Warm tributes to a ‘man of conviction’

Tony Benn
Tony Benn

MAKERFIELD’S former MP has spoken of his “inspirational” four-decade-long friendship with Tony Benn.

Sir Ian McCartney first met the veteran campaigner of the Left as, at 21, one of the youngest shop stewards in the history of the TGWU, when the former Industry Minister decamped from Westminster to the Upper Clyde, to broker a deal to save thousands of ship building jobs, in the 1970s.

Sir Ian, who would also become a Labour Cabinet Minister years later, shared many a speaking platform through the decades...and mug of tea.

He would also become campaign manager for his son Hilary when he, like his father, ran for Deputy Leader.

Sir Ian said: “He spoke to me for an hour – we had never met me before and I was a young person in awe standing before him – but he treated me as an absolute equal.

“It was something I would never forget.

“When I became an organiser for the party we kept in touch and when I became an MP myself for Makerfield he was one of the first to congratulate me.

“There were issues we differed on but I found him an immense help over the years.

“Fundamentally he taught me to speak my mind and to always do it with a passion.”

Council leader Lord Smith said that Tony Benn was a “conviction politician” who was a “brilliant” speaker both in Parliament and in public debates.

He said: “Although he came from a privileged background he was dedicated to improving the lives of ordinary people.

“Perhaps in future he will best be remembered for his diaries in which he honestly recorded his reactions to the political times through which he lived.”

Former Conservative Mayor of Wigan Michael Winstanley – now Chairman of Greater Manchester Conservatives – said: “I held him in high regard because of the energy he put into his campaigning and his concern for the individual.”