Tony Benn: Wikis


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The Right Honourable
 Tony Benn

Assumed office 
21 September 2001
Vice President George Galloway
Preceded by Office Created

In office
10 June 1975 – 4 May 1979
Prime Minister Harold Wilson
James Callaghan
Preceded by Eric Varley
Succeeded by David Howell

In office
5 March 1974 – 10 June 1975
Prime Minister Harold Wilson
Preceded by Peter Walker
Succeeded by Eric Varley

In office
20 September 1971 – 25 September 1972
Leader Harold Wilson
Preceded by Ian Mikardo
Succeeded by William Simpson

In office
4 July 1966 – 19 June 1970
Prime Minister Harold Wilson
Preceded by Frank Cousins
Succeeded by Geoffrey Rippon

In office
15 October 1964 – 4 July 1966
Prime Minister Harold Wilson
Preceded by Reginald Bevins
Succeeded by Edward Short

Member of Parliament
for Chesterfield
In office
1 March 1984 – 7 June 2001
Preceded by Eric Varley
Succeeded by Paul Holmes
Majority 24,633 (46.5%)

Member of Parliament
for Bristol South East
In office
20 August 1963 – 9 June 1983
Preceded by Malcolm St. Clair
Succeeded by Constituency Abolished
Majority 1,890 (3.5%)
In office
30 November 1950 – 4 May 1961
Preceded by Stafford Cripps
Succeeded by Malcolm St. Clair
Majority 13,044 (39%)

Born 3 April 1925 (1925-04-03) (age 84)
Marylebone, London, England, United Kingdom
Nationality British
Political party Labour
Spouse(s) Caroline Benn
Alma mater New College, Oxford
Profession Politician
Religion United Reformed Church

Anthony Neil Wedgwood Benn (born 3 April 1925), formerly 2nd Viscount Stansgate, is a British Labour politician, and the current President of the Stop the War Coalition. During the 1970s and 1980s, Benn was regarded as the most conspicuous figure of the political left in Britain.

With his successful campaign to renounce his inherited title, a landmark case in British politics, Benn was instrumental in the creation of the Peerage Act 1963. Later, in the Labour Government of 1964-1970 under Harold Wilson, he served first as Postmaster General, where he oversaw the opening of the Post Office Tower, and later as a notably 'technocratic' Minister of Technology and Cabinet-member. In the period when the Labour Party were in opposition, Benn served for a year as the Chairman of the Labour Party.

In the Labour Government of 1974-1979, he returned to the Cabinet, initially serving as Secretary of State for Industry, before being made Secretary of State for Energy, retaining his post when James Callaghan replaced Wilson as Prime Minister. During the Labour Party's time in opposition during the 1980s, he was seen as the party's prominent figure on the Left, and the term "Bennite" (a term never actually used by Benn himself) has come to be used in Britain for someone of a more radical, left-wing position[1].

Perhaps partially due to his length of time in the House of Commons, and his campaign to renounce his inherited title, he is considered by many today as one of the most popular politicians in the UK[2]; after John Parker, he is Labour's longest serving Member of Parliament. He is known as one of the few UK politicians to have become more left-wing after holding ministerial office.[3] Since leaving parliament, Benn has also become more interested in the grass-roots politics of demonstrations and meetings, and less in parliamentary activities. He has been a vegetarian since the 1970s.


Early life and family

Benn's paternal grandfather was Sir John Benn, 1st Baronet, and his father, William Wedgwood Benn, was a Liberal Member of Parliament who later defected to the Labour Party. He would later be elevated to the House of Lords, with the title of 1st Viscount Stansgate in 1941; the new wartime coalition government was short of working Labour peers in the upper house.

Both his grandfathers, Sir John Benn (who founded the family publishing house) and Daniel Holmes, were also Liberal MPs (respectively, for Tower Hamlets, Devonport and Glasgow Govan). Benn's contact with leading people of the day thus dates back to his earliest years as a result of his family's profile; he met David Lloyd George when he was twelve and Mahatma Gandhi in 1931, while his father was Secretary of State for India.

His mother Margaret Eadie (née Holmes) (1897–1991), was a dedicated theologian, feminist and the founder President of the Congregational Federation. She was a member of the League of the Church Militant, which was the predecessor of the Movement for the Ordination of Women - in 1925 she was rebuked by Randall Thomas Davidson, then-Archbishop of Canterbury, for advocating the ordination of women. His mother's theology had a profound influence on Benn, as she taught him to support the prophets and not the kings, as the prophets taught righteousness.[4]

He was a pupil at Westminster School and later studied at New College, Oxford, where he read Philosophy, Politics and Economics, and during which time he was elected as President of the Oxford Union. In later life, Benn attempted to remove public references to his private education from Who's Who; in the 1975 edition his entry stated "Education—still in progress". In the 1976 edition, almost all details of his biography were omitted save for his name, jobs as a Member of Parliament and as a Government Minister, and address; the publishers confirmed that Benn had sent back his draft entry with everything else struck through.[5] In the 1977 edition, Benn's entry disappeared entirely.[6] In October 1973 he announced on BBC Radio that he wished to be known as "Mr Tony Benn" and his book Speeches from 1974 is credited to 'Tony Benn'.

Benn met US-born Caroline Middleton DeCamp (born 13 October 1926, from Cincinnati, Ohio) over tea at Worcester College in 1949 and nine days later he proposed to her on a park bench in the city. Later, he bought the bench from Oxford City Council and installed it in the garden of their home in Holland Park. Tony and Caroline had four children - Stephen, Hilary, Melissa and Joshua, and ten grandchildren. Caroline Benn died of cancer on 22 November 2000, aged 74, after a career as a prominent educationalist.

