on 8 October 2004
I write this review from the standpoint as a true blue Tory!! Notwithstanding that admission and if anyone is still reading after it, i advise anyone who is at all interested in politics to read this. It gives a fascinating insight int politcs, political relationships and what actually goes on in Westminster and political parties. It is also funny and thought provoking and moving. In short it is brilliant. If you read the Clark diaries and were put off by political self obsession then read this, it may even restore your faith in politicians!!
on 2 November 2003
After being transfixed by previous volumes of his diaries, I was awaiting this volume with eager anticipation, and Tony Benn, and his editor Ruth Winstone do not disappoint. Covering his last years on Labour's NEC and his final years as am MP, this book is outstanding in giving a view into the workings of the Labour Party, both old and new. What sets this volume apart from earlier diaries is that it is far more personal, charting as it does the sad losses of both his mother and wife, but also the birth of more grandchildren, who seem to bring Benn so much joy.
At times he slips into grumpy old man mode, but hell the guy was in his seventies when he dictated them so some leeway is appropriate.
Earlier volumes showed Tony as a very active MP indeed. Despite ill health and advacing years he shows no sign of slowing down.
An excellent read. All diarists take note: This is how it should be done
on 3 December 2002
Tony Benn's status as one of the 20th Century's most important political statesmen is well-deserved, and 'Free At Last', supposedly the last volume of his diaries (he left Parliament in May 2001) covers his final decade as a Member of Parliament- a record of his disenchanment with New Labour and subsequent alienation, and of his wife Caroline's death from cancer. Throughout, Benn's good-humoured, good-natured self shines through, and he tackles key issues with both righteous indignation and well-argued alternatives- emerging not as the rabid Left-wing crackpot with the Right-wing British press would have you believe, but as a well-intentioned, sadly sidelined and mentally well-balanced political theorist. His is a life rife with incident but often disconcertingly familiar and the diary form allows (or perhaps forces) him to be rigorously honest. As a result, this is both a wonderful read and a priceless cultural and political artefact. Essential.
on 17 January 2004
Tony Benn's diaries from 1991 - 2001 provide an insight into the political and personal life of a socialist politician. What I discovered by reading this book was a fantastic historial portrayal of the major politcal events of the 1990s, and the documentation of the successes and struggles of a very honest/open man. I do not believe that the diaries would only be of interest to staunch left wingers - the diaries are not that narrow - as they also offer a portrayal of the workings of our politcal system, which is something I think would be of interest to anyone that is politcally minded.
Aside from its histotrical/political value, the diaries let us into the personal life of Mr Benn (not the cartoon character you jokers!) and show us the great love he has for his family and especially for his late wife Caroline (herself a writer and academic). I felt that it is was very well written and as a result I found it very easy to read.
This edition of Tony Benn’s diaries is a more complete read than the previous ones. We are still led through policy decisions and Benn’s thoughts about politicians along the way but this time we are introduced more frequently to his family and loved friends.
I learnt a lot about the travels and chores of a truly committed Member of Parliament and his constituency of Chesterfield has been fortunate indeed to have been served by him through the years.
The early part of the diaries continues to detail primarily with political matters but the ground gradually shifts to show us more about the man himself and his feelings for the people around him. As time moves on one can feel Benn’s disillusionment with politics and his weariness of fighting battles that he no longer believes can be won. In the end I wanted to hear him settle for retirement to extinguish the anguish that he so clearly had in the last few years.
My personal regard for Benn is much higher as a result of reading this book although I still question many of his political positions. A friendly and honest individual emerges. A bit batty at times but making no apologies for his eccentricities, he becomes a man one can really like.
Tony Benn’s honesty is transparent and no more so than when he outlines his clear sense of betrayal by today’s Labour leadership. What a pity that age caught up with him and denied us a committed and intelligent political mind. I think as I am sure he does, that we deserved more of his sort of politician to balance the super slick-automatons that have gradually replaced him and his like.
