World Video | Defence | Foreign Affairs | Natural Events | Trade | NZ in World News | NZ National News Video | NZ Regional News | Search

 


Tony Benn, veteran Labour politician, dies aged 88

Tony Benn, veteran Labour politician, dies aged 88

Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Former cabinet minister dies at his home in west London surrounded by family members
Patrick Wintour and Rowena Mason

theguardian.com, Friday 14 March 2014 04.14 EDT


Tony Benn
– the lodestar for the Labour left for decades, orator, campaigner, diarist and grandfather – has died aged 88 after a long illness, his family has announced.

Tributes poured in for one the country's most extraordinary and controversial MPs, who, in what he described as the blazing autumn of his career outside Westminster, came to be regarded as an anti-establishment voice for democracy.
Although he said self-deprecatingly in one of his later interviews: "All political careers end in failure; mine just happened to end earlier than most," many regarded his final decades outside Westminster with greatest affection.

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.

"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."

Tony Benn had suffered from ill health since a stroke in 2012.


Born Anthony Neil Wedgwood Benn, he entered parliament in 1950 as MP for Bristol South East, becoming the youngest member of the house at the age of 25.
He had to leave the Commons a decade later, as the death of his father, a Labour peer, meant he inherited the title of Viscount Stansgate. However, he campaigned for a change in the law and returned to his seat three years later after renouncing the title.

During his 50-year parliamentary career, Benn served as minister for technology, industry and energy under Harold Wilson and James Callaghan. He also campaigned against EU membership and oversaw the development of Concorde.

After a successful cabinet career under Wilson in the 70s, he swung to the left politically and challenged Denis Healey for the Labour deputy leadership – only losing by the narrowest of margins after one of the key unions switched sides at the last minute.

He then became instrumental in using Labour party machinery to develop a leftwing manifesto on which Michael Foot fought the 1983 election.

He was also central to the campaign to make Labour MPs more accountable to their constituencies through automatic re-selection, a reform hated by many Labour MPs at the time but now regarded as wholly uncontroversial.

After Foot's defeat and the emergence of Neil Kinnock as party leader in 1983, the party shifted to the centre, and Benn began to lose his direct political influence over the party. He was heavily defeated when he stood against Kinnock for the party leadership in 1988 and left parliament in 2001, after the first term of the Blair government, to "spend more time on politics".

From there on his influence tended to emerge through his thinking, diaries, oratory and latterly appearances at literary festivals and political rallies.
Benn was a divisive figure within the Labour party because of his steadfast support for traditional socialism.
He became known for his campaign against the invasion of Iraq, addressing the UK's biggest ever demonstration during the Stop the War rally of 2003.

Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, said: "The death of Tony Benn represents the loss of an iconic figure of our age. 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.
"For someone of such strong views, often at odds with his party, he won respect from across the political spectrum.

"This was because of his unshakeable beliefs and his abiding determination that power and the powerful should be held to account."

Tony Benn at Labour conference in Brighton in October 1979. Photograph: Evening Standard/Getty Images

Miliband said he had done work experience with Benn at the age of 16. "I may have been just a teenager but he treated me as an equal," the Labour leader said.

Margaret Beckett, a contemporary during some of the most bitter Labour infighting in the 80s said: "He was an absolutely brilliant speaker ... he had such clarity of expression." She added that he was "a charming, nice man. He made enemies and kept enemies but on the whole most people regarded him with a good degree of affection long before it came to the stage when it was thought he could cause no harm. He was out of step for many years with whoever was in the charge of the leadership. He wanted to make people think and that was an admirable thing."

David Cameron – who once said he had been strongly influenced by Benn's book Arguments for Democracy – tweeted: "Tony Benn was a magnificent writer, speaker and campaigner. There was never a dull moment listening to him, even if you disagreed with him."

The former Labour 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."

The Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, Diane Abbott, also paid tribute to Benn. "Admired so many things about Benn," she said. "Unwavering principles; always open to new ideas; stellar political speaker but unfailingly courteous."