In July 1943, Benn joined the Royal Air Force.[7] His father and brother Michael (who was later killed in an accident) were already serving in the RAF in 1943. Whilst holding the rank of pilot officer, Tony Benn served as a pilot in South Africa and Rhodesia.[8]

His children have also been active in politics; his first son Stephen served as an elected Member of the Inner London Education Authority from 1986 to 1990. His second son Hilary served as a councillor in London, and stood for Parliament in 1983 and 1987, finally becoming the Labour MP for Leeds Central in 1999. He served as Secretary of State for International Development from 2003, before becoming Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in 2007. This makes him the third generation of his family to have sat in the Cabinet of the United Kingdom, a rare distinction for a modern political family in Britain. In September 2007, shortly before her 18th birthday, Benn's granddaughter Emily, was selected to contest East Worthing and Shoreham in the next general election,[9] and is the Labour Party's youngest ever selected candidate.[10]

Tony Benn is a first cousin once removed of the late actress Dame Margaret Rutherford.

Member of Parliament

Following his Second World War service as a pilot in the Royal Air Force, Benn worked briefly as a BBC Radio producer. He was unexpectedly selected to succeed Sir Stafford Cripps as the Labour candidate for Bristol South East, after Cripps stood down due to ill-health, and won the seat in a by-election on 30 November 1950. Anthony Crosland helped him get the seat as he was the MP for nearby South Gloucestershire at the time. Upon taking the oath on 4 December 1950[11] Benn became the youngest MP, or "Baby of the House" for one day, being succeeded by Thomas Teevan, who was two years younger but took his oath a day later.[12] He became the "Baby" again in 1951, when Teevan was not re-elected. In the 1950s, Benn identified with middle-of-the-road or soft left views, and refused to become a member of the group around Aneurin Bevan.

Peerage reform

Benn's father had been created Viscount Stansgate in 1942 when Winston Churchill offered to increase the number of Labour peers; at this time, Benn's elder brother Michael was intending to enter the priesthood, and had no objections to inheriting a peerage. However, Michael was later killed in an accident while on active service in the Second World War, and this left Benn as the heir to an unwanted peerage. He made several attempts to remove himself from the line of succession, but they were all unsuccessful.

In November 1960, Benn's father died, and as a result Benn automatically became a peer and was thus prevented from sitting in the House of Commons. Still insisting on his right to abandon his unwelcome peerage, Benn fought to retain his seat in a by-election caused by his succession on 4 May 1961. Although he was disqualified from taking his seat, the people of Bristol South-East re-elected him regardless. An election court found that the voters were fully aware that Benn was disqualified, and declared the seat won by the Conservative runner-up, Malcolm St Clair, who was at the time also the heir-presumptive to a peerage.[13]

Outside Parliament, Benn continued his campaign, and eventually the Conservative Government of the time accepted the need for a change in the law.[14] The Peerage Act 1963, allowing renunciation of peerages, was given the Royal Assent and became law shortly after 6pm on 31 July 1963. Benn was the first peer to renounce his title, at 6.22pm that day. St. Clair resigned his seat immediately, and Benn returned to the Commons after winning a by-election on 20 August 1963.

In Government (1964–1970)

In the 1964 Government of Harold Wilson, Benn was appointed Postmaster General; during his time in that position, he oversaw the opening of what was then the UK's tallest building, the Post Office Tower, and the creations of the Postal Bus Service and Girobank. He proposed issuing stamps without the Sovereign's head, but this met with private opposition from the Queen. Instead, the portrait was reduced to a small profile in silhouette, a format that is still used on stamps today[15]. Benn also led the government's campaign to close down the many off-shore pirate radio stations of the time, a campaign that forms the centrepiece of the 2009 film The Boat That Rocked, and was responsible for introducing the Marine Broadcasting Offences Bill. By the time the bill became law in 1967, Benn had been promoted to the post of Minister of Technology, which included specific responsibility for overseeing the development of Concorde and the formation of International Computers Ltd.. The period also saw government involvement in industrial rationalisation, and the merger of several car companies to form British Leyland.

Labour lost the 1970 election to Edward Heath's Conservatives, and upon Heath's application to join the European Economic Community, Benn campaigned in favour of a referendum on the UK's membership. The Shadow Cabinet voted to support a referendum on 29 March 1972, and as a result Roy Jenkins resigned as Deputy Leader of the Labour Party.

In Government (1974–1979)

In the Labour Government of 1974, Benn was appointed Secretary of State for Industry, where he set up worker cooperatives in struggling industries, the best known being at Meriden, which kept Triumph Motorcycles in production until 1983. In 1975, he was appointed Secretary of State for Energy, immediately following his ultimately unsuccessful campaign for a "No" vote in the referendum on the UK's membership of the EEC. By his own admission in his diary (25 October 1977), Benn "loathed" the EEC; he claimed it was "bureaucratic and centralised" and "of course it is really dominated by Germany. All the Common Market countries except the UK have been occupied by Germany, and they have this mixed feeling of hatred and subservience towards the Germans"[16].

Harold Wilson resigned as Leader of the Labour Party and Prime Minister in 1976. Benn entered the subsequent leadership contest and came fourth with 37 votes in the first ballot. Benn then withdrew from the second ballot and supported Michael Foot for the leadership, although James Callaghan eventually won. Despite not receiving his support in the vote, Callaghan kept Benn as Energy Secretary. Late in the 1970s, there was a sterling crisis, and then-Chancellor of the Exchequer Denis Healey sought to gain a loan from the International Monetary Fund. Benn publicly circulated the Cabinet minutes from the 1931 National Labour Government of Ramsay MacDonald, which cut unemployment benefits in order to secure a loan from American bankers and resulted in the inadvertent splitting of the Labour Party. Callaghan allowed Benn to put forward his "alternative economic strategy", which consisted of a siege economy. However this plan would later be rejected by the Cabinet.

