Dear Tony Benn: When a man releases his speeches on video, what can you say? How about . . . why?

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Indy Lifestyle Online
I have just watched the video of your Best Speeches in the House of Commons. Unfortunately, the copy that your recording company sent to me had been wound on to half-way through track four. So my introduction to what, in other branches of show business, would be called your Greatest Hits, was an aside about when Labour 'ceased to be a socialist party'. Ten minutes earlier, I had watched you tell Clive Anderson on Channel 4 that Labour had 'never been a socialist party'. I wound back to the start of your tape without feeling great confidence in the consistency of your opinions.

After watching 10 of your golden oldies, I was astonished that you had agreed to their wider circulation. To declare, as you did in September 1990, that the Americans would continue the Gulf war until they had toppled Saddam Hussein was simply an error of judgement. To circulate copies of the mistake is a wilful act of self-humiliation. I wish you had been right to predict that, whatever Parliament decided, an explosion of national support would save the doomed collieries. But I cannot understand why you want groups of party workers to watch a rerun of your being wrong.

Did you not realise how badly parliamentary debates travel? The acres of empty green benches around you do not create the impression of a great parliamentary occasion. Brief passages from perorations - particularly when delivered with the passion to which you refer in your introduction - emphasise how easy it is to confuse simplistic slogans with rational argument. Thanks to the miracle of modern technology your tape can be rolled back and played again, in answer to the most damning of political questions: 'Did he really say that?'

In short, why on earth did you do it? You might argue that if Frank Sinatra recycles half-forgotten hits, there is no reason why you should not do the same. But the commentary which you squeezed between the extracts suggest that you take the whole exercise very seriously. It is that piety that I find so irksome. If Neil Kinnock or John Smith had produced such a video, you would have regarded it as self-indulgence. Your cassette is a contribution to democracy.

It was tempting fate to sign with a company called Silverglade - a name tragically reminiscent of the necropolis in Evelyn Waugh's The Loved One. But, whatever the reason, the whole video looks like an Open University history lesson (Foundation Course) entitled 'How It Was Once'. Perhaps not even the really great speeches would survive such treatment. But it is easy to think of a letter from a great parliamentarian that might, with profit, have been quoted at the end: 'I beseech you think it possible you may be mistaken.'

As we say in the Labour Party,

Yours fraternally,

Roy Hattersley

(Photograph omitted)

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