Suffolk/UK: Local tributes to political icon Tony Benn
17:50 14 March 2014
The death of veteran left-winger Tony Benn prompted tributes from political friends and foes from across the region.
Labour MEP for the East of England Richard Howitt said Mr Benn was Tony Benn as one of the finest political speakers in the history of the Labour Party.
He said: “Tony Benn was an inspiration to me and many young people coming into the Labour Party, and with his very sad loss today our party has lost one of the finest teachers, prophets and thinkers in its history.
“Tony Benn taught me that to be a politician you also had to be a teacher, and he was always someone who put policies before personalities or polls.
“My first meeting with him was when he came to my university in the wake of an attempted coup in Spain, where he drove home his lifelong passion for the importance of parliamentary democracy.
“An abiding memory for me about Tony was in regularly attending his late night conversations over a pot of tea at Labour Party Conference which always bubbled with ideas, argument and humour.”
Lord Deben, the former Suffolk Coastal MP John Gummer, crossed swords with Mr Benn on several occasions – and remembers him as a “wonderful speaker.”
“He was a real challenger of received wisdom but I think his extreme views cost the Labour Party hugely.”
Lord Deben said it was necessary for the extremes of both parties to come up with ideas to challenge the leadership – but these extreme views could frighten voters.
“That is what happened to Labour at that time (during the 1980s). He was always very dogmatic and prepared to argue his point of view.
“In some ways he was very old fashioned – he always opposed the EU and he also opposed the merger between the Congregationalists and Presbyterians to form the United Reformed church.”
However he was always very courteous and polite – and was true to his views come what may.