Tony Benn's War on Terror diaries -- an inspirational look at the life of a princpled fighter

I've just finished listening to Tony Benn's More Time for Politics: Diaries 2001-2007. Benn was a long-serving left-wing British Parliamentarian who also served as Secretary of State and has been key in the anti-war movement. I was only vaguely aware of him until I saw his amazing appearance in Michael Moore's fantastic movie Sicko, and since then, I've found him popping up all over the place.

This volume of Benn's diaries covers the 9/11 attack, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Hutton inquiry, and many amazing turns and twists in domestic and global politics. Benn -- now 83 -- is incredibly insightful, thoughtful, and principled in his analysis of these events, and is an inspiring whirlwind of activity as he packs his days with interviews, position papers, lecture tours, private meetings with everyone from Kofi Annan to Iraqi dissidents. In between, he's absolutely charming with his grumbles about his flagging health and energy, his search for his favorite frozen pizzas, his overwhelming pride in his family, and his ruminations on an extraordinary life in politics.

Benn hails from an era in politics characterized by thoughtfulness, civility, passion and deep commitment to principle. Listening to him narrate his diaries is an education in what politics can and should be, and what it means to give yourself over to public service. The world's a better place for Benn -- and I feel like I'm a better person for having lived inside his diaries for a few hours.
More Time for Politics: Diaries 2001-2007


  1. Tony Benn is an absolute legend.

    I first saw him on the original Ali G skits, and have since followed up on his past and current work.

  2. Tony Benn interviewing Sarah Palin. It will never happen, but man oh man what an AWESOME sight that would be…that woman would never be able to show her face outside of Alaska again.

  3. The interview in Sicko is stellar. He says that in the US, people are afraid of the government, whereas the opposite is true in Europe, and that people in debt will do as they’re told. College graduates with massive debts will gladly work long hours without health benefits. That becomes the norm and they all shrug rather than protest.

  4. I greatly admire this man. As you say, old school principles.

    An interesting quirk is that he always carries a pocket tape recorder everywhere and records all his interviews. Not just for his own diaries but mainly to be sure that he has the evidence should he ever get misquoted.

    He has been caught out too many times.

  5. Benn is quite simply heroic.

    “What power have you got? Where did you get it from? In whose interests do you use it? To whom are you accountable? How do we get rid of you?”

  6. Ben is an absolute gem and in many ways the political equivalent of a geek. However whilst I’m very glad that he was around in opposition (both when his party was out of power and technically in it) I’m also of an age that I’m very glad he never made it into power after the last Wilson government. It’s easy to pick up on his cuddly intellectual image now, but that certainly wasn’t the case in the late 70s/early 80s.

    If you can find it there’s a wonderful political broadcast he made while minister for industry where he has a map of the uk pinned upside down on the wall behind him to encourage the viewer to see things differently. He takes himself absolutly seriously throughout – with the unintential effect that it’s totally hilarious.

  7. See what you non-Brits are missing by not having hereditary aristocrats? While we continue to enjoy the benefits of being ruled by ‘Tony’s descendants.

  8. Anthony Wedgewood Benn, was born into the aristocracy.

    He was raised to be a Lord.

    He was raised to pour disdain on his fellow man because of who’s genitals he came from.

    He rejected all of this ABSOLUTELY.

    He’s a man who walked away from wealth and privilege in favour of integrity solidarity and most of all equality.

    I have met a few UK parlimentarians and only 2 of any personal conviction, Tony Benn and Dennis Skinner.

    Where Tony turned his back on all of England’s history of Aristocratic sh*te, Dennis went from working class back groumnd to Parliament and still only accepts the wage he would earn from his apprenticed trade.

    He, and TonyBenn, are also the ONLY MPs to have voted against MPs pay increases every single time to came to the vote.

    Mr Benn, Mr Skinner I doff my cap top you both.

  9. “He was raised to pour disdain on his fellow man because of who’s genitals he came from.”

    Well, not quite. Tony Benn was 2nd Viscount Stansgate; his father having been given the original title. The 1st Viscount was also a Labour MP (and before that, Liberal).

    Interestingly, peerages couldn’t be disclaimed until Tony Benn helped pushed through reform. It actually mattered politically, because at the time peers could not sit in the Commons (having the right to sit in the Lords instead), and Benn lost his seat when his father died.

    The peerage still exists, but in a sort of suspended animation state. His heir will inherit it when Benn dies, though of course the heir may also choose to disclaim it.

  10. By the way, I should point out to American readers that in the UK “Secretary of State” is not quite the same as in the US, for us it’s a rank of government minister, meaning that you are in charge of a department.
    Benn held that rank in the Energy and in the Industry departments, although most people remember his time in Government at the slightly lower rank (I think) of Minister of Technology and Postmaster General.
    (We don’t have a Ministry of Technology today, which is really stupid when you think about it.)
    Of course, as a Tory, I’m not really supposed to like socialists, but like almost all of us, I have a lot of respect for Tony Benn, because he was a) efficient and b) genuinely committed to his beliefs. I’ll take that over most of the mindless career politicians we have today. Frankly, even if I disagree with a politicans beliefs it would be nice to have someone who was capable of executing.

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