Reflections on the career of Tony Benn

Tony Benn served as MP for Bristol East until 1983 Photo: ITV News

It's remarkable that Tony Benn remained an important person in the political life of Bristol for so long after he ceased to be one of the city's MPs. It was in the 1983 election - the high point of Thatcherism- that he lost his seat to the Conservatives in Bristol East.

In part the defeat was due to boundary changes that had carved up his old Bristol South-East seat, and it was typical of his courage and integrity that he chose to fight the more "vulnerable" part of the constituency. (The rest became Bristol South, a safe Labour seat which became the scene of bitter infighting between pro and anti-Benn factions).

He quickly returned to Parliament as MP for Chesterfield, serving another 17 years as an MP there - but such was his identification with Bristol that a colleague still referred to him as "the Rt Hon member for Bristol South East".

Tony Benn later became MP for Chesterfield Credit: ITV News

He was the member there for 33 years - barring the break while he fought to renounce his hereditary peerage - and always maintained it was Bristol that was his political home. He will of course best be remembered for championing Concorde, on which thousands of jobs in the city depended, but his political legacy is considerably more mixed. He represented the form of left-wing socialism that caused deep rifts in the Labour party in the 1980s and led to the breakaway SDP which later merged with the Liberals to become today's Lib Dems.

My own encounters with him were somewhat mixed. When I first had dealings with him, he was still deeply distrustful of the media and insisted on tape-recording every interview on a pocket tape recorder which he carried with him for the purpose - he allegedly kept and logged every tape.I suspect the technique was as much to keep the reporter on their mettle as for his own records.

However he was never rude nor can I remember him turning down a request - I merely had to mention Bristol and his eyes would light up. This worked especially well one year at a Labour conference when I was escorting two young first-time voters - he was particularly keen at reaching out to youth. Oddly though, I never saw him laugh.

As an interviewee, he could offer a range of insights on an enormously wide range of subjects and whatever your views, you had to respect his intellect. Despite the deep divisions he caused, he became a kind of elder statesman, respected as someone who stuck to their principles (though by then he was of course no longer considered a threat). Being with him at Labour conference was like being with next to a rock star, as members came up to take photos and ask for his autograph.

As I say, a generation or more has grown up since Tony Benn was a Bristol MP - yet the fact that he is still recalled by so many people is a remarkable testimony to his characters and personality. You won't hear people passing Tony Benn House in Victoria Street and saying "Tony Who?"