Top critical review
26 people found this helpful
factual reportage pleasantly written.
on 11 March 2008
This book will provide the reader with an insight into the minutae of how the Labour Party was run over the last 50 years, but from an interesting viewpoint. You see although the party was ostensibly socialist, for Benn and his fellow travellers, it was not quite socialist enough. To be truly socialist, the Labour Party was to transform British life to make it indistinguishable from, say, East Germany or Roumania. By this I do not mean that it had to be dominated by the Soviet Union or have a repressive state security apparatus (although those seem to be have been a prerequisite for being a socialist country in Europe in the period in question), but the way the country conducted itself in social, economic and political affairs, with committees and voting on everything, however trivial and every aspect of life requiring accountability or politicisation.
This diary documents Benn's move leftwards over the years, including his discovery that in his opinion Marx was correct, though being a Marxist did not seem to disqualify one from being in the Labour party.
It is a quite dry read. Benn is a pleasant enough person, it's just that his dream of a Socialist Britain is unpalatable. He achieved his aim of making the party truly socialist by the time of the 1983 election, which resulted in it being absolutely trounced by Margaret Thatcher at a time when inflation was high, as was unemployment and there had been serious rioting as well as resurgence in the anti-nuclear movement. The scale of the defeat was so huge that Labour did not get back in office for another 14 years and only after it had turned itself into a 'Conservative-lite' party with only a pink tinge of the full socialist beast it had been in the 1980s.
Benn is an obsessive diarist (presumably to ensure that he is never misquoted) and we see Political life on the left in great detail. He is also discreet. For all his iconoclastic zeal he does not take the opportunity to 'do a Samson' and reveal any state, political or personal secrets. So this is a sanitised behind the scenes look.
Having read this and also Alan Clarke's diaries I do prefer the latter. Clarke provides us with so much inner personal detail which is lacking here. For some reason the flesh and blood person is missing in this work. Benn does not have anxieties and worries on the same level as Clarke, who even provides us with insights into his bodily movements. But then no two people are the same. Benn lives eats and breathes politics. Clarke has additional interests.
The diary has been dictated on tape and transcribed so it's an easy flowing read. But it's not unputdownable so only three stars.