The Stansgate Tapes

John Turner

  • Years of Hope: Diaries, Papers and Letters, 1940-62 by Tony Benn, edited by Ruth Winstone
    Hutchinson, 442 pp, £25.00, September 1994, ISBN 0 09 178534 0

It is not often that a political diary is published in time to influence the events it describes, but it is common enough for politicians to serve present purposes by rearranging light and shade on the historical picture. Christopher Addison, for example, published an edited version of his war diaries in 1934, just as he was trying to cut a figure as a Labour frontbencher. The originals had recorded the private thoughts of a man who expected to be on the winning side after the Liberal Party had split in two. In the aftermath of war the new Lloyd-Georgian Liberalism would embrace the strong state. It would do so in the interests of the people as a whole, as against the sectionally-inclined Tories and Labour. It might even become an anti-socialist centre party, to be tough and realistic with Labour. In the editing, Addison had to re-invent himself as an anti-Tory progressive, leaving out his sarcastic comments about the Labour leaders with whom he dealt as Minister of Munitions and his swooning embrace of big business and trade associations while he was Minister of Reconstruction. The real Addison diary can only be read in the Bodleian, and the real story of the invention and re-invention of a politician obtained only by comparing it with the published version.

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