Tony Benn might not know this but he's been in my car and out and about on a Health Visitor's day. I listened to his diaries on audio last year as I drove around and he made a fine companion.It had been Bob Dylan the week before and I needed something uniquely British to balance.
Tony Benn, 83 years old, one of those people who needs little introduction because actually you feel like you know him well, another of our elder statesman we must cherish and heed. Except Tony was having no truck with the suggestion that age imparts wisdom...he knows some very silly old men and some very wise young ones.
James Long introduced the event with a quote of Tony's,
'If we can find the money to kill people we can find the money to help people'
and the applause was warm and immediate and somehow the atmosphere for an intimate session was established. Not easy to achieve in a Great Hall packed to the rafters yet again and actually, here are the rafters just so that you know what rests above our heads.It is a grand and magnificent building which oozes history every way you look.
Contemplating writing a book Letters to My Grandchildren (yes Tony, yes) of which he has ten, it was a sobering thought that we now have the first generation who have the wherewithal to destroy the human race but also the capacity to save it and much ot Tony's talk highlighted the unchanging moral decisions that must prevail even given the breakneck speed of change and progress.
Imparting a great deal of wisdom and humility as he spoke, even more than I had picked up from listening to the diaries, Tony Benn emphasised countless times his belief in respect and doing unto others only that we would wish done to ourselves.
In many hands that might sound cliched but in Tony Benn's fervent yet gentle and compassionate world view it all radiated utter sincerity.
Tony Benn is not in favour of war, privatisation, means-tested pensions or student loans and hoped that might be plenty to get us started as he left 45 minutes for questions.He wanted to debate with the audience not preach at us, hands shot up all over the Great Hall and there followed nigh on twenty thought-provoking questions to which Tony Benn offered considered, well-thought out responses.
Topics ranged from the US election, through education, truth in politicians, religious difference, the Iraq war, interventionism, democracy, public service tradition and so much more.
The whole event all surprisingly engaging for a non-political animal such as I and with it an awareness that I was watching a man who would be incapable of succumbing to David Owen's newly identified Hubris Syndrome.
Was that really a week ago?
Tony Benn has so many personal checks and balances in place it would be absolutely impossible, his self-effacing humour alone makes him immune. Cue more rapturous applause and what would have been a standing ovation had we not been packed in like sardines and incapable of moving.
I listened in on the book signing afterwards as he asked everyone their name and what they did and thought yes, Tony Benn is indeed a National Treasure a kind, good and honourable man.