John Gibson: I found that Tony suited me to a tea

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Did I ever tell you about lunching with Tony Benn? I did? No matter. Again I’ve plundered the Gibpress File for some crumbs from that table in the Roxburghe. I readily recall the occasion, for the then Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood Benn, MP for Chesterfield, popped upstairs to his room to bring down his own teapot. And the tea.

He invariably brought it with him when he was on the road for whistle-stops. His life-long taste for tea somehow escaped most of the obits. Here are some of his words well worth salvaging: “After a week at the party conference in Blackpool you need a week of relaxation and this is it. I’m comfortable. If you were a political correspondent you’d be having a go at me. You’re not threatening me and I’m not trying to indoctrinate you.

“When you’re being grilled on television it’s hard to be yourself. Religious broadcasting is best. The Archbishop of Canterbury, your Moderator . . . they’re allowed to put their case and they’re rarely under pressure.

‘‘Loony is liberally latched on to me and my convictions but I’ve long learned to live and laugh with that.

‘‘My father was the Liberal member for Leith in 1922-23. He campaigned against the absorption of Leith into Edinburgh and lost, of course, partly due to the reorganisation of local government administration.

‘‘After eight years as a Liberal my father defected to Labour in 1928 because he hated Lloyd George. When he was here he married a girl 20 years his junior and when he took her to one of the schools here to show her off he asked, ‘Oo do you think this is, then?’ They replied in earnest ‘your daughter.’ He loved that story.

“I’ve got six grandchildren. I don’t want a peerage, cash or ministerial office, so I’m free to speak my mind. I met Ramsay MacDonald, I met Lloyd George and I met Churchill, so I have a personal political memory.

“I find a historical perspective is the most stabilising thing of all.”

Time for another cuppa. Alcohol hadn’t ever crossed his lips. “I was going to ask for ginger beer. It’s something I have on very, very high days or holidays. It’s the nearest thing I know to a natural detergent.”