A night to celebrate “the voice of the radical left”

POLITICS Iraq Benn 1

A spoken word event to celebrate the life of Tony Benn is set to take place in Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall on November 20.

The concert will feature friends, colleagues, musicians and performers joining in tribute to the man once dubbed the “most dangerous in Britain”, who later went on to become regarded by many as a national treasure and who continued to fight for peace, justice and socialism into his eighty-ninth year.

Singer-songwriter Rab Noakes has agreed to be the musical director of the concert, which will also feature Chris Difford of Squeeze, folk legend Roy Bailey, Karen Matheson, Donald Shaw, James Grant, Arthur Johnstone, and Alastair McDonald.

Benn, who passed away in March this year, often said that Scotland held a special place for him and it was the birthplace of his mother, Margaret. The controversial Labour politician was a pivotal figure in left-wing British politics and was often described as “the voice of the radical left”.

He first joined the Labour party in 1943 and in 1950, he was elected to parliament for the first time in the Bristol South-East by-election. From there, he spanned an incredible political career that saw him become a favourite for the party leadership in the minds of many staunch socialists – although ultimately, it was not to be.

As party chairman in 1971, Benn declared war on the Establishment. He shortened his name and deleted his public school record from Who’s Who – an annual publication of biographies of influential Britons; contested the deputy leadership; marched with striking miners; and savaged the media for misrepresenting “the workers”.

This was merely the start of a career spent representing working people and in 1990, Benn filled out town halls across the country on a massive speaking tour before later becoming a visiting professor at the London School of Economics.

Tony Benn’s legacy is of a family man who turned his back on privilege and hereditary titles in favour of striving tirelessly for working people. For his insatiable drive and widely-renowned avuncular manner, he was respected by many on both sides of the political divide.

Speaking at the time of his death, Labour leader Ed Miliband described Benn as an “iconic figure of our age”.

“He will be remembered as a champion of the powerless, a great parliamentarian and a conviction politician,” Miliband said. “Tony Benn spoke his mind and spoke up for his values. Whether you agreed with him or disagreed with him, everyone knew where he stood and what he stood for.

“For someone of such strong views, often at odds with his party, he won respect from across the political spectrum. This was because of his unshakeable beliefs and his abiding determination that power and the powerful should be held to account.

“He believed in movements and mobilised people behind him for the causes he cared about, often unfashionable ones. In a world of politics that is often too small, he thought big about our country and our world.”

The celebration is set to host a series of events throughout the day culminating in a concert in the evening with a number of popular entertainment acts who feel an affinity with Benn’s work.

Lothian Labour MSP Neil Findlay, from the group promoting the event, said: “A number of our major trade unions felt it was important that a campaigner like Tony, who had strong links with Scotland, from UCS up to the present day, should be recognised and remembered here. We’re delighted to have the support of the Benn family for the event.”

The day is also being supported by unions Aslef, GMB, UNISON and Unite Scotland, who have commissioned FairPley – the people who organised Tony Benn’s sellout appearance at Celtic Connections in 2013 – to produce the show.

Stephen Wright, one of the directors of FairPley, said:  “It was a real privilege to organise Tony’s appearances in Scotland over the last few years, at the Fringe, Celtic Connections and the UCS 40th anniversary celebrations. We’re delighted to be involved in this major event to mark Tony’s life and legacy.”

Tickets are available at glasgowconcerthall.com

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