The move to the Left

By the end of the 1970s, Benn had migrated to the left-wing of the Labour Party. Benn attributed this political shift to his experience as a Cabinet Minister in the 1964–1970 Labour Government. Benn wrote:

As a minister, I experienced the power of industrialists and bankers to get their way by use of the crudest form of economic pressure, even blackmail, against a Labour Government. Compared to this, the pressure brought to bear in industrial disputes is minuscule. This power was revealed even more clearly in 1976 when the IMF secured cuts in our public expenditure. These lessons led me to the conclusion that the UK is only superficially governed by MPs and the voters who elect them. Parliamentary democracy is, in truth, little more than a means of securing a periodical change in the management team, which is then allowed to preside over a system that remains in essence intact. If the British people were ever to ask themselves what power they truly enjoyed under our political system they would be amazed to discover how little it is, and some new Chartist agitation might be born and might quickly gather momentum.[17]

Benn's philosophy became known as "Bennism", which consisted of a form of syndicalism, economic planning, greater democracy in the structures of the Labour Party and observance of Party conference decisions by the Party leadership[18]; Benn was vilified in the right-wing press, and his enemies implied that a Benn-led Labour Government would implement a type of East European socialism[19]. Conversely, Benn was overwhelmingly popular with Labour activists. A survey of delegates at the Labour Conference of 1978 found that by large margins they supported both Benn for the leadership and many Bennite policies[20].

He publicly supported Sinn Féin and the unification of Ireland, although he has recently suggested to Sinn Féin leaders that Sinn Féin abandon its long-standing policy of not taking seats at Westminster. Sinn Féin argue that to do so would recognise Britain's claim over Northern Ireland, and the Sinn Féin constitution prevents its elected members from taking their seats in any British-created institution.

In Opposition

In a keynote speech to the Labour Party Conference of 1980, Benn outlined what he envisaged the next Labour Government would do. "Within days", a Labour Government would grant powers to nationalise industries, control capital and implement industrial democracy; "within weeks", all powers from Brussels would be returned to Westminster and then they would abolish the House of Lords by creating one thousand peers and then abolishing the peerage. Benn received tumultuous applause from the audience.

Tony Benn speaking at the Glastonbury Festival in 2008

In 1981, he stood for election against the incumbent Denis Healey for the post of Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, disregarding the appeal from Michael Foot either to stand for the leadership, or to abstain from inflaming the party's divisions. Benn defended his decision with insistence that it was "not about personalities, but about policies." The contest was extremely closely fought in the summer of 1981, and Healey eventually won by a margin of barely 1%. The decision of several moderate left-wing MPs, including Neil Kinnock, to abstain from supporting Benn triggered the split of the Campaign Group from the Left of the Tribune Group.

After Argentina had invaded the Falkland Islands in April 1982, Benn argued that the dispute should be settled by the United Nations and that the British Government should not send a task force to recapture the islands. The task force was sent and the Falklands was soon back in British control. In a subsequent debate in the Commons, Benn's demand for "a full analysis of the costs in life, equipment and money in this tragic and unnecessary war" was rejected by Margaret Thatcher, who stated that "he would not enjoy the freedom of speech that he put to such excellent use unless people had been prepared to fight for it".[21]

In 1983, Benn's Bristol South East constituency was abolished by boundary changes, and he subsequently lost the battle to stand in the new seat of Bristol South to Michael Cocks. Rejecting offers from the new seat of Livingston in Scotland, Benn contested Bristol East, losing to Conservative candidate Jonathan Sayeed in what was perceived to be a shock result. He was selected for the next Labour seat to fall vacant, and was elected as MP for Chesterfield in a by-election after Eric Varley resigned his seat to head Coalite. On the day of the by-election, 1 March 1984, The Sun newspaper ran a hostile feature article "Benn on the Couch" which purported to be the opinions of an American psychiatrist.[citation needed] In the intervening period, since Benn's defeat in Bristol, another leadership election had taken place, which Neil Kinnock won.

Benn was a prominent supporter of the 1984-1985 UK miners' strike and of his long-standing friend, the National Union of Mineworkers leader Arthur Scargill. Some miners, however, considered Benn's 1977 industry reforms to have caused problems during the strike; firstly, that they led to huge wage differences and distrust between miners of different regions; and secondly, that the controversy over balloting miners for these reforms made it unclear as to whether a ballot was needed for a strike or whether it could be deemed as a "regional matter" in the same way that the 1977 reforms had been.

In June 1985, Benn introduced the Miners' Amnesty (General Pardon) Bill in the Commons which would have extended an amnesty to all miners imprisoned during the strike.[22] This would have included two men convicted of murder (later reduced to manslaughter) for the Killing of David Wilkie, a taxi driver driving a non-striking miner to work in South Wales during the strike.

Benn later stood for election as Party Leader in 1988 and lost again, on this occasion by a substantial margin. During the Gulf War, he was active in the anti-war movement and visited Baghdad to persuade Saddam Hussein to release the hostages who had been captured. He was also one of the very few MPs to oppose the Kosovo War. In 1991, he proposed the Commonwealth of Britain Bill, which involved abolishing the British Monarchy in favour of the United Kingdom becoming a "democratic, federal and secular commonwealth"; in effect, a republic with a written constitution. It was read in Parliament a number of times until his retirement at the 2001 election, but never achieved a second reading.

