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Tony Benn

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Tony Benn

The Right Honourable
Tony Benn
Benn in 2007
Secretary of State for Energy
In office
10 June 1975 – 4 May 1979
Prime Minister Harold Wilson
James Callaghan
Preceded by Eric Varley, Baron Varley
Succeeded by David Howell
Secretary of State for Industry
In office
5 March 1974 – 10 June 1975
Prime Minister Harold Wilson
Preceded by Peter Walker (at DTI)
Succeeded by Eric Varley, Baron Varley
Chairman of the Labour Party
In office
20 September 1971 – 25 September 1972
Leader Harold Wilson
Preceded by Ian Mikardo
Succeeded by William Simpson
Minister of Technology
In office
4 July 1966 – 19 June 1970
Prime Minister Harold Wilson
Preceded by Frank Cousins
Succeeded by Geoffrey Rippon
Postmaster General
In office
15 October 1964 – 4 July 1966
Prime Minister Harold Wilson
Preceded by Reginald Bevins
Succeeded by Edward Short
Member of Parliament
for Chesterfield
In office
1 March 1984 – 7 June 2001
Preceded by Eric Varley, Baron Varley
Succeeded by Paul Holmes
Majority 24,633 (46.5%)
Member of Parliament
for Bristol South East
In office
20 August 1963 – 9 June 1983
Preceded by Malcolm St Clair
Succeeded by Constituency Abolished
Majority 1,890 (3.5%)
In office
30 November 1950 – 17 November 1960
Preceded by Stafford Cripps
Succeeded by Malcolm St Clair
Majority 13,044 (39%)
President of the Stop the War Coalition
In office
21 September 2001 – 14 March 2014
Vice President Lindsey German
Preceded by Office created
Personal details
Born Anthony Neil Wedgwood Benn
(1925-04-03)3 April 1925
Marylebone, London, UK
Died 14 March 2014(2014-03-14) (aged 88)
London, England, UK
Nationality British
Political party Labour
Spouse(s) Caroline DeCamp (m. 1949; died 2000)
Children Stephen, Hilary, Melissa, Joshua
Alma mater Westminster School
New College, Oxford
Military service
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch Royal Air Force
Rank Pilot officer
Battles/wars World War II

Anthony Neil Wedgwood Benn (3 April 1925 – 14 March 2014), originally known as Anthony Wedgwood Benn or Wedgwood Benn (and colloquially as Wedgie Benn), but later as Tony Benn, was a British politician who was a Member of Parliament (MP) for 47 years between 1950 and 2001 and a Cabinet minister under Harold Wilson and James Callaghan in the 1960s and 1970s. A member of the Labour Party, he was situated on the party's hard left, ideologically identifying as a democratic socialist.

Benn inherited a hereditary peerage on his father's death (as 2nd Viscount Stansgate), preventing him continuing as an MP. He fought to remain in the House of Commons,[1] and then campaigned for the ability to renounce the title, a campaign which succeeded with the Peerage Act 1963. In the Labour Government of 1964–70 he served first as Postmaster General, where he oversaw the opening of the Post Office Tower, and later as a "technocratic" Minister of Technology.[2]

He served as Chairman of the Labour Party in 1971–72 while in opposition, and 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, retaining his post when James Callaghan replaced Wilson as Prime Minister. When the Labour Party was again in opposition through the 1980s, he emerged as a prominent figure on its left wing and the term "Bennite" came into currency as someone associated with radical left-wing politics.[3]

Benn was described as "one of the few UK politicians to have become more left-wing after holding ministerial office."[4] After leaving Parliament, Benn was President of the Stop the War Coalition from 2001 until his death in 2014.[5]


  • Early life and family 1
  • Member of Parliament (1950–64) 2
    • Peerage reform 2.1
  • In government, 1964–70 3
  • In government, 1974–79 4
    • Move to the Left 4.1
  • In opposition, 1979–97 5
  • Retirement and final years (2001–14) 6
  • Illness and death 7
  • Diaries and biographies 8
  • Plaques 9
  • Legacy 10
  • Styles 11
  • Bibliography 12
    • Diaries 12.1
  • See also 13
  • References 14
  • External links 15

Early life and family

Benn was born in London on 3 April 1925.[6] Benn's father William Wedgwood Benn was a Liberal Member of Parliament from 1906 who crossed the floor to the Labour Party in 1928 and was appointed Secretary of State for India by Ramsay MacDonald in 1929, a position he held until 1931. William Benn was elevated to the House of Lords with the title of Viscount Stansgate in 1942 – the new wartime coalition government was short of working Labour peers in the upper house.[7] From 1945–46, William Benn was the Secretary of State for Air in the first majority Labour Government.

