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Posted 14 March 2014
Tony Benn speaking at the 2006 Animal Aid sponsored walk
None of the early tributes to Tony Benn in the mainstream media made any reference to his deep commitment to the cause of animal protection. Tony, whose death was announced today (March 14), had been our Patron for eight years, and was much more than a ‘paper’ supporter.
Though too frail to take part, he joined us in Spring 2006 for our Hampstead Heath Sponsored Walk, and as usual attracted an adoring crowd. He twice attended our Christmas Fayre at Kensington Town Hall. On the first occasion, in 2007, he was astonished by the scale and vibrancy of the event and, while he visited every stall, he parked himself for an extended period with the children and adult helpers in the crèche. Two years later he gave the opening address at the event, and as a mark of his-man-of the-people modesty, we found him lining up with the rest of the visitors ready to pay his £1 entrance fee. Tony’s mesmeric oratory skills were on display that day.
The quirkiness of the man is perhaps exemplified by the recipe he offered for our Veggie Food from the Stars booklet: a third world-friendly cup of tea. In fact, it was his son, Hilary, later to become a Labour Minister, who convinced him to go vegetarian in the 1970s. The original motivation was the damage an animal diet does to the global environment, as well as its contribution to world poverty. But as the years passed, his empathy for animals and his recognition of the exploitation they suffer at the hands of people were the motivating factors for his across-the-board animal advocacy.
For many years, the right-wing media caricature of him was of a destructive, malign individual. No doubt he could be headstrong and unbending. But the Tony Benn Animal Aid knew over several years of direct contact was a man who was committed to peace and justice – and who, in his personal dealings, was unfailingly friendly, patient and polite.
Director of Animal Aid