MP Nigel Evans pays tribute to the ‘legendary’ Tony Benn

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Nigel Evans has paid tribute to veteran Labour politician Tony Benn who has died at the age of 88.

Mr Evans wrote:-

I am deeply saddened by the death of the legendary Tony Benn.

We did a few interviews together. He assiduously tape recorded all of them himself for his diaries including one on the Royal Family which we did for American TV. He never could understand why anyone should get a position simply by right of birth.

He never believed in the hereditary principle and as such renounced his own title to a seat in the Lords on the death of his father, Viscount Stansgate (created an hereditary Peer in 1942 after service under Labour PM Ramsay MacDonald as Secretary of State for India). At the time you could not renounce your title, thus securing his place in history, with the law being changed to allow those with titles to renounce them in order to stand for Parliament. (Peerages Act 1963).

He was instrumental in ensuring that the Concorde project was never cancelled when the Treasury wanted it scrapped due to escalating costs. I’m sure that the knowledge that so many of his Bristol constituents were working on the project helped steer his decision and maintain his enthusiasm – for which, again, history will thank him.

I was privileged to have been at the occasion where he gave a speech dedicated to the life of Nelson Mandela in Westminster Hall. It was a spirited and heartfelt account of a fellow traveller.

He held many top positions within Government, Sec. of State for Energy (75-79), Sec. of State for Industry (74-75). Minister of State for technology (66-70).

He wasn’t always everyone’s cup of tea within his own party. Ray Powell was the Labour MP Whip in charge of accommodation when Tony Benn had won a seat back into Parliament, at a by-election, after being out of Parliament for less than a year. He went to see Ray on discovering that the office he had been allotted was very small. His trademark pipe in hand looking at Ray in his office working on something he said, “Ray, there must have been some mistake. I am a senior Member of Parliament. I’ve served the cause for many years, and been in Government, but the room I’ve been given is a broom cupboard, you can’t swing a cat and surely after my years of service here I deserve something better?”

Ray carried on scribbling away whilst Tony Benn spoke, and without looking up replied with simply two words. In his thick Welsh accent he said, “Broken service”. Job done by Powell and Tony had to accept his small room.

My thoughts are with Hilary Benn MP and Stephen, and his other children.

When his wife Caroline died in 2000 I went up to Tony in central lobby, and gave my condolences. His eyes welled with tears as he said, “Thank you Nigel. So kind.” He couldn’t speak any more words as the tears trickled down his face. His love for her was absolute. They are together again – with absolutely no broken service!

His diaries will be an invaluable record of political life in the 20th and early 21st century and will be read for centuries to come – a lasting academic legacy for which we are all grateful.

A great eventful, historical and meaningful life till the end, serving his country until 2001 in the Parliament he loved. Tony, we, your many friends of all political persuasions, will miss seeing you around the Commons where you dominated for over half a century. If ever a plinth in the Commons was crying out for a statute of a Parliamentarian who displayed knowledge, good humour, commitment and dedication I can think of no better occupant than Tony Benn with his pipe in hand.

Nigel Evans is the MP for Ribble Valley in Lancashire. He is currently on trial in relation to several alleged sex offences. Mr Evans denies the charges.