Benn's mother, Margaret Wedgwood Benn (née Holmes, 1897–1991), was a theologian, feminist and the founder President of the Congregational Federation. She was a member of the League of the Church Militant, which was the predecessor of the Movement for the Ordination of Women; in 1925, she was rebuked by Randall Davidson, the Archbishop of Canterbury, for advocating the ordination of women. His mother's theology had a profound influence on Benn, as she taught him that the stories in the Bible were based around the struggle between the prophets and the kings and that he ought in his life to support the prophets over the kings, who had power, as the prophets taught righteousness.[8]

Both of Benn's grandfathers were also Liberal MPs; his paternal grandfather was Mahatma Gandhi. This was in 1931, while his father was Secretary of State for India.

In the Second World War, Benn joined and trained with the Home Guard from the age of 16, later recalling (2009) in a speech: "I could use a bayonet, a rifle, a revolver, and if I'd seen a German officer having a meal I'd have tossed a grenade through the window. Would I have been a freedom fighter or a terrorist?"[12][13]

In July 1943, Benn enlisted in the Royal Air Force as an aircraftman 2nd Class.[14] His father and brother Michael (who was later killed in an accident) were already serving in the RAF. He was granted an emergency commission as a pilot officer (on probation) on 10 March 1945.[15] As a pilot officer, Benn served as a pilot in South Africa and Rhodesia.[16] He relinquished his commission with effect from 10 August 1945, two months after the European Second World War ended on 8 May, and just days before the war with Japan ended on 2 September.[17]

Benn attended Westminster School and studied at New College, Oxford, where he read Philosophy, Politics and Economics and was elected President of the Oxford Union in 1947. In later life, Benn removed public references to his private education from Who's Who; in the 1975 edition his entry stated "Education—still in progress". In the 1976 edition, almost all details were omitted save for his name, jobs as a Member of Parliament and as a Government Minister, and address; the publishers confirmed that Benn had sent back the draft entry with everything else struck through.[18] In the 1977 edition, Benn's entry disappeared entirely.[19] In October 1973 he announced on BBC Radio that he wished to be known as Mr. Tony Benn rather than Anthony Wedgwood Benn, and his book Speeches from 1974 is credited to "Tony Benn".

Benn met Caroline Middleton DeCamp (born 13 October 1926, Cincinnati, Ohio, United States) over tea at Worcester College, Oxford, in 1949 and nine days later he proposed to her on a park bench in the city. Later, he bought the bench from Oxford City Council and installed it in the garden of their home in Holland Park. Tony and Caroline had four children – Stephen, Hilary, Melissa and Joshua – and ten grandchildren. Caroline Benn died of cancer on 22 November 2000, aged 74, after a prominent career as an educationalist.[20]

Benn's children have been active in politics. His first son, Stephen, was an elected Member of the Inner London Education Authority from 1986 to 1990. His second son, Hilary, was a councillor in London, and stood for Parliament in 1983 and 1987, becoming the Labour MP for Leeds Central in 1999. He was Secretary of State for International Development from 2003–07, and then Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs until 2010 before becoming Shadow Foreign Secretary in 2015. This makes him the third generation of his family to have been a member of the Cabinet, a rare distinction for a modern political family in Britain. Benn's granddaughter Emily Benn failed to win East Worthing and Shoreham in 2010,[21] becoming the Labour Party's youngest-ever candidate in the process.[22] Benn was a first cousin once removed of the actress Margaret Rutherford.[23]

He became a vegetarian in 1970, for ethical reasons, and remained so for the rest of his life.[24][25]

Member of Parliament (1950–64)

Following the Second World War Benn worked briefly as a BBC Radio producer. On 1 November 1950, he was unexpectedly selected to succeed Stafford Cripps as the Labour candidate for Bristol South East, after Cripps stood down because of ill-health. He won the seat in a by-election on 30 November 1950.[26] Anthony Crosland helped him get the seat as he was the MP for nearby South Gloucestershire at the time. Upon taking the oath on 4 December 1950[27] Benn became "Baby of the House", the youngest MP, for one day, being succeeded by Thomas Teevan, who was two years younger but took his oath a day later.[28] He became the "Baby" again in 1951, when Teevan was not re-elected. In the 1950s, Benn held middle-of-the-road or soft left views, and was not associated with the young left wing group around Aneurin Bevan.[29]

