TONY Benn was a forceful orator whose tongue could be as sharp as his mind. Here are some of his more famous quotations:
“The House of Lords is the British Outer Mongolia for retired politicians” - New York Times, February, 1962.
“I am not a reluctant peer but a persistent commoner” - November 1960 at a press conference.
“If the Queen can reject the advice of a minister on a little thing like a postage stamp, what would happen if she rejected the advice of the Prime Minister on a major matter? If the Crown personally can reject advice, then, of course, the whole democratic facade turns out to be false” - When, in the 1960s, as Postmaster General, he tried to have the Queen’s head removed from stamps.
“Broadcasting is really too important to be left to the broadcasters” - 1968 when Minister of Technology.
“Some of the jam we thought was for tomorrow, we’ve already eaten” - 1969.
“The flag of radicalism which has been hoisted in Wolverhampton is beginning to look like the one that fluttered 25 years ago over Dachau and Belsen” - On Enoch Powell’s campaign speech, 1970 general election.
“I try to operate on two unconnected levels. One on the practical level of action in which I am extremely cautious and conservative. The second is the realm of ideas where I try to be very free” - 1971.
“The crisis that we inherit when we come to power will be the occasion for fundamental change and not the excuse for postponing it” - Labour Party conference, 1973.
“Britain’s continuing membership of the Community would mean the end of Britain as a completely self-governing nation” - Letter to Bristol constituents, December, 1974.
“In developing our industrial strategy for the period ahead, we have the benefit of much experience. Almost everything has been tried at least once” - 1974 in the Commons when Secretary of State for Industry.
“We are paying a heavy political price for 20 years in which, as a party, we have played down our criticism of capitalism and soft-peddled our advocacy of socialism” - Speech to Labour Party conference, 1976.
“No medieval monarch in the whole of British history ever had such power as every modern British Prime Minister has in his or her hands. Nor does any American President have power approaching this” - In Arguments for Socialism, 1979.
“It is wholly wrong to blame Marx for what was done in his name, as it is to blame Jesus for what was done in his” - 1982 during a TV interview.
“Marxism is now a world faith and must be allowed to enter into a continuous dialogue with other world faiths, including religious faiths” - In a lecture in 1982.
“It would be as unthinkable to try to construct the Labour Party without Marx as it would to be to establish university faculties of astronomy,anthropology or psychology without permitting the study of Copernicus, Darwin or Freud, and still expect such faculties to be taken seriously” - 1982.
“She believes in something. It is an old-fashioned idea” - Undated on Margaret Thatcher.
“Through talk, we tamed kings, restrained tyrants, averted revolution” - 1982 on the influence of Parliament.
“I did not enter the Labour Party 47 years ago to have our manifesto written by Dr Mori, Dr Gallup and Mr Harris” - Newspaper article, 1988.
“A faith is something you die for; a doctrine is something you kill for; there is all the difference in the world” - 1989.
“I think Mrs Thatcher did more damage to democracy, equality, internationalism, civil liberties, freedom in this country than any other Prime Minister this century. When the euphoria surrounding her departure subsides you will find that in a year or two’s time there will not be a Tory who admits ever supporting her. People in the street will say, thank God she’s gone” - The Thatcher Factor, Channel Four, December, 1990.
“I opposed the Suez war, I opposed the Falklands war. I opposed the Libyan bombing and I opposed the Gulf war and I never believed that any of those principled arguments lost a single vote - indeed, I think they gained support though that was not why you did it. What has been lacking in Labour politics over a long period is a principled stand” - 1992.
“I think the truth is that the Labour Party isn’t believed any more because people suspect it will say anything to get votes. The rebuilding of some radical alternatives to Thatcherism - and by that I mean all-party Thatcherism - will require us to do some very difficult things” - In The End of an Era, 1994.
“The Civil Service is a bit like a rusty weathercock. It moves with opinion then it stays where it is until another wind moves it in a different direction” - During a briefing, March, 1995.
“When you get to No 10, you’ve climbed there on a little ladder called ‘the status quo’. And when you are there, the status quo looks very good” - House of Commons, 1995.
“I have had the advantage of a radical Christian upbringing” - Undated.
“In the end, the tragedy of Harold Wilson was that you couldn’t believe a word he said” - Undated.
“If I rescued a child from drowning, the press would no doubt headline the story: ‘Benn grabs child”’ - 1975, on his cynical attitude towards the media.
“I am a public library” - Newspaper interview, July, 1999.
And some of the things others have said about him:
“You’ll miss your stamps” - The Queen when Mr Benn became Minister of Technology.
“Tomfool issues, barmy ideas, a kind of ageing, perennial youth which immatures with age” - Harold Wilson.
“The Bertie Wooster of Marxism” - Writer Malcolm Bradbury.
“He has these extraordinary theories into which he can fit all the facts, and this gives him a great flow, like a huge river which is unmistakably coming from somewhere and going somewhere, but the longer you listen, the more you realise he is trying to push water uphill” - Former Tory Deputy Prime Minister Michael Heseltine.
“He threw himself into the 1960s technology with the enthusiasm (not to say the language) of a newly-enrolled Boy Scout demonstrating knot-tying to indulgent parents” - Writer Bernard Levin on Benn becoming Minister of Technology.
“Less of a wide-eyed Trot than a very English phenomenon” - Playwright John Mortimer.
“He had more conversions on the road to Damascus than a Syrian long-distance lorry driver” - Scottish politician Jimmy Reid.