"When all seems to be in turmoil, people like Tony Benn stand out as rock-like" (From Bradford Telegraph and Argus)
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Leading Labour figure Tony Benn has died aged 88 - and had strong links with Bradford
Updated 11:33am Friday 14th March 2014 in News
Tony Benn, the iconic Labour stalwart and former cabinet minister, who has died aged 88, had strong links with Bradford.
He was in Bradford most recently in 2012 when he was the subject of "an audience with..." event at Bradford University.
And in 2006, on a March Sunday afternoon, Tony Benn did what few theatre companies had been able to do up to then: he filled The Priestley theatre in Chapel Street.
Accompanied by singer-songwriter Roy Bailey, the 81-year-old veteran of British politics arrived in the birthplace of the Independent Labour Party to talk about his political beliefs at the tail-end of Tony Blair’s last months as Prime Minister.
Telegraph & Argus writer Jim Greenhalf, in an interview with Benn ahead of the politician's appearance at the Priestley Theatre in Bradford (now the New Bradford Playhouse), wrote: "Tony Benn, who once came within a handful of votes of defeating Denis Healey to become deputy leader of the Labour Party, speaks with feeling because hatred is exactly what he reaped during those years when he spoke out against Britain's nuclear deterrent, denounced the presence of American nuclear missiles in Britain and condemned Allied intervention in the Gulf following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait.
"At a time like this, when all seems to be in turmoil, people like Tony Benn stand out as rock-like. The times may have changed, but he hasn't changed his beliefs. He likes going on the road, addressing meetings, talking to people."
Tony Benn, to Jim Greenhalf in 2004Fear is the prison you put yourself in. Hope is the fuel of progress.
Jim also interviewed Benn in 2004, when he was appearing at St George's Hall. Benn told Jim: "Some of the time it's frightening, what we could do to destroy ourselves. Sometimes I think if we applied the technology we had we could solve every problem. Fear is the prison you put yourself in. Hope is the fuel of progress".
In the 2006 interview, Benn said: “In 1956 I made a speech in support of a well-known terrorist. It was denounced by the tabloid press. Next time I met him it was at the House of Commons. It was Nelson Mandela. All these people we persecute end up having tea with the Queen.”
In 1969 he was in town to receive an honorary degree from the University of Bradford, a place he was to return to in 2012 for An Evening with Tony Benn, an opportunity for him to talk about his life, politics and the Labour Party for which he was an MP for half-a-century.
Between those two occasions he was one of a formidable line-up of Socialists at St George’s Hall in April, 1994. Along with National Union of Mineworkers’ leader Arthur Scargill and Labour MPs Bernie Grant, Dennis Skinner, Bradford West’s Max Madden and Halifax’s Alice Mahon, Mr Benn was paying tribute to Bradford South MP Bob Cryer, who had died in a car crash earlier that month.
At the graveside in Undercliffe Cemetery Mr Benn delivered an oration during which John Pudney’s famous poem Johnny-Head-in-Air was read, including the lines:-
Do not despair
For Johnny head-in-air
He sleeps as sound
As Johnny underground.
Fetch out no shroud
And keep your tears
For him in after years...
Rest in peace old warrior.
On the social networks, local politicians, activists and others paid tribute to Benn from all sides of the political divide:
Pudsey MP Stuart Andrew:
Sad to hear about the death of Tony Benn. A tower in British politics and although I rarely agreed with him I have to say I rather liked him— Stuart Andrew MP (@StuartAndrewMP) March 14, 2014
Keighley-born Alistair Campbell:
RIP Tony Benn. A fighter all his life, fought death with the same courage he lived life. A large and loving family there with him to the end— Alastair Campbell (@campbellclaret) March 14, 2014
Bradford West MP George Galloway:
Our leader Tony Benn has gone. We shall not gaze upon his like again.— George Galloway (@georgegalloway) March 14, 2014
Greg Mulholland MP:
Sad to hear about Tony Benn, a political legend & a great man who impressed & inspired people of all political philosophies. Rest in peace.— Greg Mulholland MP (@GregMulholland1) March 14, 2014
RIP Tony Benn. I met him in Bradford a few years ago when he spoke to children at a @woodcraftfolk event. A passionate, intelligent man.— Albert Freeman (@AlbFreeman) March 14, 2014
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