Gail's Gab: mourning the tragic losses of Tony Benn and Bob Crow

"Thinking of you and Gail. In Unity." The inscription on the book Tony Benn sent Tommy while he was incarcerated in Barlinnie Prison.

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As always when we shared his company, Tommy spoke alongside him, we marched beside him or we spoke with him on the phone, we were uplifted and inspired by this giant of socialism and humanity.

Tony once made Tommy lunch in his home in Holland Park and took a photo of him sitting on a wooden seat which used to belong to Keir Hardie. Tony was steeped in Labour Party and Trade Union history. My dad Gus loved him for travelling to Govan to show solidarity with him and all the other shipyard workers involved in the 1971 UCS Work-In.

Tony was devastated by the untimely death of his beloved wife Caroline in November 2000. They had both intended to attend our wedding on June 17 that year but Caroline's illness made it impossible.

We shared something precious with them. They were also married on June 17 51 years earlier. Indeed the park bench Tony proposed to Caroline on in Oxford was later purchased by him and placed in their Holland Park home garden.

You see Tony Benn wasn't just a passionate socialist and campaigner against injustice in all its forms, he was also a consummate gentleman, loving father, loyal friend and devoted husband. He confessed to us that each day since the loss of Caroline was a struggle and it was one of the reasons why he participated in so many meetings and events. To keep his mind off his huge grief at the loss of his beloved wife, best friend and soul mate.

Tony was quite simply a magnificent man whose warmth for and empathy with others was peerless.

He once advised Tommy not to be personal when criticising opponents. If you dance with the chimney sweeps you will only end up getting dirty he told him. He was able to rise above personalities and tackle the real issues. Don't give her credit by suggesting we are fighting Thatcherism he once said. It is capitalism, brutal and cold that we face.

Tony you were a friend to Tommy and I and you always asked after "wee Gabrielle".

The term 'legend' is entirely appropriate for you. You will be sorely missed by millions but hopefully you will be re-united with Caroline in one way or another. Total Respect. Love and Peace my friend. RIP Tony Benn.

Tragic Loss of Big Bob

As a lifelong trade unionist I was devastated to learn of Bob Crow's death at only 52 last week.

This was a man whom I knew and loved as a unique commodity - a trade union leader you could trust. We shared many a wee refreshment and chin wag.

He was excellent company and loyal to his members and trade union principles. The bosses hated him but his members and other trade union members loved him.

He used to explain eloquently that the workers deserved all the finest things in life because their combined labour power created all the wealth. That he has died so young is simply tragic.

Tony Benn's death at 88 was sad. Bob's death at 52 is tragic. He will be mourned by millions who knew if you were ever in a fight with a powerful employer you wanted a Bob Crow type leader to be representing you.

It was a terrible week for the fight against social injustice last week. Two of its greatest foes have gone. RIP Big Bob Crow.


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