Remembering Tam Dalyell: 1932-2017
A tribute to former MP and fearless anti-war campaigner who was utterly committed to striving for peace
Tam Dalyell MP, who died yesterday, was a man of great integrity and honesty. He was also a fearless anti-war campaigner who was utterly committed to striving for peace. He remained a patron of the Stop the War Coalition until his death.
When I last spoke to him in the summer of 2016 he declined to speak at our event on the Chilcot report in London because of ill health, but was as supportive and politically acute as ever. He dictated a short statement to be read at the event which made clear that he regarded the Iraq war as a war crime and that those criminals responsible for it had to be held to account.
Tam was an unlikely left-winger but a very dedicated one. Born into a wealthy family in Scotland, he went to Eton and was a hereditary baronet, although he did not use the title. His home was The Binns, a stately home near Linlithgow in West Lothian. His accent was almost unbelievably posh, in contrast to the Yorkshire one of his close parliamentary collaborator, Alice Mahon, the MP for Halifax. They worked closely together especially over Iraq, and were instrumental along with fellow left Labour MPs like George Galloway and Jeremy Corbyn in leading the opposition in the House of Commons to Tony Blair’s murderous war.
This fitted with a past where he had opposed the Falklands War and campaigned over Thatcher’s sinking of the Belgrano, was a campaigner over war sanctions in Iraq during the 1990s and opposed Blair’s first major war in Kosovo in 1999. He despised Blairism and argued that Blair had been the worst Labour leader in his lengthy experience.
All his obituaries talk about him as kind and courteous man, and that was certainly my experience. In an age when politicians are remote from people and protected by layers of advisers and assistants, Tam Dalyell was quite approachable. He never took to social media, but, like his colleague the late Tony Benn, his land line number was quite widely available and he usually answered it himself.
He was a highly respected Father of the House (longest serving MP), yet in February 2003 was asked to leave the chamber for asking questions about the Iraq dossier. No wonder those who wanted war feared him, because he had a very clear mind and a forceful debating style.
Those who knew and worked with him in the anti-war movement will miss him. We would like to thank him for all his work, and send condolences to his wife Kathleen, and his family.