Peerage reform

Benn's father had been created Viscount Stansgate in 1942 when Winston Churchill increased the number of Labour peers to aid political work in the House of Lords; at this time, Benn's elder brother Michael was intending to enter the priesthood and had no objections to inheriting a peerage. However, Michael was later killed in an accident while on active service in the Second World War, and this left Benn as the heir to the peerage. He made several unsuccessful attempts to renounce the succession.[29]

In November 1960, Lord Stansgate died. Benn automatically became a peer and was thus prevented from sitting in the House of Commons. The Speaker of the Commons, Sir Harry Hylton-Foster, did not allow him to deliver a speech from the bar of the House of Commons in April 1961 when the by-election was being called.[30] Continuing to maintain his right to abandon his peerage, Benn fought to retain his seat in a by-election caused by his succession on 4 May 1961. Although he was disqualified from taking his seat, he was re-elected. An election court found that the voters were fully aware that Benn was disqualified, and declared the seat won by the Conservative runner-up, Malcolm St Clair, who was at the time also the heir presumptive to a peerage.[1]

Benn continued his campaign outside Parliament. Within two years, though, the Conservative Government of the time, which had members in the same or similar situation to Benn's (i.e., who were going to receive title, or who had already applied for writs of summons), changed the law.[31][32] The Peerage Act 1963, allowing lifetime disclaimer of peerages, became law shortly after 6 pm on 31 July 1963. Benn was the first peer to renounce his title, doing so at 6.22 pm that day.[33] St Clair, fulfilling a promise he had made at the time of his election, then accepted the office of Steward of the Manor of Northstead, disqualifying himself from the House (outright resignation not being possible). Benn returned to the Commons after winning a by-election on 20 August 1963.[29]

In government, 1964–70

In the 1964 Government of Harold Wilson, Benn was Postmaster General, where he oversaw the opening of the Post Office Tower, then the UK's tallest building, and the creations of the Post Bus service and Girobank. He proposed issuing stamps without the Sovereign's head, but this met with private opposition from the Queen.[34] Instead, the portrait was reduced to a small profile in silhouette, a format that is still used on commemorative stamps.[35]

Benn also led the government's opposition to the popular offshore radio stations broadcasting from international waters at the time,[36] Some of these stations were claimed to be causing problems at the time, such as interference to emergency radio used by shipping,[37] although he was not responsible for introducing the Marine Broadcasting Offences Bill when it came before Parliament at the end of July 1966 for its first reading.[38]

Earlier in the month, Benn was promoted to Minister of Technology, which included responsibility for the development of Concorde and the formation of International Computers Ltd (ICL). The period also saw government involvement in industrial rationalisation, and the merger of several car companies to form British Leyland. [39] Labour lost the 1970 election to Edward Heath's Conservatives, and upon Heath's application to join the European Economic Community, Benn campaigned in favour of a referendum on the UK's membership. The Shadow Cabinet voted to support a referendum on 29 March 1972, and as a result Roy Jenkins resigned as Deputy Leader of the Labour Party.[40]

In government, 1974–79

In the Labour Government of 1974 Benn was Secretary of State for Industry and as such increased nationalised industry pay, provided better terms and conditions for workers such as the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and set up worker cooperatives to motivate and reform struggling industries, the best known being at Meriden, outside Coventry, which kept Triumph Motorcycles in production until 1983. In 1975 he was appointed Secretary of State for Energy, immediately following his unsuccessful campaign for a "No" vote in the referendum on the UK's continued membership of the European Community (Common Market). Later in his diary (25 October 1977) Benn wrote that he "loathed" the EEC; he claimed it was "bureaucratic and centralised" and "of course it is really dominated by Germany. All the Common Market countries except the UK have been occupied by Germany, and they have this mixed feeling of hatred and subservience towards the Germans".[41]

Harold Wilson resigned as his allies formed a National Government with Conservatives and Liberals. Callaghan allowed Benn to put forward his "alternative economic strategy", which consisted of a self sufficient economy less dependent on low-rate fresh borrowing but the AES, which according to opponents, would have led to a "siege economy", was rejected by the Cabinet.[42]

Move to the Left

By the end of the 1970s, Benn had migrated to the left wing of the Labour Party. He attributed this political shift to his experience as a Cabinet Minister in the 1964–1970 Labour Government. Benn ascribed his move to the left to four lessons:

  1. How "the Civil Service can frustrate the policies and decisions of popularly elected governments";
  2. The centralised nature of the Labour Party allowing to the Leader to run "the Party almost as if it were his personal kingdom"
  3. "The power of industrialists and bankers to get their way by use of the crudest form of economic pressure, even blackmail, against a Labour Government"; and
  4. The power of the media, which "like the power of the medieval Church, ensures that events of the day are always presented from the point of the view of those who enjoy economic privilege.[43]

As regards the power of industrialists and bankers, Benn remarked:

Compared to this, the pressure brought to bear in industrial disputes by the unions is minuscule. This power was revealed even more clearly in 1976 when the International Monetary Fund secured cuts in our public expenditure. ... These [four] lessons led me to the conclusion that the UK is only superficially governed by MPs and the voters who elect them. Parliamentary democracy is, in truth, little more than a means of securing a periodical change in the management team, which is then allowed to preside over a system that remains in essence intact. If the British people were ever to ask themselves what power they truly enjoyed under our political system they would be amazed to discover how little it is, and some new Chartist agitation might be born and might quickly gather momentum.[44]

Benn's philosophy consisted of a form of syndicalism, state planning where necessary to ensure national competitiveness, greater democracy in the structures of the Labour Party and observance of Party Conference decisions;[45] he was vilified by most of the press which supported the young Margaret Thatcher — his opponents implied and stated that a Benn-led Labour Government would implement a type of Eastern European socialism.[46] Benn was overwhelmingly popular with Labour activists: a survey of delegates at the Labour Party Conference in 1978 found that by large margins they supported Benn for the leadership and many Bennite policies.[47]

He publicly supported Sinn Féin and the unification of Ireland, although in 2005 he suggested to Sinn Féin leaders that it abandon its long-standing policy of not taking seats at Westminster (abstentionism). Sinn Féin in turn argued that to do so would recognise Britain's claim over Northern Ireland, and the Sinn Féin constitution prevented its elected members from taking their seats in any British-created institution.[48]

In opposition, 1979–97

In a keynote speech to the Labour Party Conference of 1980, shortly before the resignation of party leader James Callaghan and election of Michael Foot as successor, Benn outlined what he envisaged the next Labour Government would do. "Within days", a Labour Government would gain powers to nationalise industries, control capital and implement industrial democracy; "within weeks", all powers from Brussels would be returned to Westminster, and abolish the House of Lords by creating one thousand peers and then abolishing the peerage. Benn received tumultuous applause.[49]

Benn speaking at the Glastonbury Festival in 2008

In 1981, he stood against incumbent Denis Healey for Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, disregarding the appeal from Michael Foot to either stand for the leadership or abstain from inflaming the party's divisions. Benn defended his decision with insistence that it was "not about personalities, but about policies." The contest was extremely closely fought, and Healey won by a margin of barely 1%. The decision of several moderate left-wing MPs, including Neil Kinnock, to abstain triggered the split of the Socialist Campaign Group from the left of the Tribune Group.[50]

After Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands in April 1982, Benn argued that the dispute should be settled by the United Nations and that the British Government should not send a task force to recapture the islands. The task force was sent and the Falklands were soon back in British control. In a subsequent debate in the Commons, Benn's demand for "a full analysis of the costs in life, equipment and money in this tragic and unnecessary war" was rejected by Margaret Thatcher, who stated that "he would not enjoy the freedom of speech that he put to such excellent use unless people had been prepared to fight for it".[51]

For the 1983 election Benn's Bristol South East constituency was abolished by boundary changes, and he lost to Michael Cocks the battle to stand in the new seat of Bristol South. Rejecting offers from the new seat of Livingston in Scotland, Benn contested Bristol East, losing to Conservative candidate Jonathan Sayeed in what was perceived to be a shock result. He was selected for the next Labour seat to fall vacant, and was elected for Chesterfield in a by-election after Eric Varley resigned to head Coalite. On the day of the by-election, 1 March 1984, The Sun newspaper ran a hostile feature article, "Benn on the Couch", which purported to be the opinions of an American psychiatrist.[52] In the period since Benn's defeat in Bristol, Michael Foot had stepped down after the general election in June 1983 (which saw Labour return a mere 209 MPs) and was succeeded in October of that year by Neil Kinnock.[53]

