but when I met him he won me over with his clear vision or a fair and democratic society.  He was also charming and sincere. Tony Benn was one of the people who helped to form my political views and inspired me to take more interest in political affairs.  As time went on I did not agree with everything that he said or did but I admired him.  I am not sure whether there are many politicians today who are prepared to stand by their beliefs and principles and to keep fighting for them no matter what.  Tony Benn did have this courage – he was completely uncompromising.

Tony Benn stood against Denis Healey in the Labour Party’s Deputy Leadership  election in 1981.  He lost the contest.  We can speculate about how successful he might have been in this leadership role.  I suspect that the job may not have suited him and those close to Tony Benn have suggested that, over time, he too realised this.  Perhaps he was always going to be happier as a ‘dissenting minister’. 

When asked how he would like to be remembered Tony Benn said “I would be very pleased when I die if somebody put on a stone ‘Tony Benn – he encouraged us’.”   He did more than that.  He demonstrated the importance of courage, commitment and authenticity.  How many leaders can claim to do the same?

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