Tony Benn dead: Veteran Labour politician passes away at 88

Labour leader Ed Miliband leads tributes to 'champion of the powerless, a great parliamentarian and a conviction politician'

The veteran Labour politician and iconic figure of the left Tony Benn has died this morning at his home in west London, his family has said. He was 88.

In a statement his children Stephen, Hilary, Melissa and Joshua said: "It is with great sadness that we announce that our father Tony Benn died peacefully early this morning at his home in west London surrounded by his family. We would like to express our heartfelt thanks to all the NHS staff and carers who have looked after him with such kindness in hospital and at home.

Read more: Obituary: No one else so superbly led the left so with such fire
Andy McSmith: 'He was no gentle socialist guru – he was a politcal street fighter'

"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. Arrangements for his funeral will be announced in due course."

Born Anthony Neil Wedgwood Benn, he first entered parliament in November 1950 and served in the cabinet under Harold Wilson and Jim Callaghan. He narrowly missed out on election as Labour deputy leader in 1981, and was instrumental in party's 1983 manifesto.

In 2001 Benn stepped down from parliament in order to "spend more time on politics".

 

He remained an active and outspoken member of the Labour party. In recent years he had been a central member of the anti-war movement.

He recently moved into sheltered accommodation near his home in Holland Park, London, following a stroke last year.

Last month he was taken into hospital, where his condition was reported as "seriously ill".

His most recent public appearance was in December when he spoke at a service remembering Nelson Mandela.

In his heyday in the 1970s and early 1980s, Benn was one of the rare individuals who added a word to the English language. The words ‘Bennite’, Bennism’ and even ‘Bennery’ were part of the everyday political language even before the word the word ‘ Thatcherite’, the polar opposite of ‘Bennite’, was first uttered.

Ed Miliband paid tribute to an "iconic figure of our age".

He said: “He will be remembered as a champion of the powerless, a great parliamentarian and a conviction politician.

”Tony Benn spoke his mind and spoke up for his values. Whether you agreed with him or disagreed with him, everyone knew where he stood and what he stood for.

"He believed in movements and mobilised people behind him for the causes he cared about, often unfashionable ones. In a world of politics that is often too small, he thought big about our country and our world."

October 1962: Tony Benn lights his pipe during a speech at the Labour Party conference in Brighton Tony Benn at the Labour Party conference in Brighton in 1962 Miliband was almost unique among the Labour party leaders of the past 50 years, in that he and Benn actually got on well. The Labour leader revealed that he visited Benn in hospital recently and  “as I left he said to me 'Well, old son. Let's have a proper talk when you have more time'.“

The former prime minister Gordon Brown also paid tribute to a “ powerful, fearless, relentless advocate for social justice and people's rights”.

He said Mr Benn's speeches will continue to have a “profound influence on generations to come”.

Though he was a highly controversial figure, who made a large number of enemies during his political life – a great many of them within the Labour party – he was acknowledged to be one of the last political orators from an age when the public meeting was a part of political life. In his memoirs, Tony Blair, whose politics Benn roundly despised, paid a fulsome tribute to Benn’s stature as a speaker.

Tony Benn, as president of the Stop the War Coalition, at the 'Antiwar Mass Assembly' in 2011 Tony Benn, as president of the Stop the War Coalition, at the 'Antiwar Mass Assembly' in 2011 The son of a Labour Cabinet minister who became a peer, Benn first made his mark on national politics more than 60 years ago, when he fought a long and successful battle to be the first Briton to renounce a hereditary peerage. He was also the main driving force behind the decision to hold the first referendum in British history, in 1975, over membership of what is now called the EU.

Having been a conscientious Cabinet minister in the 1960s, Benn veered to the left in reaction to the political and economic crisis of the early 1970s, becoming an iconic figure for the political left, and the main author of the manifesto on which Labour fought the 1983 election, and suffered its worst post-war defeat. Harold Wilson, the first of a series of Labour leaders to clash with Benn, once claimed that he ‘immatured’ in middle age.

A political firebrand who was at times vilified by the right, his views once led The Sun newspaper to question whether he was "the most dangerous man in Britain".

He emerged, however, as one of the most respected MPs of the last 50 years.

Tony Benn speaking alongside Michael Foot, Peter Shore and Barbara Castle in 1975 Tony Benn speaking alongside other anti-Common Market Ministers Michael Foot, Peter Shore and Barbara Castle in 1975 David Cameron said of  Labour veteran 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."

Labour MPs took to the social network to pay warm tributes.

Former cabinet minister Peter Hain said: "Tony Benn was a giant of socialism who encouraged me to join Labour in 1977: wonderful inspirational speaker and person: will be deeply missed."

Diane Abbott said: "Admired so many things about Benn: unwavering principles; always open to new ideas; stellar political speaker but unfailingly courteous."

Barry Sheerman, who entered parliament in 1979 and served alongside Mr Benn for many years, said : "Sad news of Tony Benn death. I had my differences with him but he was a "big beast" in our political life and party history."

Lucy Powell, one of the party's newest MPs added: "Very sorry to hear the sad news about Tony Benn. He was a political giant of the last century, principled and passionate."

Additional reporting by the Press Association

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Sport
Malky Mackay salutes the Cardiff fans after the 3-1 defeat at Liverpool on Sunday
footballFormer Cardiff boss accused of sending homophobic, racist and messages
Sport
Rodgers showered praise on Balotelli last week, which led to speculation he could sign the AC Milan front man
transfers
Life and Style
life – it's not, says Rachel McKinnon
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Arts and Entertainment
Arctic Monkeys headline this year's Reading and Leeds festivals, but there's a whole host of other bands to check out too
music(who aren't Arctic Monkeys)
News
Lizards, such as Iguanas (pictured), have a unique pattern of tissue growth
science
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Network Integration/Test Engineer

£250 - £300 per day: Orgtel: Senior Network Integration/Test Engineer Berkshir...

Software Developer - Newcastle - £30,000 - £37,000 + benefits

£30000 - £37000 per annum + attractive benefits: Ashdown Group: .NET Developer...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

Digital Project Manager/BA

£300 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: An experienced Digital/Ecommerc...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home