Benn takes MPs into video age

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IF YOU give your closest friends a video of Tony Benn's Commons speeches for Christmas, will they (a) treasure it (b) enjoy it as a joke or (c) throw it in the bin? It is an acid test of how well you know them, writes Michael Leapman.

For the launch yesterday of the first commercial video compiled from parliamentary debates since cameras were allowed into the Commons three years ago, a handful of the far left faithful huddled in a bleak room off Westminster Hall to watch extracts.

Mr Benn, however, is not that easily discouraged. He believes that after seeing his speeches in full, people will understand his real message, not always apparent from the brief extracts interpreted by unsympathetic commentators.

'It's marvellous that people can hear an argument at length,' he said. 'Nobody who's ever elected me has ever heard me talking properly about issues.'

He is taking a cautious view, though, of the video's initial popularity. Only 300 have been made, but it would take a moment to run out more. 'I need to sell 1,000 to break even,' he said. 'I hope they will be popular in schools, on political studies courses.'

To get permission to make and sell the video, he had to appear before the Select Committee on Commons broadcasting. There are 10 speeches, with Mr Benn providing a linking commentary, on subjects as various as pit closures, the ordination of women and arms sales to Iraq.

Tony Benn, Speaking Up in Parliament; Silverglade Associates, 11a Enterprise House, London, SE1 9PQ; pounds 13.99.

(Photograph omitted)