Tributes poured in from all sides of politics to the veteran Labour politician and former cabinet minister Tony Benn, who has died at home at the age of 88.
Labour leader Ed Miliband described the former figurehead of the Labour left as an “iconic figure” and said the party had lost a “champion of the powerless, a great parliamentarian and a conviction politician”.
Prime Minister David Cameron said that Mr Benn ensured there was “never a dull moment”, even for those who disagreed with every word he said.
First elected to Parliament in 1950, Mr Benn renounced a peerage in order to remain in the House of Commons and was an MP for more than 50 years, serving in the cabinets of Harold Wilson and James Callaghan and staging a bitterly divisive battle with Denis Healey for the Labour deputy leadership as the champion of the left in 1981.
He famously retired from Parliament in 2001 saying he wanted to “spend more time on politics” and won a new status as a national treasure touring the country to speak to packed audiences in venues from town halls to West End theatres and the Glastonbury festival. Well into his 80s, he was a familiar and popular figure at demonstrations and anti-war rallies.
In a statement released early yesterday, 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.”
Mr Miliband paid tribute to an “iconic figure of our age”.
Mr Miliband said: “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.
“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.”
Mr Cameron said: “I am sorry to hear that Tony Benn has died. He was a magnificent writer, speaker, diarist and campaigner, with a strong record of public and political service. There was never a dull moment listening to him, even when you disagreed with every word he said.”
Labour’s former prime minister Gordon Brown said: “Tony Benn was a powerful, fearless, relentless advocate for social justice and people’s rights whose writing as well as speeches will continue to have a profound influence on generations to come.
“My thoughts are with his family, whom he adored.”
Mr Benn was admitted to Charing Cross Hospital in London at the beginning of February after feeling unwell, and returned home on March 4.
He was born in 1925 as Anthony Wedgwood Benn into a political dynasty which included two grandfathers who sat in the Commons and a father who was first a Liberal and then a Labour MP.
The family tradition was continued by son Hilary, who is Labour’s shadow communities secretary, and granddaughter Emily Benn, who stood for the party at the 2010 general election.
Benn’s decision to give up the title Viscount Stansgate led to the Peerage Act of 1963, allowing the renunciation of hereditary titles.
He was seen as a modernising technocrat when he entered government, but was an unusual example of a politician who became more left-wing as he grew older, crediting the change to his experience in government of seeing progressive reforms blocked by the establishment.
He has not been forgiven by some in the Labour Party for his espousal of radical left-wing views in the 1980s, which some blamed for ushering in the creation of the breakaway Social Democratic Party and the long political ascendancy of Margaret Thatcher.