Through much of the 1980s, Benn campaigned to replace the unwritten British constitution with a written constitution abolishing the monarchy and giving Britain a republican form of government. He presented an account of his proposal in Tony Benn & Andrew Hood, Common Sense: A New Constitution for Britain (London: Hutchinson, 1993).


Tony Benn about to join the March 2005 anti-war demonstration in London

In 2001, Benn retired from Parliament, to "spend more time involved in politics". Along with Edward Heath, Benn was given the privilege of being able to continue using the House of Commons Library and Members' refreshment facilities by the Speaker. Shortly after his retirement, he was approached by the Stop the War Coalition, and was asked to become its President, an offer he accepted. He thus became a leading figure of the British opposition to the War on Iraq, and in February 2003 he travelled to Baghdad to again meet, and interview, Saddam Hussein. The interview was shown on British television. He also spoke out against the Iraq war at the February 2003 protest in London organised by the Stop the War Coalition, attended by over 1 million people. In February 2004 and 2008, he was re-elected as President of the Stop the War Coalition.

He has toured with a one-man stage show, and also appears a few times each year in a two-man show with folk singer Roy Bailey. In 2003, his show with Bailey was voted 'Best Live Act' at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. In 2002 he opened the "Left Field" stage at the Glastonbury Festival. In October 2003, Benn was a guest of British Airways on the last-ever scheduled Concorde flight from New York to London. In June 2005, Benn was a panellist on a special edition of BBC1's Question Time (shown 30 June 2005). The special edition was edited entirely by a school age film crew selected by a BBC competition.

On 21 June 2005, Benn presented a programme on democracy as part of the Channel 5 series Big Ideas That Changed The World, he presented a left-wing view[23] of democracy as the means to pass power from the "wallet to the ballot". He argued that traditional social democratic values were under threat in an increasingly globalised world in which powerful institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the European Commission remain unelected and unaccountable to those whose lives they affect daily.

On 27 September 2005, Benn was taken ill at the Labour Party Conference in Brighton and taken by ambulance to the Royal Sussex County Hospital after being treated by paramedics at the Brighton Centre. Benn reportedly fell and struck his head. He was to be kept in hospital for observation, but was described as being in a "comfortable condition". He was subsequently fitted with an artificial pacemaker to help regulate his heartbeat. In a list compiled by the magazine New Statesman in 2006, he was voted twelfth in the list of "Heroes of our Time"[24].

In September 2006, Benn joined the "Time to Go" Demonstration in Manchester the day before the start of the final Labour Conference with Tony Blair as Party Leader, with the aim of persuading the Labour Government to withdraw troops from Iraq, to refrain from attacking Iran and to reject replacing the Trident missile and submarines with a new system. He spoke to the demonstrators in the rally afterwards along with other politicians and journalists, including George Galloway and members of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. In 2007, he appeared in an extended segment in the Michael Moore film Sicko giving comments about democracy, social responsibility, and health care.

A poll by the BBC2 The Daily Politics programme in January 2007 selected Benn as the UK's "Political Hero" with 38.22% of the vote, beating Margaret Thatcher with 35.3% and five other contenders including Alex Salmond, Leader of the Scottish National Party; Clare Short, Independent MP; Neil Kinnock, previous Labour Party Leader; Norman Tebbit, previous Conservative Party Chairman and Shirley Williams, one of the 'gang of four' who founded the Social Democratic Party .[2]

In the 2007 Labour Party leadership election, Tony Benn backed the left-wing MP John McDonnell in his ultimately unsuccessful bid. In September 2007, Benn called for the government to hold a referendum on the EU Reform Treaty.[25]

Tony Benn and Giles Fraser speaking at Levellers’ Day, Burford, 17 May 2008.
Benn on the cover of Dartford Living, Sept 2009

In October 2007, at the age of 82, Benn reportedly announced that he wanted to come out of retirement and return to the House of Commons, having written to the Kensington and Chelsea Constituency Labour Party offering himself as a prospective candidate for the seat currently held by the Conservative Malcolm Rifkind.[26][27]

In September 2008, Benn appeared on the DVD release for the Doctor Who story The War Machines with a vignette discussing the Post Office Tower; he became the second Labour politician, after Roy Hattersley to appear in a feature on a Doctor Who DVD. Also in 2008, Benn appeared on track 12 "Pay Attention to the Human" on Colin MacIntyre's The Water album.

At the Stop the War Conference 2009, he described the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as "Imperialist war(s)" and discussed the killing of American and allied troops by Iraqi or foreign insurgents, questioning whether they were in fact freedom fighters, and comparing the insurgents to a British Dad's Army, saying "If you are invaded you have a right to self defence, and this idea that people in Iraq and Afghanistan who are resisting the invasion are militant Muslim extremists is a complete bloody lie. I joined Dad's Army when I was sixteen, and if the German's had arrived, I tell you, I could use a bayonet, a rifle, a revolver, and if I'd seen a German officer having a meal I'd have tossed a grenade through the window. Would I have been a freedom fighter or a terrorist?" [28]

In an interview published in Dartford Living in September 2009, Benn was critical of the Government's decision to delay the findings of the Iraq War Inquiry until after the General Election, stating that "people can take into account what the inquiry has reported on but they’ve deliberately pushed it beyond the election. Government is responsible for explaining what it has done and I don’t think we were told the truth."[29] He also stated that local government was strangled by Margaret Thatcher and hadn't been liberalised by New Labour.

