Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

REVIEW: “A BLAZE OF AUTUMN SUNSHINE” – Tony Benn the last diaries

In R.Richardson on January 13, 2014 at 1:19 pm

TONY BENN’S LAST DIARIES, reviewed by Ruth Richardson.

Tony Benn, of course, is still very much with us. We heard him speak at Tolpuddle in July, inspirational as ever.

But following an operation and a period of illness in 2009, his diaries kept for over sixty years ceased. This volume covers the years 2007 to 2009, with a final memoir, “Life after the Diaries” – part personal, part political – reflections on events of the last four years.

As Clare Allan in the Independent wrote, the diaries are “a delight and an inspiration”. More than that, they are a thoughtful, informed critique of the political events of the time.

Here Benn covers the years when Gordon Brown was Prime Minister. Initially Benn had a good deal of sympathy for him. Certainly he was preferable to Tony Blair! But following Brown’s discussions with President Bush on the continued occupation of Iraq, Benn wrote that he felt “absolutely and completely betrayed by New Labour and Gordon Brown… It was just not possible to put a postcard between him and Bush.”

STILL CAMPAIGNING:

Of course Tony Benn was president of the “Stop the War” movement for many years. He was involved in a number of campaigning groups. Although age made standing increasingly difficult, he continued to speak at many rallies up and down the country. He wrote warmly not only of Tolpuddle but also of the Durham Miners’ Gala, the Levellers event at Burford, Glastonbury and Burston.

Tony’s schedule was staggering for anyone, let alone an octogenarian. In July 2007, he wrote: “I have to be up at five to go to the picket line for the post men and then I am off to Durham and I won’t be back till Saturday night. Tolpuddle on Sunday and on Monday I am at Fox Primary School.”

MIND OVER BODY?

But increasingly over the two years up to when the diary ceases, he admits to feeling tired and sometimes depressed. “I’m feeling my age very much more,” he writes. “I’m unsteady on my legs… I doze and am tired all the time. But there you are, I’ve just got to get used to that. My mind is okay.”

As indeed it is. The final fifteen pages in which Tony reflects on events between 2009 and 2013 are as insightful as ever. He writes, too, of his family, his four children, their partners and his grandchildren who are obviously hugely important to him. He pays great tribute to Ruth Winstone who edits the diaries and who “looks after all my arrangements now… I couldn’t carry on without her.”

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE:

A few weeks ago, there was an interesting and moving interview with Tony Benn by Stephen Moss in the Guardian. At the end, Tony says that he is looking forward to reaching ninety, and Stephen Moss asks him how he manages to stay so positive. “In some ways,” replies Tony, “the test of politics is whether your mind is fixed on the future or the past, and I always try to keep my mind fixed on the future.”

(published by Hutchinson, IBSN 978-0-94387)

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