Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): It was a heart-sinking moment when Tony announced that he was leaving the Commons, but he did not retire from his convictions—that is not part of the Benn DNA.
We are right to see Tony as somebody who did not allow himself to be tyrannised by the traditions of this House. This morning is a unique occasion in many ways. Thanks to you, Mr Speaker, we are allowed to express, as every human community wants to do, our regret, admiration and gratitude. In the past, there was just a bald announcement when we lost a Member or a former Member; there was no chance to pay the sort of marvellous tributes that have been paid this morning.
I want to make one point, which is about the contribution that Tony made to trying to change the face of this place, including the way it looks. Aneurin Bevan gave this advice to working class MPs who came here: “When you walk down the corridors of power, you are walking in the dust of history, but it is not your history; it is not the history of your class or your people.”
Against all the rules, Tony fixed up a plaque to Emily Wilding Davison. No one allowed him to do it. He went around with his screwdriver and installed a plaque that he had made himself in a much sought-after spot in the House where people like to go. He did the same for other celebrated people. He spoke too of the many who not only were not friends of democracy but who actually obstructed the democratic process but who are recorded and celebrated in statues and other works of art throughout the House.
Some time ago, when a new name was sought for St Stephen’s tower, Big Ben, some people suggested that we should call it the Chartist tower, or the Suffragette tower, or, even better, Big Benn. Alas, we did not.
I rejoice in Tony Benn’s final book. We remember that lovely evening in your house, Mr Speaker, when we heard him speak about “A Blaze of Autumn Sunshine”, which was an inspired title. The book was lovingly edited by Ruth Winstone and is a story about the purgatory of the human condition. It is a story about this House, written in a manner superior to any other—yes, the dark side, the malice and the treachery are there, but those long pages also express the nobility of the political vocation that we all have. That is something that we should bear in mind.
He had a marvellous career. It is with great sadness, but also celebration and gratitude, that we say: “Farewell, Tony—orator, teacher, friend, inspirer. Rest in peace, comrade.”