Diaries and biographies

Tony Benn is a prolific diarist: eight volumes of his diaries have been published (the first six collected as ISBN 0-09-963411-2, the penultimate available as ISBN 0-09-941502-X). Collections of his speeches and writings were published as Arguments for Socialism (1979), Arguments for Democracy (1981), (both edited by Chris Mullin), Fighting Back (1988) and (with Andrew Hood) Common Sense (1993), as well as Free Radical: New Century Essays (2004). In August 2003, London DJ Charles Bailey created an album of Benn's speeches (ISBN 1-904734-03-0) set to ambient groove.

He has also made public several episodes of audio diaries he made during his time in Parliament and after retirement. Short series of these have been played periodically on BBC 7 Radio.

A major biography was written by Jad Adams and published by Macmillan in 1992. Tony Benn: A Biography (ISBN 0-333-52558-2) A more recent 'semi-authorised' biography, with a foreword by Benn, was published in 2001: David Powell, Tony Benn: A Political Life, Continuum Books. An autobiography, Dare to be a Daniel: Then and Now (Hutchinson), was published in 2004.

There are substantial essays on Tony Benn in both the Dictionary of Labour Biography by Phillip Whitehead, (Greg Rosen [ed], Politicos Publishing, 2001) and in Labour Forces (Kevin Jefferys [ed], I. B. Taurus Publishing, 2002).

Michael Moore dedicates his book Mike's Election Guide 2008 to Tony Benn with: "For Tony Benn, keep teaching us".

In popular culture


  • He is known for saying (in connection with his placing of a plaque in memory of Emily Davison in the House of Commons) "Never ask the authorities for permission - it takes up so much of your time!"
  • "It's very interesting to me that some ex-communists in the Labour Party have been able to shift from Stalin to Blair and it hasn't been much of a shift...the shift from Stalin to Blair is a minor adjustment."[30]
  • Five questions Benn insists should be asked of any powerful person: "What power have you got? Where did you get it from? In whose interests do you use it? To whom are you accountable? How do we get rid of you?"[31]
  • "All war represents a failure of diplomacy."[32]
  • "There is no moral difference between a Stealth bomber and a suicide bomber. They both kill innocent people for political reasons." [33]
  • "If we can find the money to kill people, we can find the money to help people."[34]
  • In an August, 2007 interview with Wikinews, Benn responded to a question about Labour's 1997 election victory, "... when Mrs. Thatcher was asked her greatest achievement, she said 'New Labour'."[35]
  • "We should tell the Israeli airlines EL Al that until they abide by the United Nations' decisions, no Israeli aircraft would be allowed to fly into any British airport. " [36]

See also


  1. ^ Socialist Review, February 1997 - Does Labours Left Have an Alternative?
  2. ^ a b "The Magnificent Seven political heroes...". BBC. 12 December 2006. Retrieved 2007-10-04. 
  3. ^ Tony Benn, Dare to be A Daniel: Then and Now (Arrow Books, 2006, ISBN 0-09-947153-1), p.166
  4. ^ Tony Benn Free Radical, 2003, Continuum, p226.
  5. ^ "Mr Benn wipes away his past", The Times Diary, The Times, 18 March 1976.
  6. ^ "Not Out", The Times Diary, The Times, 4 April 1977.
  7. ^ Tony Benn, The Biography Channel. Retrieved on 2 April 2007.
  8. ^ William Wedgwood Benn, Spartacus Educational. Retrieved on 2 April 2007.
  9. ^ Benn's granddaughter runs for MP, BBC News, 25 September 2007.
  10. ^
  11. ^ Hansard
  12. ^ Hansard
  13. ^ Re Parliamentary Election for Bristol South East [1964] 2 Q.B. 257, [1961] 3 W.L.R. 577
  14. ^ "Disclaiming a peerage". BBC News (London: British Broadcasting Corporation). 2005-07-14. Retrieved 2008-06-07. 
  15. ^ Tony Benn describes this policy change in Out of the Wilderness: Diaries, 1963-67 (1988).
  16. ^ Tony Benn, The Benn Diaries (Arrow, 1995), p. 432.
  17. ^ Tony Benn, Out of the Wilderness: Diaries 1963-7, Introduction
  18. ^ Dennis Kavanagh, 'Tony Benn: Nuisance or Conscience?', in Kavanagh (ed.), Politics and Personalities (Macmillan, 1990), p. 184.
  19. ^ Ibid., p. 178.
  20. ^ Paul Whiteley and Ian Gordon, "The Labour Party: Middle Class, Militant and Male", New Statesman, 11 January 1980, pp. 41-42.
  21. ^ "HC Stmnt: Falkland Islands, 15 June 1982". Margaret Thatcher Foundation. 1982-06-15. Retrieved 2007-10-04. 
  22. ^ Miners' Amnesty (General Pardon)
  23. ^ The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr Benn
  24. ^ Cowley, Jason (22 May 2006). New Statesman "Heroes of our time - the top 50". New Statesman. New Statesman. Retrieved 2007-10-04. 
  25. ^ "Give us EU referendum, says Benn". BBC News Online. 24 September 2007. 
  26. ^ "I want to be an MP again - Benn". BBC News online. 2007-10-04. Retrieved 2007-10-04. 
  27. ^ Fred Attewill (2007-10-04). "Benn: I want to return to parliament". The Guardian.,,2183661,00.html. Retrieved 2007-10-05. 
  28. ^ YouTube - Tony Benn - Stop the War Conference 2009
  29. ^ "Big Benn Chimes in to Dartford", Dartford Living, September 2009
  30. ^ Nick Stadlen QC (7 December 2006). "Brief encounter: Tony Benn". Guardian Unlimited podcasts. Retrieved 2007-10-04. 
  31. ^ Gary Younge (20 July 2002). "The Stirrer". The Guardian.,11660,757608,00.html. Retrieved 2007-10-27. 
  32. ^ "Learning English - Moving Words - Tony Benn". BBC World Service. Retrieved 2007-10-04. 
  33. ^ YouTube
  34. ^ Interview in the movie "Sicko"
  35. ^ "Wikinews interviews: Tony Benn on U.K. politics". Wikinews. August 12, 2007. 
  36. ^ "Tony Benn on Israel". PressTV. 

