Tony Benn at the unveiling of Nelson Mandela’s statue in Parliament Square on August 29, 2007 (Photo: Ahmed J Versi/Muslim News :Copyright)]
All the great and the good have written or spoken about the late Tony Benn. I am going to skip the usual homage and reminisce about him on a personal note as to what he meant for me and some of my generation.
As a young student in the early 1970s I was told by some of my leftwing friends inside the Labour Party Young Socialists (the then youth wing of the party) that Benn was going to be the Kerensky of the coming British revolution. So obviously to them he was an iconic figure. Even at that young age I was a bit of a sceptic, especially the Kerensky bit. But nevertheless I did agree with him on many of the policy positions then and at later periods. In a sense he was an icon to many of the young left of the 1970s.
What particularly appealed to me was his sense of justice, fair play and the need for a more equitable world. He was a democrat in the full sense of the word. In a sense it was his democratic socialism which was more appealing rather than the insurrectionary road to socialist Britain which many of the Trotskyite leaning activists were dreaming about in those heady post 60s Britain.
I happened to personally meet him in 2006 when he had almost become a national institution. It was a conference organised by Third World Solidarity in the Council Chamber of the Kensington Town Hall. After the conference the Honourable Mayor gave a reception at the Mayors Parlour which the Community Relations Section was hosting. I walked up to Benn, who earlier on had given a stirring speech at the conference, and introduced myself. Out of polite small talk I mentioned that he must have visited the grand looking Mayor’s Parlour before especially since he was a long time resident of the Royal Borough. To my utter surprise he replied that it was his very first visit there as he would probably have been a persona non grata during his active political days! But he was pleased to see the grandness of the Parlour. I smiled and said that it was almost unbelievable for him to have arrived so late in his life! He smiled and both of us understood the little joke.
Anyway, I found him to be an extremely gentle and friendly person. He was polite to all the delegates and guests and even at that late age he was full of energy and life and ready to engage with all. What a power engine he must have been in his heydays at the top tier in the Labour Party.
Now that he is no longer with us physically I am sure he will be missed by so many. But his legacy to politics and the society at large will remain with us for a long time to come. The likes of him are irreplaceable. They probably come once in a century. May God Rest his soul in eternal peace.
Rumman Ahmed was Community Relations Adviser to the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea from 1991-2007.