Tony Benn: Will and testament
Matt Kilsby reviews 'Tony Benn: Will and Testament'
This is a personal and, at times, moving portrayal of a major figure on Labour's left. It is a series of interviews in the later period of Tony Benn's life, interspersed with films from his own archive and of contemporary film and TV footage. The story is told in Benn's own words.
Benn's political career disproved the cynical dictum that the older you get, the more right wing you become. In the 1960s, Benn had to fight for his right to refuse a seat in the Lords - which he inherited on his father's death - to remain as an MP in the House of Commons.
On the centre-right in Harold Wilson's Labour government of 1964-70, Benn shifted to the left under the influence of the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders occupation, which is detailed in the film.
Campaigner for democracy
Throughout the 1970s, with Benn as a major influence, the left kept advancing in both the Labour Party and the trades unions. Benn was a campaigner for democracy in the Labour Party, which is why he was a firm critic of former Labour leader Neil Kinnock and the right-wing's later witch-hunting and victimisation of Militant.
Benn approved the film's final cut but unfortunately, except for the miners' strike, it barely mentions the 1980s titanic workers' struggles. We hear little of his fight to become Labour Party leader in 1976 or coming within 1% of winning the deputy leader race in 1981. The rise of Militant, with three MPs elected, and the victory of the socialist councillors in Liverpool between 1983 and 1987 is overlooked as if he wanted to draw a veil over these hugely important events.
The film also fails to explain how the right-wing offensive within Labour led to the victory of Thatcher's Tory Party in the 1983 general election.
Benn remained loyal to the Labour Party until he died. In the film he makes clear that Labour is no longer socialist or representative of working class interests. If only Benn had thrown his weight behind the calls for a mass-workers' party to the left of Labour then Britain's left would be all the stronger today.
As a personal memoir of one of the most influential left wing figures in recent times, Will and Testament is worth watching. However, it is disappointingly lacking in political content and serious analysis.