His Interview with Press TV



  • Tony Benn The Benn Diaries, 1940-90, Arrow Books Ltd (2005)
  • Tony Benn Years of Hope: Diaries, Letters and Papers, 1940-62, Arrow Books Ltd (1995)
  • Tony Benn Out of the Wilderness: Diaries, 1963-67, Arrow Books Ltd (1988)
  • Tony Benn Office Without Power: Diaries, 1968-72, Arrow Books Ltd (1989)
  • Tony Benn Against the Tide: Diaries, 1973-76, Arrow Books Ltd (1990)
  • Tony Benn Conflicts of Interest: Diaries, 1977-80, Arrow Books Ltd (1991)
  • Tony Benn The End of an Era: Diaries 1980-90, Arrow Books Ltd (1994)
  • Tony Benn Free at Last!: Diaries, 1991-2001, Arrow Books Ltd (2003)
  • Tony Benn More Time for Politics: Diaries 2001-2007, Hutchinson (2007)


  • Tony Benn Levellers and the English Democratic Tradition, Spokesman Books (1976)
  • Tony Benn Why America Needs Democratic Socialism, Spokesman Books (1978)
  • Tony Benn Prospects, Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers, Technical, Administrative and Supervisory Section (1979)
  • Tony Benn Case for Constitutional Civil Service, Inst. for Workers' Control (1980)
  • Tony Benn Case for Party Democracy, Inst. for Workers' Control (1980)
  • Tony Benn Arguments for Socialism, Penguin Books Ltd (1980)
  • Tony Benn Arguments for Democracy, Jonathan Cape (1981)
  • Tony Benn European Unity: A New Perspective, Spokesman Books (1981)
  • Tony Benn Parliament and Power: Agenda for a Free Society, Verso Books (1982)
  • Tony Benn & Andrew Hood Common Sense: New Constitution for Britain, Hutchinson (1993)
  • Tony Benn Free Radical: New Century Essays, Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd (2004)
  • Tony Benn Dare to Be a Daniel: Then and Now, Arrow Books Ltd (2005)

External links


Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Stafford Cripps
Member of Parliament for Bristol South East
Succeeded by
Malcolm St. Clair
Preceded by
Malcolm St. Clair
Member of Parliament for Bristol South East
Succeeded by
Constituency Abolished
Preceded by
Eric Varley
Member of Parliament for Chesterfield
Succeeded by
Paul Holmes
Preceded by
Peter Baker
Baby of the House
Succeeded by
Thomas Teevan
Preceded by
Thomas Teevan
Baby of the House
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John Eden
Political offices
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Reginald Bevins
Postmaster General
Succeeded by
Edward Short
Preceded by
Frank Cousins
Minister of Technology
Succeeded by
Geoffrey Rippon
Preceded by
Peter Walker
Secretary of State for Industry
Succeeded by
Eric Varley
Preceded by
Eric Varley
Secretary of State for Energy
Succeeded by
David Howell
Preceded by
Office Created
President of Stop the War Coalition
Party political offices
Preceded by
Ian Mikardo
Chairman of the Labour Party
Succeeded by
William Simpson
Peerage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
William Wedgwood Benn
Viscount Stansgate
17 November 1960–31 July 1963
Succeeded by
(currently disclaimed)


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

A faith is something you die for, a doctrine is something you kill for. There is all the difference in the world.

Anthony Neil Wedgwood Benn (born 3 April 1925), known as Tony Benn, formerly 2nd Viscount Stansgate, is a British politician on the left of the Labour Party.



