Livewire - March 21, 2014

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Written by Charles Graham

My late dad was a card-carrying Conservative all his adult life.

But political differences made not a jot of difference when it came to admiring politicians of principle.

And right there at the top of his list was Tony Benn.

In fact the pair struck up a brief correspondence after dad sent the legendary MP what amounted to fan mail, having read some of his famous diaries.

I have one of the letters from the late MP and, while relatively brief, it is clearly not a circular, full of observation relating to the previous epistle and he doesn’t pull his punches about Tony Blair either.

They were also on first name terms, which was a bit odd for my father who was quite old-fashioned about that sort of thing (how he steamed when a nurse whom he’d never met before called him John while he was a hospital patient).

But then again maybe we all felt we knew Tony Benn in a way. He certainly didn’t stand on ceremony and I was very sorry to learn of his passing.

Whether you agreed with him or not on an issue you could always expect a knowledgeable and considered answer to a question. He was also a terrific orator and compassionate to the Nth degree.

Benn’s immovable integrity in part prevented him from achieving top political office although parliamentarians on all sides seemed largely to concur in the obituaries that some of his ideals were nigh impossible to implement and this more than anything counted against him.

Little wonder though that he received plaudits on many sides with the possible exception of the centre left.

After all the Tories were delighted that he created schisms among their rivals! And the diaries themselves?

Well, occasionally subjective accounts they may be of major events, but I am not alone in thinking they are among the most important documents chronicling the history of Great Britain in the latter half of the 20th century. For that alone we owe him a great debt.

Already Question Time in the House and on the BBC are duller places without him too.