Tony Benn’s diaries are a treasure. The real, flawed but loveable man emerges strongly from the pages, and each volume is worth reading. Benn was fallible, of course, but he did not blink at or hide from those failings, (or perhaps it is fairer to say that his editor never did). I was lucky enough to hear him speak on a couple of occasions towards the end of his political career, past the high point of “Bennism” in the early days of New Labour, and he spoke as well as he wrote. However, his speeches on the page lose a lot of their impact. They become much more wooden, stilted. The extracts Ruth Winstone has selected here really do him no favours – they are on topics that were his interests, admittedly, and therefore are arguably representative of his work – but not surely his best?
His writing is quite laborious, and I felt at times like I was trapped by the pub bore, going on at length about what Ted Heath said to Harold Wilson back in 1968 abou Britain’s enry into the Common Market….
This book springs to life each time we return to his diaries, where the much more engaging real Benn emerges. Even so, I can recall several passages from his diaries – after several years – that are not included here, such as the extraordinarily touching entries abou the loss of his wife. I can’t avid the suspicion that a random choice of any of Tony Benn’s speeches or articles from the last 60 years would have been as interesting as the ones chosen here. Is this really the best of Benn – surely not.