In the 1950s and early 1960s, whilst debate raged in Labour, Tony Benn was regarded as being loosely associated with the Gaitskell camp, no unilateralist, yet opposed to altering Clause IV. An impassioned and humorous speaker, Benn is now regarded as a fine parliamentarian and democrat with a strong grasp of history.
He has personable approach to politics which defies the pomposity and bluster of many other politicians. He remains one of the most recognisable and distinctive of politicians. In the past it was always unclear whether this was an asset or a liability for the Party. His political judgement has been questionable on occasions.
"he came close to destroying the Labour Party as a force in
twentieth century British politics"
After 1964 Benn became a speechwriter for Harold Wilson, providing much of the ammunition behind the 'white heat of technology' rhetoric. At this stage, Benn saw socialism as both a by- product from scientific development as well as being an aid to the scientific process itself. In the first Parliament, Benn was Postmaster-General, but it was only really after his appointment as Minister for Technology in 1966 that the began to distinguish himself, becoming popular and respected with many politicians, scientists and civil servants of all grades.
Benn initiated the development of Concorde with the French at this time, encouraging the conversion of military technology into civilian use. As both an enthusiast for the computerisation of industry and an advocate of fast-breeder nuclear reactors, he was regarded as a technocrat and somebody in favour of institutional modernisation and an integrated European technology to achieve a greater efficiency for British industry.
Tony Benn's energy and enthusiasm was directed towards the new technologies during this period, and his performance was seen as a bright aspect to the Wilson government. Benn was quick to assess the potential for computers to save time and money; they were still at the transistor stage at this point. A government-backed amalgamation of small electronics companies was supported to create ICL. The intention was to create a British computer manufacturing alternative to IBM.
Having comprehensively mastered and galvanised the Ministry of
Technology, in 1969 his department was expanded, with the functions of
the Ministry of Power and some of the Board of Trade remit included.
Personal loyalty to Harold Wilson was never in question until the election defeat; Tony Benn and
Barbara Castle were quite unusual for this Cabinet in that respect.