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From The Socialist newspaper, 24 September 2014

Film review

Tony Benn: Will and testament

Tony Benn

Tony Benn   (Click to enlarge)

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.

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In The Socialist 24 September 2014:


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Labour to continue austerity offensive

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Them & Us


Scottish referendum

1.6 million vote Yes in revolt against austerity

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Scotland Poll: Electric mood among YES supporters


International socialist news and analysis

Millions on streets for Catalan independence

Sweden: Conservatives collapse, extreme-right gains


Socialist Party workplace news

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NHS workers vote to strike

College lecturers join 14 October strike

Care UK: 'We'll fight them all the way'

Croydon leisure centre strike for decent wages

West Midlands fire engine cuts

Workplace news in brief


Socialist Party reports and campaigns

Tenants threatened by 'feudal lord'

Global day of eco action

Round up: Socialist Students at the freshers fairs


Socialist Party comments and reviews

The struggle for decent social care - a personal account

Tony Benn: Will and testament

Obvious Child

Skylight

Front row fury


 

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