Thanks Tony – Now it is up to us

Jeremy Corbyn MP


Tony could light up a rally, inspire a picket line, have MPs running from the tea room to hear him in Parliament and inspire a diversity of people who held no strong political views, just a desire to support the underdog.

An MP for 50 years, he once told me the best way to understand power was to look at the order of precedence at the State Opening of Parliament. Power is still elusive and exclusive. But he used Parliament to devastating effect. During the Miners’ Strike Tony would tell Parliament the reality of the struggle and why. The doubters said we were wrong and the NUM was “irresponsible”. For Tony there was only one place to be – with the miners.

In the media analysis of Tony there was the depressing round of Shirley Williams et al blaming Tony for Thatcher and the 1983 election defeat. It was as nauseating as it was wrong. The SDP left Labour and handed Thatcher victory. Tony had learned the lessons of the 1974-79 Labour Government – with the IMF-imposed austerity, and our failure to transfer power and wealth – and was determined we would offer a socialist alternative. While a wafer denied him the deputy leadership in 1981 he inspired a movement, united the left and put arguments for socialism centre stage.

As a minister in the 1974 Government he promoted industrial democracy and co-operatives before being moved sideways by Wilson to Energy Minister. He then ensured the miners had a lock on pit closures where there were still coal reserves. As a union activist and official I realised the difference a minister can make – a lesson for all future pretenders to high office.

tonybenn-404_681712cThe day he decided to leave Parliament he called me early in the morning and asked if the “spending more time on politics” line sounded trite. No, I replied, it is brilliant. Later that year we founded Stop the War and, as its President, he was able to put an inspiring case for a foreign policy of peace, not aggression and war. The banking crisis and the defeat of 2010 led to austerity and a vicious political redistribution of wealth, and growing inequality.

Tony’s response of a Coalition of Resistance was the key to his life – unite in struggle to defend our conditions and unite for socialism. We have lost a friend and inspired thinker, but above all, an activist. We have books, diaries and memories, but even more, we have inspiration to achieve change. Now it is up to us.

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