Tributes to ‘shipyard saviour’ Tony Benn

12:37 14 March 2014

Tony Benn.

Tony Benn.

Archant

People in North Devon reflect on Appledore Shipyard’s staunch supporter following the well known politician’s death today (Friday, March 14) aged 88.

Tony Benn, with trademark pipe, is pictured during a 2006 visit to speak at Pilton Community College, joined by local councillors of the time Brian Cotton and Tony Cooper plus former North Devon Labour parliamentary candidate Peter James.Tony Benn, with trademark pipe, is pictured during a 2006 visit to speak at Pilton Community College, joined by local councillors of the time Brian Cotton and Tony Cooper plus former North Devon Labour parliamentary candidate Peter James.

WORKERS and businesses in North Devon ‘owe a big debt’ to charismatic politician and statesman Tony Benn, who has died today (Friday) aged 88.

Many still see him as the saviour of Appledore Shipyard and hundreds of local jobs in the 1970s when as minister of trade and industry he ensured it became the first yard to be nationalised.

Mr Benn passed away at his home in west London early this morning, with his family at his side.

The former Labour cabinet minister served as an MP for 50 years and was a regular visitor to North Devon and brought his one-man show to the region, as well as various appearances including Appledore Book Festival.

In 1974 the company running the shipyard went into liquidation and the future looked bleak, but many credit Mr Benn with saving it and in 2003 although no longer in government, he campaigned again to support a sit in when the yard was threatened with receivership.

“I would like to say how sorry I am to learn of the passing of Tony, probably more principled than any other MP I have had to deal with and the most approachable,” said Dick Matthews from Torrington, who was union convener at Appledore Shipyard.

“Tony has been a big player in the shipyard since the 1970s – I would say everybody who worked there and the local businesses have a lot to owe to that big man.

“As the minister of the department of trade and industry he came down and addressed the whole work force. Then 10 years ago the yard staged a sit in, which he supported. He came down to North Devon and did a free show at The Plough to raise money.”

Tony Benn did not stand for Parliament in 2001, but continued in politics as an activist, speaker and campaigner. He was a leading voice against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Mike creek, secretary of Ilfracombe and District Trades Council, said Mr Benn had been a true ‘working class hero’.

“He was a great politicians and a great debater in Parliament - I put him in the same breath as Aneurin ‘Nye’ Bevan, and that’s saying something,” he said.

“We have lost two Labour and trade union stalwarts in the last week, with Bob Crow going as well.”

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