Tony Benn with his wife Caroline, children Stephen, Hilary, Melissa, and new baby Joshua. Photograph: Evening News / Rex Features
Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, said: "In the final decade of an extraordinary political life, Tony Benn was a great friend of Liberty and human rights. He spoke to packed audiences up and down the country against internment and identity cards and for values of internationalism and humanity. And he often shared the stage with speakers of different political stripes with considerable generosity. I shall never forget his many kindnesses to me, including when he ripped up a prepared speech he was about to deliver, in order to make my own nervous and novice remarks sound slightly less unplanned. In an age of spin, he was solid, a signpost and not a weathervane."

Benn was a divisive figure within the Labour party because of his steadfast support for traditional socialism. His son Hilary, the Labour MP for Leeds Central and shadow secretary of state for communities and local government, famously described himself as "a Benn, not a Bennite". The Sun once asked whether his firebrand views made him "the most dangerous man in Britain".

Some old ministerial colleagues from the 1970s and 80s privately made plain they would be making no public comment, reluctant to speak ill of the dead. But bitterness against what they still see as his destructive and dishonest conduct during the Bennite ascendancy remains toxic.

His death prompted tributes from many Eurosceptic MPs who remembered his longstanding opposition to the European Union.

Benn had suffered from ill health since a stroke in 2012, spending much of the subsequent year in hospital. In an interview with the Daily Mirror last year, he said he was not frightened about death. "I don't know why, but I just feel that at a certain moment your switch is switched off and that's it. And you can't do anything about it," he said.

Benn was admitted to hospital again in September last year on the advice of his GP after feeling unwell and had recently moved to sheltered accommodation near his Holland Park home in west London.
Outside his home in his garden stands the bench on which he proposed to Caroline, the wife he was devoted to and whom he missed grievously after her death. He is survived by their four children, Stephen, Hilary, Melissa and Joshua.

Ends

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
World Headlines

 

Gordon Campbell: On How Obama’s Supreme Court Choice Says Everything (Bad) About His Presidency

Nothing has epitomised the presidency of Barack Obama quite like his Supreme Court nominees. Time and again, Republican presidents will blithely nominate right wing ideological extremists (Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas) who only sometimes misfire and turn out to be liberals in disguise (David Souter). Yet Obama has consistently skipped over the judicially qualified liberals and gone for a succession of centrists... More>>

ALSO:

Turkey: UN Secretary-General On The Terrorist Bombing In Ankara

The Secretary-General condemns the terrorist attack in Ankara earlier today. According to the latest reports, the explosion in the Kizilay district killed and wounded dozens of people. More>>

ALSO:

Five Years On: Fukushima And New Zealand

Science Media Centre: It was the worst nuclear event since Chernobyl. In the wake of the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, a crippled Japanese nuclear powerplant went into meltdown, and the world watched as emergency workers scrambled to shut down and contain the reactors. More>>

ALSO:

UNICEF: 1 In 3 Syrian Children Has Grown Up Knowing Only Crisis

An estimated 3.7 million Syrian children – 1 in 3 of all Syrian children - have been born since the conflict began five years ago, their lives shaped by violence, fear and displacement, according to a UNICEF report. This figure includes more than 151,000 children born as refugees since 2011. More>>

ALSO:

Franklin Lamb: Syria’s Truce Bodes Well For Salvaging Our Cultural Heritage

The tentative cessation of hostilities in Syria, which came into effect on 2/28/2016, brokered by Washington and Moscow, is only in its second week... It is well documented that there have been daily incidents of artillery shelling, airstrikes and clashes. Yet, for the nearly 12 million displaced civilians, half of Syria’s population, it’s a much welcomed respite. More>>

Gordon Campbell: On Rubio’s Last Stand (And Sleater-Kinney)

Well, it certainly was entertaining to watch Rubio succeed in getting under Donald Trump’s skin the other day, in the last debate before tomorrow’s Super Tuesday multi-state sweepstakes... The real killer for Rubio was that the most recent poll from Florida which shows him losing his home state to Trump by a huge margin in the primary due on March 15. More>>

ALSO:

Get More From Scoop

 
 
 
 
 
World
Search Scoop  
 
 
Powered by Vodafone
NZ independent news