In these days of Politics lite, when all debate and political ideas are being reduced to third way mush, here is a voice to heed.
Starting with John Major's last election victory and the death throes of Kinnock's leadership, Tony Benn begins to feel deep disillusionment on how the role of Parliament and political life are developing. But worse is to come. John Smith's brief leadership gives way to the nascent Blair leadership, and the beginning of the end of conviction politics....
There's a cast of thousands here, and the detail and bustle of daily political life protrayed is one of the joys of the book. From the local world of Benn's Chesterfield constituency to the machinations of the National Executive and the drama of the House, it's all here.
Tony Benn may not be as fully engaged in events as he may once have been, as he is increasingly sidelined by his own party, and his own inclinations and personal life draw him further away, and the diaries may not therefore be as politically satisfying as previously volumes.
But the human drama of the account of the illness and death of his beloved wife Caroline is profoundly moving. The dignity of his writing, the avoidance of mawkishness, the raw emotion behind the restraint of language are tremendously powerful.
He is full of love and admiration for his family and friends too, which help to carry him through the depression of the end of his parliamentary career and his bereavement. But there's another consolation. As he is repeats in these pages, he's "leaving parliament to concentrate on politics......"
The mendaciousness of the New Labour Machine is here well brought home, with it's cult of the personality of the leader, and it's threats and abuse to MP's who do not show themselves as suitably careerist in their actions.
Benn is stunned as he sees the machinery of the Party he's given his life to impatiently dismantled by the grinning Blair and his 'New' party.
An amazing, enriching read. 'Marvellous,' as Tony Benn would say
on 22 September 2012
This was my first experience of any of Tony Benn's writings or readings, and in fact I listened to the audiobook version of this read by the man himself. And what a man he is - warm, wise and well, wonderful, really. There are so many aspects of these diaries to enjoy - first of all the gossipy political-history bit (which is fascinating), then there's the buzz of extended-family-life, and under-pinning all of this is his love for Caroline, his wife, who is battling with cancer throughout this particular decade. There are laugh-out-loud moments (concerning bomb alerts, Ali G, a wasp in the underpants and many other things), but then there are lots of tears too - for the passing of colleagues, for the death of Old Labour, for the state of the nation generally, and ultimately for Caroline. It's impossible not to cry with the author, and impossible not to feel envious of the members of his various constituencies whom he represented in parliament for over fifty years. Mankind could do with many more Tony Benn's, and thank goodness he's been a committed diarist for most of his amazing life.
on 31 January 2009
Tony Benn is quite simply the greatest politician of the past 50 years, a humble man of honour and integrity. That he was dismissed by the corrupt media as a 'left wing loony' is one of the great tragedies of recent times. Had Benn become leader of the Labour party, he would NOT have been happy with being a lapdog to the US president as a prelude to a millionaire career as a public speaker and freelance diplomat, like another Tony I could mention! Unusual for a politician, Benn is able to admit when he has made a mistake (e.g. his views on nuclear power).
Benn's diaries are a joy to read (or listen to). There is absolutely nothing radical in his views. He is humble and thoughtful. He is an unashamed socialist and laments the decline of the Labour party and the introduction of New Labour, which is basically Thatcherism, fronted by a grinning buffoon with little charisma and less integrity.
This volume covers up to the end of his last term as MP for Chesterfield. and features the tragic death of his beloved wife, Caroline, the reaction to the 9/11 bombings and the shameful second Iraq war, which was started under false pretences, to further the interests of extremely wealthy individuals and corporations.
Tony Benn - I salute you. Hopefully your son, Hilary, will prove to be a worthy successor.
This is a thoughtful, illuminating and surely unique commentary on ten years of Britain's recent political life. The one-time secretary of state has, I would guess, done more for posterity by his high-profile stance as an independent radical thinker than he ever did, or was ever likely to do, as a cabinet minister.
