5 years on, Tony Benn remains an inspiration - Richard Leonard

Writing exclusively for The Red Robin five years after Tony Benn died, Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard remembers the political giant whose radicalism and socialism he says are still an inspiration today.

It is hard to believe that it is now five years to the day since Tony Benn passed away. He is greatly missed, but his radicalism and his socialism are still a great source of inspiration.

I first spent time with Tony Benn in the spring of 1988 driving him to campaign events across Scotland when he was standing for the leadership of the Labour Party. That campaign was unsuccessful – and at that time many people wrote him off. But, Tony Benn was most certainly not someone to be written off, and neither were his ideas. Years later he became the obvious and unanimous choice to be the Honorary President of the Keir Hardie Society when we established it in 2010. And it was in this role that I last met him in Glasgow in January 2013. In the years following his death we can see that his values are as relevant now as they ever were, and we are proud to draw strength from them.

Tony Benn was a powerful voice in support of the UCS work-in on the Clyde. His backing of workers’ control and his belief in unlocking the knowledge and skills of working people is something that drives our calls today for a change in the balance of power in Scotland’s economy.

In his support for the NUM during the Miners’ Strike of 1984-85 Tony Benn stood shoulder to shoulder with mineworkers here in Scotland and across the UK. We have maintained this basic solidarity in our pressure for an inquiry into the policing of the miners’ strike – something that has now finally been secured.

Tony was not anti-American, but resolutely against the excesses of the USA. Here in Scotland we continued this approach with our mobilisations last year against the visit of Donald Trump. In his lifelong opposition to colonialism, racism, and global inequality his work continues to provide a guiding light for how we should judge the balance of power internationally.  

Throughout his life and political development Tony was a pluralist and a democrat. He was the most senior Labour figure to support the extension of members’ rights in choosing our party’s leaders and representatives. He believed that the party was a broad church, made up of a wide range of strands of opinion, and he sought to protect that and give encouragement to the party’s different traditions. Nurturing our broad church is as vital now as it was during Tony Benn’s lifetime.

Most of all, Tony’s great contribution was his inquiring mind and his unparalleled ability to communicate – never letting the powerful escape his scrutiny, and always expressing his ideas with an unanswerable force of argument . His democratic instinct and his belief in the ability of working class people to shape their own lives are vital to our socialist approach in the 21st Century.

He was a supporter of ‘an irreversible shift in the balance of power and wealth in favour of working people and their families’ and stood by that manifesto commitment when he served as a member of Labour cabinets. That socialist objective even today remains a foundation stone of our politics and our best hope of changing the world.

Tony Benn, 3 April 1925 - 14 March 2014.

Image: Jason/Scottish Labour

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