Martin Smith (Anniversary Professor of Politics at the University of York) and Dave Richards (Professor of Public Policy at the University of Manchester) on Tony Benn's time in Government.
Much has recently been written about the legacy of Tony Benn - his campaigning efforts, the effect he had on both the Labour Party and the wider political landscape especially during the onset of Thatcherism and finally of course his diary writing. Less though has been said about his time in Government, where in many ways it could be argued he failed to fully use the opportunities presented to him as a holder of ministerial office. At the same time, Benn’s experience in government, particularly in the 1970s, reveals how officials could thwart a radical minister in the wake of behaviour they regarded as falling outwith the accepted Whitehall rules. Crucially, the lessons of Benn’s time in Cabinet illustrates that if a minister fails to build alliances with either ministerial colleagues or department officials, he or she is unlikely to be effective in making policy. The commentary below draws on extensive interviews conducted two decades ago with Benn, his Cabinet colleagues and various officials who served under him.