Obviously these diaries are political history first and foremost. It is as a politician and political theorist that we know him from his speeches and media appearances, but this volume of the diaries gives more insight into the man himself. Early on he recounts the death of his mother, and towards the end there were tears standing in my eyes as I read his laconic and restrained account of the death of his much-loved wife after a long and courageous battle with cancer. He has more to say about his family than about the Labour party figures with whom he is usually associated, and his reticence makes this a fascinating issue for me. He admires Dennis Skinner quite obviously, but I got no sense of personal closeness whether because there is none or because he is simply reticent in such matters. Similarly with Tam Dalyell, Brian Sedgemore, George Galloway and Arthur Scargill - what comes across clearly is what independent figures these are and how un-cohesive as some supposed left-wing grouping or movement. It is pretty clear - all the more so for his terseness - who he doesn't like (Kinnock, very obviously indeed), but the tone is always calm and controlled. His perfect civility, which I have never seen desert him in public, only once or twice falls victim to his exasperation and disgust in the course of these diaries. He tells us what we would have inferred anyway, that he greatly prefers to be on friendly terms with everyone whatever the political differences, and the real tone of personal warmth appears in relation to John Major, Ian Paisley and, intriguingly, Norman Tebbitt, whom he characterises as being personally a softie. This is a man people talked to, and that gives his diaries all the more significance.
His Achilles heel, it seems to me, is his sentimental view of radical history, in particular Labour history. Time and again he criticises the current Labour junta for their disregard of the traditions of the Labour movement. That's all very well, but what did he learn from the party's experience with dear old Michael Foot? I sympathise strongly with his revulsion at the question-begging and deceitful inanities mouthed by the Blair troupe about adapting traditional values to the modern world. That they are in practice largely abandoning the values and the people they are supposed to represent I am in no doubt at all, but at least they have found a constituency. Nor am I in any doubt that Mrs Thatcher inflicted a vicious defeat not only on supposed radicals and militants but on the working class generally and on the disadvantaged generally, and that all kinds of unsavoury managements now get a pretty easy ride. The Labour party as a whole, and the trade unions in particular were largely the architects of their own misfortunes through naivety, pigheadedness and arrogance, and socialism has fallen foul of what Galbraith calls the Culture of Contentment, sc enough of us are happy enough with the status quo to object more to anyone rocking the boat than to injustice. A return to old Labour ways does not seem much of an answer all the same.
It may be that with some supposed communist threat now behind us people will begin to see the sheer ugliness of capitalism. Socialism to me is a mentality, not a system, and it is a collective mentality. Whatever its virtues in theory, it has a lot to live down in practice, a lot of unpleasant associations to shed and a lot of skeletons to clear out of various cupboards. If more socialists resembled Tony Benn the task would be a lot easier.
on 16 May 2013
Wow ! I have always respected Tony Benn but this is the first time I have read one of his diaries.
A great insight into the loss of democracy in the UK, with both major parties now controlled by big business, and enslaved to the far-Right American world view.(Also,a delightful insight into the daily private world of Tony Benn and his family; -the poignant account of the death of his wife, Caroline, brought tears to my eyes ).
In the 1960s, my parents always warned of a return to 1920s Tory policies and were always wary of the power of the big banks. Like Tony Benn, they were right to be worried. Who would have thought we would end up again with Cabinets composed of so many millionnaires?
Privatisation and so-called free markets (in reality-collusive markets run by big business), allied with austerity measures on the workers now make many of us realise the benefits of the good working conditions we had in earlier decades--mostly given by Old Labour.
We really need more conviction politicians like Tony Benn, but New Labour cannot deliver them, as Tony clearly tells us.
Read this book and open your eyes to the fact that you are being exploited by big businees and misled by the national media -not really a free press, just a corporate media.(Then also read Chomsky,John Pilger,Seamus Milne,Danny Dorling,"Treasure Islands" book and websites like medialens.org)