The fatally endemic short-termism in politics is directly and vividly countered by Tony Benn’s consummate archiving of pretty much everything ever. If a bit of paper passed through his office, it’s probably in a box somewhere. Yet it’s this most recent diary - decades after he started publishing day-to-day accounts - that holds Benn’s most engaging, moving and convincingly human recording of daily toil. Despite being (perhaps) historically less important than his previous published works.
Even non partisans will feel oppressed by the rise of the media and the government's dismissive attitude towards parliament. It's also increasingly noticeable as the 90s go on, how powerless even high ranking public figures are. Benn's world changes fast, yet if anything his traditions of Leftist dissent become more relevent in the real world, once his own party takes power.
But the personal overshadows the politics. Caroline Benn died towards the end of this period and the later parts of the diary, documenting her fight with cancer, are incredible honest portrayal of Benn’s battle to divide time between his increasingly hopeless day-job and the fading health of his sweetheart and best friend. All the more moving because Caroline has already imposed herself as a vivid, passionate driving force in her own right, earlier in the diary.
So, rather than dry documentation of Parliament, viewed through old-fashioned Left-tinted spectacles (although that’s here too), this is a book that could well make you cry. I laughed out loud a few times as well but that’s just icing.
Hopefully he's still plugging away, despite no longer being an MP. So much has changed, so fast, since this diary finished and it will be important to see not only how Benn's return to grass roots has affected them - but also how the appalling nonsense Blair has made of Labour will continue to affect Tony Benn.
7Toby Jarvis's Score