The Last Diaries: A Blaze of Autumn Sunshine by Tony Benn
|The Last Diaries: A Blaze of Autumn Sunshine by Tony Benn|
|Reviewer: Sue Magee|
|Summary: The final volume of diaries covers a period of major upheaval but Benn approaches the problems with his usual energy, intelligence and humanity. Recommended.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 320||Date: October 2013|
Throughout my life I've found that whilst I might not always agree with Tony Benn's politics, whatever he had to say would give me food for thought - and frequently changed the way that I viewed a situation. He's a wonderful mixture of supreme intelligence and humanity which is so rarely found - particularly in modern-day politics and it was with some misgivings that I opened this volume of his diaries, given that the slipcover speaks of the compensations and challenges of old age and the disadvantages of growing older, the loneliness of widowhood, the upheaval of moving from the family home of sixty years and the problems of failing health. I've always been relieved that Benn has never quite achieved the status of national treasure, but surely he couldn't be in decline?
This is to be the final volume of his diaries, which he'd maintained since he was at school. It begins in May 2007 when Gordon Brown finally bludgeoned New Labour into making him Prime Minister and continues in diary format until July 2009 when illness ended the diaries. In the Foreword A Blaze of Autumn Sunshine is described as a book of two halves but it would probably be more accurate to say that ninety percent of the book relates to the twenty seven months when the diary was kept with the remaining ten percent devoted to Benn's reconstruction of - and commentary on - the period of just short of four years after he stopped keeping the diary. It's worth noting though that he might have ceased to keep the diary but once recovered from his collapse he fulfilled a punishing schedule of events which would have finished a less-determined man.
Whilst these are heady times - with the diaries proper covering the financial crisis, the MP expenses scandal and phone hacking - it could be argued that Benn is an outsider. But what needs to be set against that is that he knows the people concerned and he knows the systems. What puts him a step above the informed journalist is that he has sympathy and understanding and isn't quick to judge people who are simply caught up in something out of their control - such as speaker Michael Martin, for whom Benn had a lot of concern. He's not quite so warm-hearted when it came to the MPs who caused the problem.
Benn's not shy of exposing his vulnerability. Old age, loneliness and failing health does not sit well with him and even before his collapse he was working at a rate which I couldn't sustain - and I can give him a good twenty years. Death preoccupies him, although not always negatively - there's an acceptance that the time could be right. He's fortunate in having a lot of family support and the close friendship of his editor, Ruth Winstone and it's this which has allowed him to retain his independence. I'm sad that this is the last of his diaries - but equally the time seems to be right for that too.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy of the book to the Bookbag.
For more on the MP expenses scandal we recommend No Expenses Spared by Robert Winnett and Gordon Rayner. Whilst reading A Blaze of Autumn Sunshine I was regularly put in mind of the Diaries of Chris Mullin, which isn't surprising as they share an editor. Decline and Fall: Diaries 2005 to 2010 covers much the same period as A Blaze of Autumn Sunshine.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Last Diaries: A Blaze of Autumn Sunshine by Tony Benn at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy The Last Diaries: A Blaze of Autumn Sunshine by Tony Benn at Amazon.com.
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Enjoyed the diaries but disturbed by TB's criticism of the smoking ban. To all non-smokers such a relief - after years of discomfort.