There is no moral difference between a stealth bomber and a suicide bomber. Both kill innocent people for political reasons.
  • [I am against] the Treaty of Rome which entrenches laissez faire as its philosophy and chooses bureaucracy as its administrative method.
    • Encounter (January 1963).
  • The flag of racialism which has been hoisted in Wolverhampton is beginning to look like the one that fluttered 25 years ago over Dachau and Belsen.
    • Speech at Students for a Labour Victory rally, referring to Enoch Powell who was MP for Wolverhampton South West, Methodist Central Hall, London (3 June 1970), as quoted in "Onslaught on Powell by Wedgwood Benn" by Denis Taylor in The Times (4 June 1970), p. 1
  • Change from below, the formulation of demands from the populace to end unacceptable injustice, supported by direct action, has played a far larger part in shaping British democracy than most constitutional lawyers, political commentators, historians or statesmen have ever cared to admit. Direct action in a democratic society is fundamentally an educational exercise.
    • In New Politics (1970).
  • Workers are not going to be fobbed off with a few shares...or by a carbon copy of the German system of co-determination.
    • Speech in Southampton (25 May 1971).
  • We want industry to be in the public sector, to change the power structure of our society...We have not yet carved out of public enterprise a wide enough area of management decision which ought properly to be brought within the ambit of the workers themselves.
    • Speech in Brighton (6 October 1971).
  • [Men] who would rather go to jail than betray what they believe to be their duty to their fellow workers and the principles which they hold.
    • From an issued statement from Mr. Benn on five dockers imprisoned for contempt of court (21 July 1972).
  • Britain is the only colony in the British Empire and it is up to us now to liberate ourselves.
    • Labour Party Annual Conference Report 1972, p. 103.
    • Speech to the Labour Party Conference in Blackpool (2 October 1972)
  • I sometimes wish the trade unionists who work in the mass media, those who are writers and broadcasters and secretaries and printers and lift operators of Thomson House would remember that they too are members of our working class movement and have a responsibility to see that what is said about us is true.
    • Chairman's closing address to the Labour Party Conference in Blackpool (6 October 1972). Labour Party Annual Conference Report 1972, p. 349
  • The 1973 Labour Conference will have before it the most radical programme the Party has prepared since 1945.
    • As quoted in The Times (1 October 1973).
  • The [pay] policy is principally designed to hold down wages rather than to check inflation. Inflation is being used as an excuse to destroy free trade union bargaining.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (Hansard, 7 November 1973, Col. 1015).
  • The engineers are taking their stand on grounds of conscience...Conscientious objection to the law is not a criminal act. These people are our people and we should take a principled stand, together.
    • Speech on Hugh Scanlon's union's rejection of the Industrial Relations Act in Wells, Somerset (23 November, 1973)
  • It will enable a Labour Government to do all they want under Labour's Programme for Britain...It will give us the powers to control all the oil companies, all the multinationals, to fix their prices and their distribution systems.
    • On the Conservatives' Fuel and Electricity (Control) Bill (Hansard, 26 November 1973, Col. 141)
  • [Edward Heath], who sold out Britain's interests to the Common Market and gave our sovereignty away without our consent—with support of Mr Thorpe and the Liberals—is not entitled to wave the Union Jack to get himself out of the mess.
    • Speech in Bristol (31 November, 1973).
    • ' 'Democracy in danger' warning by Mr Benn', The Times (1 December, 1973), pp. 1-2.
  • What we lack in Government is entrepreneurial ability.
    • Speech in London (6 June 1974).
  • Britain's continuing membership of the Community would mean the end of Britain as a completely self-governing nation and the end of our democratically elected Parliament as the supreme law making body in the United Kingdom.
    • Letter to Bristol constituents (29 December 1974).
  • He has a deep contempt for Britain, the British people and parliamentary democracy. He is trying to climb back to power via the Treaty of Rome, and put Britain under government from Brussels for ever. In 1970 Mr Heath solemnly promised that he would not take Britain into the Common Market without the full-hearted consent of the British people. He broke his pledged word then, and he now says he will not accept a 'No' vote on Thursday. Heath promised more jobs and higher living standards inside the EEC. These promises were all broken, and he now tells us we are so poor we cannot come out; beggars can't be chooses. That is false, too. Heath's leadership has been a total disaster for the British people. The Tory Party threw him out.
    • Speech at an anti-EEC rally (3 June, 1975).
    • 'Heath attack by Mr Benn', The Times (4 June, 1975), p. 6.
  • Through me the energy policy of the whole Common Market is being held up. Without opening old wounds, it pleases me no end.
    • On not attending an EEC meeting in order to attend a Labour rally (12 December, 1975).
    • 'Mr Benn delays EEC meeting', The Times (13 December, 1975), p. 1.
  • When we have a majority we will do it. I think the days of the Lords are quite genuinely numbered.
    • As quoted in The Times (13 November 1976).
  • Anyone from abroad will tell you that it is the class system that really lies at the root of our problems, economic and industrial. The House of Lords symbolises that.
    • As quoted in Yorkshire Post (22 November 1976).
  • The general election of 1983 has produced one important result that has passed virtually without comment in the media. It is that, for the first time since 1945, a political party with an openly socialist policy has received the support of over eight and a half million people. This is a remarkable development by any standards and it deserves some analysis ... the 1983 Labour manifesto commanded the loyalty of millions of voters and a democratic socialist bridge-head in public understanding and support can be made.
    • The Guardian (20 June 1983)
  • People say that if we work for the Single European Act, women will get their rights, the water will be purer, and training will be better. That is rubbish. It is part of the attempt to consolidate the EEC.
    • Speech to the House of Commons (23 February 1989) (Hansard, c. 1192).
  • It would be inconceivable for the House to adjourn for Easter without recording the fact that last Friday the High Court disallowed an Act which was passed by this House and the House of Lords and received Royal Assent — the Merchant Shipping Act 1988. The High Court referred the case to the European Court...I want to make it clear to the House that we are absolutely impotent unless we repeal Section 2 of the European Communities Act. It is no good talking about being a good European. We are all good Europeans; that is a matter of geography and not a matter of sentiment. Are the arrangements under which we are governed such that we have broken the link between the electorate and the laws under which they are governed? I am an old parliamentary hand — perhaps I have been here too long — but I was brought up to believe, and I still believe, that when people vote in an election they must be entitled to know that the party for which they vote, if it has a majority, will be able to enact laws under which they will be governed. That is no longer true. Any party elected, whether it is the Conservative party or the Labour party can no longer say to the electorate, "Vote for me and if I have a majority I shall pass that law", because if that law is contrary to Common Market law, British judges will apply Common Market law.
