Tony Benn – In his own words

Jayant Chavda conducted an interview with Tony Benn at his home in Notting Hill for Labour History, the former journal of the Labour History Group, in May 2004. This is a transcript of the wide-ranging conversation, which covered the influence of his father, the 1945 general election, Hugh Gaitskell, his cabinet career under Harold Wilson and Jim Callaghan, the 1981 Labour deputy leadership contest, and the 1983 general election.

The interview can be found on page 11 of Labour History Issue 3 which can be accessed by clicking the link below.

Labour History Issue 3

Hugh Gaitskell – 50 Years On



At the point of his untimely death fifty years ago, Hugh Gaitskell was leading a Labour Party that was ahead in the polls and facing a discredited and unpopular Conservative government.


But barely four years before that, Gaitskell had also been ahead in the polls and facing a discredited Conservative government – but Labour had nevertheless lost the 1959 general election. Would Gaitskell have led Labour to victory at his second attempt? His unexpected sudden death in 1963 meant that we did not have the opportunity to know.


Join us at our latest meeting to hear two former Labour ‘Gaitskellite’ Cabinet Ministers – Bill Rodgers and Roy Hattersley – reflect on Gaitskell’s achievement and legacy. They will be joined on the panel by the distinguished political commentator Donald Macintyre of the Independent.




  • Roy Hattersley, Rt Hon Lord Hattersley

Labour MP 1964-97; Labour frontbencher 1967-92, including Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection 1976–79 and Deputy Leader of the Labour Party 1983-92


  • Bill Rodgers, Rt Hon Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank

Chairman of the Gaitskellite Campaign for Democratic Socialism; General Secretary of the Fabian Society, 1953–60; Labour MP 1962-81, SDP MP 1981-83; Labour frontbencher 1964-81, including Secretary of State for Transport 1976–79; Leader, Liberal Democrats, House of Lords, 1998–2001


  • Donald Macintyre

Political Editor of the Sunday Telegraph 1987–89, the Sunday Correspondent 1989–90, the Independent on Sunday 1990–93 and the Independent 1993–96; Chief Political Commentator on the Independent 1996–2004, currently columnist and sketchwriter



Date: 7.00pm, Wednesday 3rd July 2013 (please allow at least 15 minutes to get through security)


Venue: Committee Room 4, House of Commons


All welcome, please register online at:

Next Meeting – 27 February: Does social democracy have a future ? Lessons from the past

Social Democracy

David Blunkett and John Spellar have worked at the heart of the Labour movement for the past forty years. In the context of the media debate on whether 21st century voters are alienated by traditional political party processes, and drawing on their experiences in the Labour Party, the trade union movement, national and local government, and on David Blunkett’s recent paper – ‘In Defence of Politics – Revisited’, they will be leading a discussion of the lessons from history for Labour as a social democratic party.

Rt Hon David Blunkett MP
Author of ‘In Defence of Politics – Revisited’
Cabinet and Shadow Cabinet 1992-2004 and 2005
Labour MP for Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough
Leader of Sheffield City Council 1980-87

Rt Hon John Spellar MP
Labour MP for Warley and Shadow Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister
Minister 1997-2005 and senior whip 2008-2010
Victor of the Birmingham Northfield by-election 1982
National trade union officer 1976-92

Time: 6:30pm (please allow time to get through security)
Date: Wednesday 27 February 2013
Venue: Macmillan Room; Portcullis House

 All welcome, please register online at:


No preparation is required but if you’re interested in reading a bit more on this topic David Blunkett’s ‘In Defence of Politics – Revisited’ can be found here. It’s Mr. Blunkett’s 21st Century response to Bernard Crick’s seminal 1962, In Defence of Politics.

Also worth a read are ‘Social Democracy must radicalise to survive’ by Joe Guinan and this article by the late Tony Judt.

If you want to read more deeply give one of these a try:

Equality (1931) – R.H. Tawney.

The Politics of Democratic Socialism (1940) – Evan Durbin.

The Future of Socialism (1956) - C.A.R. Crosland.

The Radical Tradition (1964) – R.H. Tawney.

A Theory of Justice (1971) – John Rawls.

Socialism Now (1974) – Anthony Crosland.

Choose Freedom (1987) – Roy Hattersley.

The Unprincipled Society (1988) - David Marquand.

Why Social Justice Matters (2005) – Brian Barry.

Ill Fares the Land (2010) – Tony Judt.


Next meeting – 22 January 2013: The progressive coalition that never was? – Lessons from the Ashdown-Blair ‘Project’


Between 1994 and 1999, Paddy Ashdown and Tony Blair led a process of collaboration between the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party, with the aim not merely of defeating the Conservatives but of establishing clear common ground between the progressive parties in British politics.Some of the outcomes of this process – ‘the project’, in Ashdown’s phrase – were public, such as the programme of agreed constitutional reforms drawn up by Robin Cook and Robert Maclennan. Far more were secret: covert electoral collaboration in marginal seats during the 1997 election, attempts to agree a programme for government, talks about coalition – and hints of a more permanent alliance.

In the end, the size of Labour’s majority in 1997 destroyed the case for coalition, and the main outcome was a Joint Cabinet Committee between the two parties. What it achieved is not clear, and it was abandoned by Ashdown’s successor Charles Kennedy.

Now, in a period of cooperation between political parties very different from that envisaged by Ashdown and Blair, what can we learn from ‘the project’? What did it achieve? What could it have achieved under different circumstances? And what can it tell us about the desirability and achievability of collaboration between progressive forces?



Paddy Ashdown, Rt Hon Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon GCMG KBE

Leader of the Liberal Democrats 1988-99

Roger Liddle, Lord Liddle
Special Adviser to Bill Rodgers 1976-81; Member of the SDP and then Liberal Democrats 1981-94 & member of the LibDem Federal Policy Committee; Special Adviser to Tony Blair 1997-2004

Rt Hon Pat McFadden MP
Adviser to Donald Dewar 1988-93, to John Smith 1993–94 and to Tony Blair 1994-2005
Chair: Steve Richards, Chief Political Commentator, The Independent 
7.00pm, Tuesday 22nd January 2013 (please allow 10-15 minutes to get through security)

Attlee Suite, Portcullis House, House of Commons, SW1A 2LW

All welcome, please register online at:

Labour History blog to return soon

This blog is in the process of being rebuilt from the ground up. We hope to have it ready in Spring 2013. Please do keep an eye out for it.

Please follow us on twitter (@labourhistory) and get in touch if you would wish to write for the blog. Our e-mail address is labourhistorygroup [at]

In the meantime, if you’re looking for something to occupy your time, here’s “Kinnock: The Movie”: