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article imageTony Benn, Labour politician, has died

By Tim Sandle     Mar 14, 2014 in Politics
Veteran British Labour Party politican Tony Benn has died at his home, aged 88. He passed away with his family at his bedside.
Tony Benn was a British Labour Party politician and a Member of Parliament (MP) for 50 years. According to the BBC, Benn served as a Cabinet Minister under the prime ministers Harold Wilson and James Callaghan.
A statement from his family, published by The Independent, read: "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."
David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, told the Daily Telegraph that: "Tony Benn was a magnificent writer, speaker and campaigner. There was never a dull moment listening to him, even if you disagreed with him."
To this, current Labour Party leader Ed Miliband 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."
As an MP during the 1950s and 1960s, Benn became internationally famous when he challenged the British system of hereditary peerages. Under the system, if the eldest son's father was a Lord, the son had no choice but to inherit the title. When Benn's father passed away this not only meant that Benn became the 2nd Viscount Stansgate, he also had to give up his role as a democratically elected member of parliament. Benn challenged this by standing in a by-election and his actions led to the creation of the Peerage Act 1963. This Act resulted in people being able to renounce peerages.
In the Labour Government of 1964–1970 Benn served first as Postmaster General, where he oversaw the opening of the Post Office Tower, and later as a notably "technocratic" Minister of Technology. In the period when the Labour Party was in Opposition, for a year he was the Chairman of the Labour Party. In the Labour Government of 1974–1979 he returned to the Cabinet, initially as Secretary of State for Industry, before being made Secretary of State for Energy.
During the 1970s Benn shifted his political perspective and became more left-wing, calling for interventionist economic policies and for the U.K. to pull out of the then European Community (later the European Union). In 1981 he stood for the Deputy Leadership of the Labour Party against the right-wing candidate Denis Healey. Healey won by 50.4 percent to Benn's 49.6 percent. Based on a complex electoral system, Benn won the majority of ordinary Labour Party members, whereas Healey secured the votes of several big trade unions.
Benn remained an influential figure in the Labour Party until the mid-1980s. From then, as the Labour Party shifted its position to a less socialist and more liberal persuasion, Benn was out-of-step with the majority of his party's parliamentarians.
Benn, however, played a significant role in constitutional issues (proposing a Commonwealth for Britain bill), animal rights, and the anti-war movement (such as attempting to stop both Iraq wars).
In 2001 Benn left Parliament to, as he described, "spend more time on politics." Here he supported a number of campaigns and support groups. He became an opponent of Tony Blair's rebranding of the Labour Party as 'New Labour.'
As a writer and dedicated diarist, Benn undertook many tours of the U.K. reading extracts from his diaries and discussing politics with people. Although he remained a radial in his views, to many people he became more avuncular, even "a national treasure." Ben influenced many across the political spectrum. Michael Moore dedicates his book Mike's Election Guide 2008 to Benn with: "For Tony Benn, keep teaching us."
Benn had been seriously ill for a few months. The Guardian quotes Tony Benn from a recent interview where he lamented on death: "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."
His children, who were at his bedside, were Stephen, Hilary, Melissa and Joshua. Hilary is a member of parliament and served as a minister in Tony Blair and Gordon Brown's governments.
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