Benn was a prominent supporter of the 1984–85 UK miners' strike and of his long-standing friend, the National Union of Mineworkers leader Arthur Scargill. However, some miners considered Benn's 1977 industry reforms to have caused problems during the strike; firstly, that they led to huge wage differences and distrust between miners of different regions; and secondly that the controversy over balloting miners for these reforms made it unclear as to whether a ballot was needed for a strike or whether it could be deemed as a "regional matter" in the same way that the 1977 reforms had been.[54][55]

In June 1985, three months after the miners admitted defeat and ended their strike, Benn introduced the Miners' Amnesty (General Pardon) Bill into the Commons, which would have extended an amnesty to all miners imprisoned during the strike. This would have included two men convicted of murder (later reduced to manslaughter) for the killing of David Wilkie, a taxi driver driving a non-striking miner to work in South Wales during the strike.[56]

Benn stood for election as Party Leader in 1988, against Neil Kinnock, following Labour's third successive defeat in the 1987 general election, and lost by a substantial margin. In May 1989 he made an extended appearance on Channel 4's late-night discussion programme After Dark, alongside among others Lord Dacre and Miles Copeland. During the Gulf War, Benn visited Baghdad in order to try and persuade Saddam Hussein to release the hostages who had been captured.[57]

In 1990 he proposed a "Margaret Thatcher (Global Repeal) Bill", which he said "could go through both Houses in 24 hours. It would be easy to reverse the policies and replace the personalities—the process has begun—but the rotten values that have been propagated from the platform of political power in Britain during the past 10 years will be an infection—a virulent strain of right-wing capitalist thinking which it will take time to overcome."[58] In 1991, with Labour still in opposition and a general election due by June 1992, he proposed the Commonwealth of Britain Bill, abolishing the monarchy in favour of the United Kingdom becoming a "democratic, federal and secular commonwealth", a republic with a written constitution. It was read in Parliament a number of times until his retirement at the 2001 election, but never achieved a second reading.[59] He presented an account of his proposal in Common Sense: A New Constitution for Britain.[60]

Several months prior to his retirement, Benn was a signatory of a letter, alongside Niki Adams (Legal Action for Women), Ian Macdonald QC, Gareth Peirce, and other legal and immigration professionals, that was published in The Guardian newspaper on 22 February 2001 in response to raids of more than 50 brothels in the central London area of Soho. At the time, a police spokesman said: "As far as we know, this is the biggest simultaneous crackdown on brothels and prostitution in this country in recent times", the arrest of 28 people in an operation that involved around 110 police officers.[61] The letter read:

We condemn last week's police and immigration raid on women working in Soho as a violation of human and legal rights. ... In the name of "protecting" women from trafficking, about 40 women, including a woman from Iraq, were arrested, detained and in some cases summarily removed from Britain. If any of these women have been trafficked ... they deserve protection and resources, not punishment by expulsion. ... Having forced women into destitution, the government first criminalised those who begged. Now it is trying to use prostitution as a way to make deportation of the vulnerable more acceptable. We will not allow such injustice to go unchallenged.[62]

A letter by Nina Lopez-Jones, of the English Collective of Prostitutes, was also published in the same issue of The Guardian.[62]

Retirement and final years (2001–14)

Benn about to join the March 2005 anti-war demonstration in London

Benn did not stand at the 2001 general election, saying he was "leaving parliament in order to spend more time on politics."[63] Along with Edward Heath, Benn was permitted by the Speaker to continue using the House of Commons Library and Members' refreshment facilities. Shortly after his retirement, he became the president of the Stop the War Coalition.[57] He became a leading figure of the British opposition to the War in Afghanistan from 2001 and the Iraq War, and in February 2003 he travelled to Baghdad to meet Saddam Hussein. The interview was shown on British television.[64]

He spoke against the war at the February 2003 protest in London organised by the Stop the War Coalition, with police saying it was the biggest ever demonstration in the UK with about 750,000 marchers, and the organisers estimating nearly a million people participating.[65] In February 2004 and 2008, he was re-elected President of the Stop the War Coalition.[66]

He toured with a one-man stage show and appeared a few times each year in a two-man show with folk singer Roy Bailey. In 2003, his show with Bailey was voted 'Best Live Act' at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards.[67] In 2002 he opened the "Left Field" stage at the Glastonbury Festival. He continued to speak at each subsequent festival with attending one of his speeches being described as a "Glastonbury rite of passage".[68] In October 2003, he was a guest of British Airways on the last scheduled Concorde flight from New York to London. In June 2005, Benn was a panellist on a special edition of BBC One's Question Time edited entirely by a school-age film crew selected by a BBC competition.[69]