    • Speech to the House of Commons (13 March 1989) (Hansard, c. 56-8).
  • If democracy is destroyed in Britain it will be not the communists, Trotskyists or subversives but this House which threw it away. The rights that are entrusted to us are not for us to give away. Even if I agree with everything that is proposed, I cannot hand away powers lent to me for five years by the people of Chesterfield. I just could not do it. It would be theft of public rights.
    • Speech in The House of Commons during a debate on the Treaty of Maastricht (20 November 1991)
  • Had a long talk to the Chinese First Secretary at the embassy — a very charming man called Liao Dong — and said how much I admired Mao Tse tung or Zedong, the greatest man of the twentieth century. He said that I couldn't admire Mao more than he did. I asked him how Mao was viewed now. He said Mao was 70 per cent right and 30 per cent wrong; the Cultural Revolution didn't work. He said he had been named after Mao — it was amusing.
    • Journal entry for 6 June 1996 in Free at Last!: Diaries, 1991-2001 (2003) p.371
  • Having served for nearly half a century in the House of Commons, I now want more time to devote to politics and more freedom to do so.
    • Paul Waugh, "Benn retires to spend more time with his politics", The Independent, 28 June 1999, p. 5
  • [The Labour Party]'s never been a socialist party, but it's always had socialists in it, just as there are some Christians in the Church, it's an exact parallel.
    • Today Programme (10 February 2006)
  • My Great-grandfather was a Congregational Minister and my Mother was a Bible scholar, and I was brought up on the Bible, that the story of the Bible was conflict between the kings who had power, and the prophets who preached righteousness. And I was taught to believe in the prophets, got me into a lot of trouble. And my Dad said to me when I was young, "Dare to be a Daniel, Dare to stand alone, Dare to have a purpose firm, Dare to let it (be) known."
    • Interviewed by Kevin Zeese in 'Counterpunch', December 19, 2005
  • Well I came across Marx rather late in life actually, and when I read him, two things: first of all I realised that he'd come to the conclusion about capitalism which I'd come to much later, and I was a bit angry he'd thought of it first; and secondly, I see Marx who was an old Jew, as the last of the Old Testament Prophets, this old bearded man working in the British Library, studying capitalism, that's what 'Das Kapital' was about, it was an explanation of British capitalism. And I thought to myself, 'Well anyone could write a book like that, but what infuses, what comes out of his writing, is the passionate hostility to the injustice of capitalism. He was a Prophet, and so I put him in that category as an Old Testament Prophet.
    • Interview with John Cleary (23 February 2003)
  • I was born about a quarter of a mile from where we are sitting now and I was here in London during the Blitz. And every night I went down into the shelter. 500 people killed, my brother was killed, my friends were killed. And when the Charter of the UN was read to me, I was a pilot coming home in a troop ship: 'We the peoples of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind.' That was the pledge my generation gave to the younger generation and you tore it up. And it's a war crime that's been committed in Iraq, because there is no moral difference between a stealth bomber and a suicide bomber. Both kill innocent people for political reasons.
    • Question Time (22 March 2007)
  • If one meets a powerful person--Adolf Hitler, Joe Stalin or Bill Gates--ask them five questions: "What power have you got? Where did you get it from? In whose interests do you exercise it? To whom are you accountable? And how can we get rid of you?" If you cannot get rid of the people who govern you, you do not live in a democratic system.
    • Speech to the House of Commons (22 March 2001) (Hansard, c. 510).
  • If we can find the money to kill people, we can find the money to help people.
    • Interview with Michael Moore in the Movie Sicko (2007)
  • An educated, healthy and confident nation is harder to govern.
    • Interview with Michael Moore in the Movie Sicko (2007)
  • I think there are two ways in which people are controlled. First of all frighten people and secondly, demoralize them.
    • Interview with Michael Moore in the Movie Sicko (2007)
  • People in debt become hopeless and hopeless people don’t vote. They always say that that everyone should vote but I think that if the poor in Britain or the United States turned out and voted for people that represented their interests there would be a real democratic revolution.
    • Interview with Michael Moore in the Movie Sicko (2007)
  • Choice depends on the freedom to choose and if you are shackled with debt you don’t have the freedom to choose.
    • Interview with Michael Moore in the Movie Sicko (2007)
  • I think democracy is the most revolutionary thing in the world, because if you have power you use it to meet the needs of you and your community.
    • Interview with Michael Moore in the Movie Sicko (2007)
  • The way change occurs to begin with, if you come up with a good idea, like heathcare, you're ignored. If you go on you must be mad, absolutely stark-staring bonkers. If you go on after that you're dangerous. Then, if the pressure keeps up there's a pause. And then you can't find anyone at the top who doesn't claim to have thought of it in the first place. That's how progress is made.
    • Interview with Michael Moore in the Movie Sicko (2007) Probably derived from older version:
  • First they ignore you, then they say you're mad, then dangerous, then there's a pause and then you can't find anyone who disagrees with you.
    • Columbia Dictionary of Quotations, 1993[1] A similar quotation is almost invariably attributed to Gandhi, but more likely derives from a 1914 US trade union address[2]
  • All war represents a failure of diplomacy.
    • Speech in House of Commons (Feb. 28, 1991)
  • We have been in recess since July, and during that time there have been a fuel crisis, a Danish no vote, the collapse of the Euro and a war in the middle east, but what is our business tomorrow? The Insolvency Bill [Lords]. It ought be called the Bankruptcy Bill [Commons], because we play no role.
    • HC Deb, 23 October 2000, col 12, cited in Adam Tomkins, "What is Parliament for?" in Bamforth N. and Leyland P. (eds.), Public Law in a Multi-Layered Constitution, Oxford, Hart, 2003, p. 53.

Quotes about Tony Benn

  • [O]ne of the twntieth century's most committed parlamentarians
    • Adam Tomkins, "What is Parliament for?" in Bamforth N. and Leyland P. (eds.), Public Law in a Multi-Layered Constitution, Oxford, Hart, 2003, p. 53.
  • I have always said this of Tony: he immatures with age.


  1. The Columbia Dictionary of Quotations, Robert Andrews, Columbia University Press, 1993, ISBN 0231071949, 9780231071949
  2. "And, my friends, in this story you have a history of this entire movement. First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you. And that, is what is going to happen to the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America." General Executive Board Report and Proceedings [of The] Biennial Convention, Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, 1914. Google Books

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