Benn kept a diary from the age of nine and the archive begins here and spans his significant political career including a substantial collection of source material that reflects the history of the UK during his lifetime.
Christie’s assisted in the negotiation leading to the archive being accepted by the nation in lieu of inheritance tax to settle £210,000 of tax. It will be permanently allocated to the British Library, in accordance with the condition attached to its offer.
Benn was an MP for 47 years and served as a cabinet minister in the Harold Wilson and James Callaghan administrations in the 1960s and 1970s. In 1960 he had inherited a peerage on his father’s death (as 2nd Viscount Stansgate), which prevented him from continuing to serve as an MP. This spurred his campaign to renounce his title and remain in the House of Commons, leading to the creation of the Peerage Act in 1963.
Long and influential career
In the Labour government of 1964-67 he served as Postmaster General and then Minister of Technology. In 1971-72 he was chairman of the Labour Party, and during the Labour government of 1974-79 he returned to the cabinet, first as Secretary of State for Industry and then as Secretary of State for Energy.
Throughout the 1980s, when Labour was the opposition again, Benn emerged as a prominent figure on its left wing, during which the term “Bennite” was coined and used to describe those associated with radical left-wing politics.
He left parliament in 2001 and has been described as “one of the few UK politicians to have become more left-wing after holding ministerial office”.
The archive includes audio and video content, with thousands of hours of Benn’s audio diaries.
Christie’s Ruth Cornett, director heritage and taxation advisory service, and Thomas Venning, head of department in its books and manuscripts department said: “We are pleased that this substantial archive with its considerable research value will be added to the British Library collections of contemporary archives, available to all those interested in post-war British politics and society, into the Labour Party and the labour movement, as well as into the long and influential career of Tony Benn himself.”