Friday, 14 March 2014

Goodbye Mr Benn

In the coming hours, many better people than me will share their memories of Tony Benn who sadly passed away today.  But, for the record, I have a couple to relay - because he once made me some cash.

As an unashamed republican, Mr Benn wasn't a fan of Northern Ireland Unionist politicians.  But that did not stop him, in 1998, sending a handwritten note to my boss, David Trimble, to congratulate him on his role in achieving the Good Friday Agreement.  I opened the envelope and was quite taken by the class and tone of his words.  And suddenly I was a Tony Benn fan.

So much so that, three years later, I made it my business to be in the Chamber to hear him deliver his final speech to the House of Commons. He explained that he was "leaving Parliament in order to spend more time on politics." I knew then - as I know now - that I was witnessing a historic moment and I will forever feel privileged to have been there.

But back to the cash.

One Thursday evening after work, I was walking through a courtyard in the Palace of Westminster towards the Tube station when I spotted Tony Benn standing with his arms across his chest facing towards the exit. A couple seconds later, a man appeared on a bike who, upon closer examination, I recognised as the Rt Hon. Hilary Benn MP.

(Here they are together supporting a Labour candidate, Emily Benn - Tony's granddaughter).

I stopped in my tracks to observe.  As I did, Hilary completed a couple of laps of the little courtyard, watched by his proud dad.  It was the kind of father and son scene that is common in parks across the country any Saturday morning.  The only difference was that Hilary would have been pushing 50 years of age at the time, was a Government Minister - and his dad was Tony Benn.

I mentioned all of this to a friend who edited the diary column on a popular Sunday newspaper.  The story appeared the next weekend.  And, the following day, a cheque for £50 landed on my doormat.

I spent it well and, as a result, will always hold Tony Benn in high affection.

Farewell to one of the greatest Parliamentarians of our time.