Nick Clegg’s tribute to Tony Benn

Tony_BennTributes were paid in the House of Commons today to the former Labour MP Tony Benn, who died last week. Deputy Prime Minister
Nick Clegg led them – here’s what he had to say…

The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Nick Clegg):
May I, on behalf of the House, commence the tributes to the right hon. Tony Benn, following the warm words from the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition yesterday?

As others have already commented, Tony Benn will be remembered as a dedicated constituency Member of Parliament, a tireless campaigner and, of course, an astute political diarist. He once described being an MP as the only job with 70,000 employers and only one employee. Our sincere condolences go to his family—including, of course, the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn)—and his friends and colleagues at this difficult time.

Countless people, regardless of whether they knew Tony Benn well personally or by reputation alone, have spoken of his kindness, charm and sense of humour. It was these qualities which, among so many other achievements, helped him get the better of Ali G in a way that very few people have before or since. I am sure I am not the only one who remembers watching and admiring Tony Benn in that interview.

Many of the battles Tony Benn fought were very much of their time, such as for renationalisation and turning back the tide of globalisation. Yet on so many other issues, Tony Benn was far ahead of his time. This includes his passionate commitment to protect civil liberties, promote equality and secure political reform in Britain; I could have done with him being here when we last discussed House of Lords reform. His campaign against Britain’s membership of the European Union—something I, of course, did not agree with him on—will loom large in this year’s European elections.

Above all else, Tony Benn was a dedicated democrat. He never forgot the struggles of those who, down the years, have fought for the right to vote, speak and be heard, as his now famous memorial to the suffragette Emily Wilding Davison in a broom cupboard nearby so wonderfully demonstrates, and this uplifting idea to help people realise the power they have to change the world for the better will be his lasting legacy.

Everyone who heard Tony Benn speak, whether they shared his views or not, could not help but admire and learn from the passion and conviction he brought to the causes he believed in. Over his lifetime, Tony Benn went from being vilified to being lauded by the press; perhaps there is hope for all of us. [Interruption.] Okay; perhaps not. He had mixed feelings about this. He once said:

“If I’m a national treasure in the Telegraph, something’s gone wrong.”

This modesty and humour was typical, but as I learned as an East Midlands MEP, representing Tony Benn’s constituency in Chesterfield, the public had a deep respect and affection for him. He had a genuine interest in people and time for everyone he met, and thanks to his diaries people will continue to be inspired by his life and work for many years to come.

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5 Comments

  • Benn was of course a fellow alumnus of Westminster School and studied PPE at Oxford.

  • A generous and gentlemanly tribute.

  • Am I the only person who squirms when reading this ? — — —
    “…………,,,,,,It was these qualities which, among so many other achievements, helped him get the better of Ali G in a way that very few people have before or since. I am sure I am not the only one who remembers watching and admiring Tony Benn in that interview……”

    Or was it another “I like flip-flops” moment ?

  • Ian Sanderson – Benn came from a dynasty of MPs and studied PPE at Oxford. He also conributed to the demise of grammar schools which did provide free education to prepare pupils for professional and University entrance exams. Sure, children can’t choose the schools to which their parents send them, but “public-school edcated” is bandied around as a term of abuse often enough on this site.

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