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Former Labour minister Tony Benn dies at 88

By Michael_Yong  |  Posted: March 14, 2014

  • Tony Benn at Cheltenham Literature Festival

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Former Labour Cabinet minister Tony Benn has died at home, aged 88.

The popular speaker and anti-war campaigner had been an avid fan of the Cheltenham Literature Festival and gave talks at Gloucester Guildhall.

He had been seriously ill for months before his death.

In a statement his children Stephen, Hilary, Melissa and Joshua said: "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."

Sarah Smyth, artistic director of the Cheltenham Literature Festival, said: “Tony Benn will be greatly missed by all at Cheltenham Festivals.

"He was an extremely popular speaker with our audiences who came to hear his frank insights and candid political views that were informed by his incredibly significant career that spanned so many decades. Mr Benn was also popular with the Festival staff, who fondly remember him as a true gentleman who would regularly be found smoking his pipe while joyfully chatting to Festival goers.

"Mr Benn’s last event at Cheltenham was entitled ‘Political Legacies’ and it discussed the discrepancy between the legacies that past leaders dreamed of leaving and the reality of how we remember them today.

"Only time will tell how future generations will recall Mr Benn’s political career, but Cheltenham Festivals’ audiences will long-remember him as a dynamic, warm, witty, and honest man.”

Sophy Gardner, prospective Labour candidate for Gloucester, said: "My grandfather was an enormous admirer of Tony Benn and his discussions with me about politics were instrumental in sparking my understanding of the importance of politics in our lives.

"Subsequently, I met Tony’s son Hilary Benn MP at an RAF event and his support was part of my more recent political journey.

"Tony Benn was a man of principle and my thoughts are first and foremost with his family who can and will be so proud of all he achieved during his busy and far reaching life.

"His passing is a really sad moment for the Labour Party, we have lost an iconic figure who spoke to an age of British politics."

Gloucestershire County Councillor Tracy Millard (L, Tuffley), said: "A shame to lose another strong minded person, who fought for the working class.

"This is a very sad week. We must continue the good work he started, and make sure the working class and vulnerable voice is heard."

David Drew, former MP for Stroud and prospective candidate, said: "Very sad if not unexpected news on Tony.

"I have known him for over 40 years. He was a regular visitor to Stroud and got to appreciate his gifts when we were both Labour MPs.

"Tony will be remembered as a socialist, a democrat and a superb Parliamentarian. My sympathy extend to Hilary and the rest of the family."

Current Labour leader Ed Miliband 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.

"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.

"Above all, as I had cause to know, he was an incredibly kind man. I did work experience with him at the age of 16. I may have been just a teenager but he treated me as an equal. It was the nature of the man and the principle of his politics.

"I saw him for the last time a couple of weeks ago in hospital. He may have been ailing in body but was as sharp as ever in mind. As I left he said to me 'Well, old son. Let’s have a proper talk when you have more time.' As he said of his wife Caroline at her funeral, he showed us how to live and how to die.

"All of my condolences go to his children Stephen, Hilary, Melissa and Joshua and his wider family. In their own ways, they are all a tribute to him as a father, a socialist, and a most decent human being."

Prime Minister David 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 everything he said."

The Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow MP, said:"I was very sad to learn of Tony Benn's passing. I have been proud to know him for the last two decades and to be able to call him a friend.

"He was a man of deep socialist principle, obvious humanity and great personal warmth. A brilliant Parliamentarian, he penned amongst the most memorable political diaries. He will be sorely missed."

Arrangements for his funeral will be announced in due course.

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  • bettysenior  |  March 14 2014, 9:17PM

    It is one of the great disappointments of modern democracy in the UK that we have not more politicians like Tony Benn. In this respect most think with their pockets and personal thoughts for their own wellbeing above those of the people. Indeed if there were 650 Tony Benns in parliament it would not be a dictatorship but a clear breath of fresh air in the political arena of the UK. Trust and integrity have gone to a great extent with modern politics in Britain today and with the death of Benn a further nail in the aspirations of what the people wish to see happen has gone - http://tinyurl.com/omtyue4 Dr David Hill Chief Executive World Innovation Foundation

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  • Wazzamatter  |  March 14 2014, 6:21PM

    We have just lost one of the last two decent politicians we had left in the UK., with Dennis Skinner being the other one. R.I.P. Tony Benn, you were a legend in your own lifetime.

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  • Lecorche  |  March 14 2014, 10:45AM

    We've lost a truly capable politician who was better in his day than any of the Shallow Hal Brigade we have now.

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  • RoadWombat  |  March 14 2014, 10:02AM

    Tony Benn's politics couldn't have been further from my own. However, I greatly admired him for his oratory skills, the fact that he spoke his mind and his ability to put together a logical, cohesive argument in a manner that anyone could understand - a far cry from most of today's politicians. I therefore salute you, Sir, as one of the old school politicians and I, for one, will genuinely mourn your passing. Rest in Peace.

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  • nickthompson  |  March 14 2014, 9:12AM

    The last so called Labour government was the best Tory government this country ever had, how correct Benn was when He wrote: "I feel bereaved that the Labour party has gone that wrong. It has died. It's been assassinated by Blair and Brown."

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