Labour politician Tony Benn dies aged 88

Friday, March 14, 2014

Tony Benn in 2007.
Image: Isujosh.

Tony Benn, British Labour Party politician and left-wing campaigner, died this morning at his home in west London at age 88. Benn's health had been declining since a stroke left him hospitalized in 2012.

Benn's father and both grandfathers were MPs (Members of Parliament) in the Liberal party; his father defected to Labour and became a Cabinet Minister. Benn grew up in London and was a pupil at Westminster School before studying politics, philosophy and economics at New College, Oxford. During World War II, he served in the Royal Air Force for two years, then went back to Oxford to finish his studies. He worked as a BBC radio producer.

Tony Benn became an MP in November of 1950 and was a member of the cabinets of Harold Wilson and James Callaghan. In 1981, Benn ran for deputy leadership of the Labour Party but lost. He also had a role in shaping the 1983 Labour manifesto. He went on to become a diarist and speaker, as well as joining in the anti-war movement and speaking out strongly against the Iraq war. The Sun newspaper once referred to him as "the most dangerous man in Britain" because of his strong left-wing political views.

Benn's son Hilary also joined Labour and is an MP for Leeds Central. He distanced himself from his father's views by saying he was "a Benn, not a Bennite".

Benn's children released a statement following his passing: "We would like to express our heartfelt thanks to all the NHS [National Health Service] staff and carers who have looked after him with such kindness in hospital and at home. We will miss above all his love which has sustained us throughout our lives. But we are comforted by the memory of his long, full and inspiring life and so proud of his devotion to helping others as he sought to change the world for the better."

Labour leader Ed Miliband said Benn was an "iconic figure of our age", "a champion of the powerless, a great parliamentarian and a conviction politician". David Cameron said on Twitter: "Tony Benn was a magnificent writer, speaker and campaigner. There was never a dull moment listening to him, even if you disagreed with him."