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Dare to Be a Daniel by Tony Benn

4 March 2008

Been quite a while since my last update — I’m finally back from travelling and I’m still attempting to sort out my research notes from the trip. I’ll start up my reviews once more, and possibly start adding more information about the various directions my research may be taking in the near future.

Dare to Be a Daniel by Tony Benn

Tony Benn is and was a prolific diarist — eight volumes in total, I believe. But a diary can only tell so much, and in this instance Dare to Be a Daniel is less of a diary and more of a series of collected thoughts on his life. Benn divides this particular book into three sections: one where he considers the values that have shaped his religious beliefs, one where he reminisces about his young life and his relationships with his family and his late wife Caroline, and one where he recounts some of his thoughts on political and social themes and connects them to the influence that his family had has on him through the years.

The first two parts of Dare to Be a Daniel are reflective, almost conversational in tone. He sticks to more of a memoir style, though it often has a pace that feels more like a transcript of something said to a live audience. The third section, a group of essays and speeches, have quite a different tone to them. It would be easy to gloss over the ideas he sets out by saying ‘Yes, well, he’s just an unreconstructed Old Labourite who never got over the entirety of the 1980s’. It is true that his particular political opinions come out very strongly in the text: anti-EU (though to be fair, not entirely anti-European), anti-New Labour, anti-WTO and IMF and multinational corporations…and so on, in much the same fashion. But he puts his views forward in such a way that only an exceptionally lazy critic could simply dismiss them offhand without actually wanting to get up and try to refute him point by point.

I suppose that those who do not happen to share Mr Benn’s personal political views are not likely to find Dare to Be a Daniel worthy of reading. That’s much the case for most any politician’s collected writings, really. But Mr Benn’s longstanding place in the history of postwar British politics makes him one of those individuals who ought to be read more widely, in my opinion.

In conclusion, a personal story about this book: When Dare to Be a Daniel first came out, I went to Hatchards during a book signing session to pick up a copy. As I was standing in the queue, Mr Benn was talking with a woman who was browsing nearby, both of them commenting on whatever Tony Blair had been up to most recently. He signed a book without entirely paying attention to it and handed it to his publicist. She looked down at it, blinked, and handed it back to him with an uncertain look on her face. It turned out that instead of signing the book ‘Tony Benn’, he had written ‘Tony Blair‘. Benn made a mock-horrified face at first, but soon started laughing at the mix-up — he even mentioned that he occasionally gets mail forwarded from Number 10 Downing Street that has been addressed to him as ‘Prime Minister Tony Benn’. (Readers of this post will be allowed to make up their own minds about whether that thought is cheering or terrifying.) That said, I collected my copy, got his signature, and carried off my prize. I do wonder what happened to that mis-signed book, though — if I’d had an ounce of sense at the time, I should’ve offered money for it on the spot. It would’ve been quite a collector’s item.

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