Benn to join crusade for bigger pensions

Tony Benn, the veteran left-winger, warned the Prime Minister yesterday that he will continue to be a thorn in New Labour's side, even though he is retiring from Parliament.

Mr Benn, 75, who has held the Chesterfield seat since 1984, said he would be campaigning for the restoration of the link between the state pension and earnings during the next general election campaign, in spite of the fact that he would not be standing as an MP. "I won't be a candidate. I am going to try and put on the agenda items that neither party wants on the agenda, like linking pensions with earnings," he told a parliamentary press gallery luncheon. In a spirited attack on the power of multi-national corporations over democracies, Mr Benn called for a boycott of Ford cars to oppose job losses at Dagenham.

He described the Government as a "coalition of convenience in a big tent by invitation only - but outside this big tent are the camp fires of conviction". Comparing the organisers of the May Day protests in central London to the suffragettes, he said there was a danger that the "democratic deficit" with the unelected European Commission would turn Europe into a "one party state". This, Mr Benn said, would leave the general public with little choice but to use the threat of violence to express their grievances.

Mr Benn said he had tabled a debate for next Tuesday on "socialism" only to be told by the Commons authorities that it could not take place under that title. "I said, 'Why not?' They said, 'There is no ministerial responsibility'."

Born in 1925 in Millbank - where the Labour Party headquarters now stand, Mr Benn said that following the risks to health posed by mobile telephones, the threat facing MPs came from pagers.

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