Tony Benn died on 14 March 2014

Tony Benn died on 14 March 2014

I knew embarrassingly little of Tony Benn before seeing Andy Barrett’s new play Tony’s Last Tape this past Sunday. (Read my separate blog on the production and interview with its star Philip Bretherton here.)

But since Sunday, boy have I been making up for lost time. After leaving the Bridgehouse, I’ve devoured obituaries and other articles about him online, as well as downloading radio and film documentaries and ordered The Best of Benn (a potting of his eight-volume diaries) to read on holiday later this month.

More than a year after his death, this leading British political figure of the last century is having an effect on me that I think he would appreciate. Where it ends – well, wait and see. But I have embraced his abiding belief that social change starts with us, we people on the street, not with the corporations, not with the people in positions of power. We must all take responsibility and take action, we must have convictions and we must fight, and fight bloody hard, for what we believe in, for social justice (for everyone not just ourselves), for what’s right.

I’ve collated some of my favourite Benn quotes and references that I’ve so far stumbled on – maybe they’ll have an effect on you too. I hope so. If you’ve found others, please do share them below. And please do take the time to see Tony’s Last Tape at the Bridgehouse in Penge, London SE20, by 17 May 2015.


Brilliant Bennisms

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

  2. “My contribution to the Labour party is that I know the British establishment inside out and what they’re up to.”

  3. On spin doctors and pollsters: “I did not enter the Labour party … to have our manifesto written by Dr Mori, Dr Gallup and Mr Harris.”

  4. “Social change has two prerequisites: the burning flame of anger at injustice, and the burning flame of hope at a better world.”

  5. “Whether you win or lose a battle doesn’t matter, the question is: did you fight it hard enough?”

  6. “If you want justice, go to the people, don’t go to the guys at the top.”

  7. “My wife has been the most powerful influence in my life, without any doubt at all. She taught me how to live and she taught me how to die. You can’t ask more of anyone than that.”

  8. “Experience is the only real teacher and if you keep a diary you get three bites at educating yourself – when it happens, when you write it down, and when you reread it and realise you were wrong. Making mistakes is part of life. The only things I would feel ashamed of would be if I had said things I hadn’t believed in order to get on. Some politicians do do that.”

  9. “Those who change their views to achieve status leave no footprints in the sands of time.”

  10. “There are two ways people are controlled: first you frighten them, then you demoralise them.”

  11. “When you think of the number of men in the world who hate each other, why when two men love each other, does it split the Church?”

  12. “It’s always a lurch to the left but a victory to the right.”

  13. “If they bomb our factories, it’s war and we bomb them back. If our factories are taken over, it’s market forces.”

  14. “There are times when you have to get out of trouble and times when you have to get into trouble.”

  15. “If you don’t talk to strangers, you don’t ask questions. If you don’t ask questions, you don’t learn.”

  16. “That’s where it always starts: on the ground, in the streets, in the people.”

  17. “There is no final victory, as there is no final defeat. There is just the same battle. To be fought, over and over again. So toughen up, bloody toughen up.”

Terri on Tony on Twitter


Tony Benn: Will & Testament

This film by Skip Tite had me weeping – frequently – tears of admiration, inspiration and loss. “He encouraged us”, many of us, and continues to do so, as this documentary so poignantly demonstrates. More details on where and how to watch, buy on DVD and download at

What others say about Tony Benn


This clutch of obituaries published after Tony Benn’s death on 14 March 2014 could be used to both support and challenge the assertion that he was either loved or loathed. The Guardian, which you might think would be in the love camp, isn’t necessarily so. The Mail and the ‘Torygraph’, in fact, are far more affectionate in their reporting – as are many of the 921 readers of the former who posted comments. As for the Economist, and the anonymous author of its obituary, the only word that comes to mind is ‘vile’.


For a moment in the mid-1970s, Tony Benn appeared to be the man of the age, able to say what was wrong with it and how it should put itself right. His problem was that people mostly refused to listen.


Great and good pay tribute to Tony Benn, famous for his pipe, diaries and love of tea…He renounced his peerage to remain in the Commons and described war as ‘murder, rape, torture and plunder’.


A boyish enthusiast recognisable by his pipe, tape recorder and mug of tea, Labour’s most controversial late 20th-century figure led the Leftward drive that marginalised the party for a generation.


This spear-thrower of the British left was not a national treasure but a curiously resilient artefact from Labour’s misspent past… His campaign for a better world was generally conducted alone.


Benn’s political evolution contradicted the dictum which holds it is only to be expected to be that you’re on the left when you’re young, shifting to the right as you get older. He defied this.



Released last October, after Benn’s death, Skip Tite’s film draws on quasi confessional interviews and Benn’s personal, photographic and film archive to reveal the human face behind a political mask.



Following Benn’s death, Conservative MP and friend David Davis gives a personal exploration of Benn’s life and ideas, incorporating decades’ worth of radio interviews.


Mentioned in Davis’ piece, the full Desert Island Discs interview Sue Lawley conducted with castaway Benn in 1989 is also a must-listen, revealing much about his family influences and sense of duty.