TONY BENN & THANET
The death of Tony Benn has brought reactions from people all over Thanet. Below are just some of those sent to Thanet Watch. For the story of the time Tony Benn came to Thanet – and met Tony Blair! – see the April issue of Thanet Watch in newsagents and shops across the Isle.
KEITH VENESS (THANET SOUTH LABOUR PARTY)
I was quite surprised to discover how many folk in Thanet had met, worked or campaigned with Tony Benn over the years. The press focused on his time in the Wilson and Callaghan cabinets and his various speeches at Labour Party Conference. However his extra-parliamentary activities were just as important, both politically and to him personally.
He spoke at various events for the Kent miners in both of the strikes in 1974 and 1984 to ’85. He supported the Offshore Industries Liaison Committee fighting for trades union rights and safety conditions on oil rigs and wind farms etc.
He was also a great supporter of the railways and campaigned both for public ownership and the building of new modern lines. There was barely a major trades union struggle that he was not seen actively supporting.
He was also a great internationalist and supported various struggles for liberation and national self-determination all over the world. Ihsan Qadir, General Secretary of the League of the Kurdistan Regions, who lives just down the coast in Walmer, worked with him for many years raising issues about freedom for Kurdistan and on behalf of the Kurdish community here.
Not many people know that he was one of the key persons in getting the ceasefire in the North of Ireland, travelling over there many times and forging bonds with Sinn Fein that made it possible to stop the shooting and start the talking. Along with Jeremy Corbyn MP, he acted as a conduit in some of the most difficult parts of the political process.
We first met him in the campaign in the mid-1970s to get ordinary Labour Party members a vote in future leadership elections – then considered completely extremist but now accepted as normal in most political parties.
We also campaigned for “women only shortlists” to correct the gender in-balance among MPs and the right of black and Asian members to have their own Labour Party section. These were denounced as “tokenistic” by those in power but have now become main-stream in the Labour Party.
He also supported the early campaign by LGBT activists for recognition and changes in the law. We had kept in touch with him over the last 30 years and knew how ill he had become. However his death was still a great shock.
Broadstairs Branch Labour Party held a minute’s silence and many tributes were paid to his efforts. Quite a few members said he inspired them to either get involved or stay involved. He was someone that we will genuinely not see the like of again.
IRIS JOHNSTON, THANET DISTRICT COUNCILLOR
I saw Tony Benn many times over the years at conferences and also in Thanet. He came down in 1983 to support Cherie Blair in North Thanet, and with her father [actor Tony Booth] and husband [Tony Blair] that led to three Tony’s helping.
He also came to the funeral of Ron Haywood (the General Secretary in Harold Wilson’s time) who had retired to Birchington.
Lovely family man with strong convictions and principles and he will be sadly missed.
COUNCILLOR BERNARD LA ROCHE
I sat on the same committee with Tony Benn twice in the 1970s – a great loss to the socialist world.
I sat opposite Tony Benn on the tube about 15 years ago. A young guy obviously had a burning issue to discuss with Tony and approached him. Tony was really welcoming and they sat for the journey in deep discussion. So generous and gracious.