A BLAZE OF AUTUMN SUNSHINE—The Last Diaries TONY BENN
Edited by Ruth Winstone – Publisher Hutchinson 2013
These are the last edited diaries of former politician, Labour MP and “National Treasure” Tony Benn, and cover the years 2007 to 2012 when increasing age and ill health forced Tony to give up writing his diaries. Ruth Winstone is described as his editor, but is in fact his friend, nurse, housekeeper and general factotum.
The diaries are very personal as well as political, although Tony does admit he is not so in touch with events in the House of Commons as he is no longer an MP and hasn’t been for many years now. His second son, Hilary, is still an MP and his protégée and former intern, Ed Miliband, is now the Leader of the Labour Party.
The diaries open in May 2007 with what is described as Brown’s Honeymoon, when Gordon Brown took over the Labour leadership and therefore became Prime Minister when Tony Blair resigned. They move on to describe the growing economic crisis, Brown’s poor performance as Prime Minister and the election that never happened. In between the politics Tony describes his frailty and ill health, though on some days he has a punishing schedule for an eighty year old; attending meetings, giving interviews and still marching whenever he can for left wing causes.
January to May 2008 sees the beginning of the end of New Labour in his eyes—and he is thankful!
The diary covers the collapse of the banking system and the Government bailout of Northern Rock. Tony admits he can’t see what else Brown could have done in the circumstances. In November he welcomes the American election which sees a black president elected for the first time ever.
Tony writes a lot about meetings with celebrities such as Saffron Borroughs, but just as much about his contacts with ordinary people. It is rumoured that it used to takes him an hour to buy a few groceries from his local shop as so many people wished to speak to him!
The last part of the book covers 2009 to 2012, when a minor operation was followed by a collapse and Tony’s physical health declined further. It is made even more poignant as he describes how he has had to sell his home in Holland Park – a venue after sixty years, in which he saw his children grow and have children of their own, and where he went through the final illness and death in 2000 of his beloved wife Caroline. He now lives in a flat nearby and is assisted by personal carers.
However, Tony’s mind remains as active as ever and his political views as left wing as ever. “Contempt and loathing” would describe his feelings for New Labour and its architects, Blair, Brown and Mandelson. He also reflects on world events such as Wiki leaks and Julian Assange, his hopes for America after the re election of Barak Obama, and events in Syria.
He discusses the Leveson Inquiry and its implications for the press; the 2012 Olympics; the Coalition government, and he reflects on the passing of old friends and comrades such as Jack Jones and Ralph Miliband.
He has also designed a “seat-case” which he can use when he needs to sit down at rallies; and was thrilled when James Caan from Dragon’s Den took an interest.
There are illustrations of Tony and his huge extended family, his friends and lone snapshots taken in his home. One is of him wearing his robes for one of his many Honorary Degrees – this one from Lincoln.
Tony Benn has kept a diary since 1940 when he was a fifteen year old schoolboy evacuee, and he acknowledges that this one will be his last.