On 21 June 2005, Benn presented a programme on democracy as part of the Channel 5 series Big Ideas That Changed The World. He presented a left-wing view of democracy as the means to pass power from the "wallet to the ballot". He argued that traditional social democratic values were under threat in an increasingly globalised world in which powerful institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the European Commission are unelected and unaccountable to those whose lives they affect daily.[70]

Tony Benn and Giles Fraser speaking at Levellers' Day, Burford, 17 May 2008

On 27 September 2005, Benn became ill while at the Labour Party Conference in Brighton and was taken by ambulance to the Royal Sussex County Hospital after being treated by paramedics at the Brighton Centre. Benn reportedly fell and struck his head. He was kept in hospital for observation and was described as being in a "comfortable condition".[71] He was subsequently fitted with an artificial pacemaker to help regulate his heartbeat.[72]

In a list compiled by the magazine New Statesman in 2006, he was voted twelfth in the list of "Heroes of our Time". In September 2006, Benn joined the "Time to Go" demonstration in Manchester the day before the start of the final Labour Party Conference with Tony Blair as Party Leader, with the aim of persuading the Labour Government to withdraw troops from Iraq, to refrain from attacking Iran and to reject replacing the Trident missile and submarines with a new system. He spoke to the demonstrators in the rally afterwards.[73] In 2007, he appeared in an extended segment in the Michael Moore film Sicko giving comments about democracy, social responsibility and health care, notably, “If we can find the money to kill people, we can find the money to help people.”[74]

A poll by the BBC2 The Daily Politics programme in January 2007 selected Benn as the UK's "Political Hero" with 38% of the vote, beating Margaret Thatcher, who had 35%, by 3%.[75]

In the 2007 Labour Party leadership election, Benn backed the left-wing MP John McDonnell in his unsuccessful bid. In September 2007, Benn called for the government to hold a referendum on the EU Reform Treaty.[76] In October 2007, at the age of 82, and when it appeared that a general election was about to be held, Benn reportedly announced that he wanted to stand, having written to his local Kensington and Chelsea Constituency Labour Party offering himself as a prospective candidate for the seat held by the Conservative Malcolm Rifkind.[77][78] However, there was no election in 2007, and the constituency was subsequently abolished.

Benn on the cover of Dartford Living, September 2009

In early 2008 Benn appeared on Scottish singer-songwriter Colin MacIntyre's album The Water, reading a poem he composed himself.[79][80] In September 2008, Benn appeared on the DVD release for the Doctor Who story The War Machines with a vignette discussing the Post Office Tower; he became the second Labour politician, after Roy Hattersley to appear on a Doctor Who DVD.[81]

Benn was invited by The Elders, an advocacy group comprising Nelson Mandela, Mary Robinson and Jimmy Carter.[82]

At the Stop the War Conference 2009, he described the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as "Imperialist war(s)" and discussed the killing of American and allied troops by Iraqi or foreign insurgents, questioning whether they were in fact freedom fighters, and comparing the insurgents to a British Dad's Army, saying: "If you are invaded you have a right to self-defence, and this idea that people in Iraq and Afghanistan who are resisting the invasion are militant Muslim extremists is a complete bloody lie. I joined Dad's Army when I was sixteen, and if the Germans had arrived, I tell you, I could use a bayonet, a rifle, a revolver, and if I'd seen a German officer having a meal I'd have tossed a grenade through the window. Would I have been a freedom fighter or a terrorist?"[12]

In an interview published in Dartford Living in September 2009, Benn was critical of the Government's decision to delay the findings of the Iraq War Inquiry until after the General Election, stating that "people can take into account what the inquiry has reported on but they’ve deliberately pushed it beyond the election. Government is responsible for explaining what it has done and I don’t think we were told the truth."[83] He also stated that local government was strangled by Margaret Thatcher and had not been liberated by New Labour.[83]

In 2009 Benn was admitted to hospital and An Evening with Tony Benn, scheduled to take place at London's Wales.[85]

Tony Benn speaking at the Tolpuddle Martyrs' Festival and Rally 2012

In November 2011 it was reported that Benn had moved out of his home in Holland Park Avenue, London, into a smaller flat nearby that benefited from a warden.[86] In 2012 Benn was awarded an honorary degree from Goldsmiths, University of London. He was also the honorary president of the Goldsmiths Students' Union, who successfully campaigned for him to retract comments dismissing the Julian Assange rape allegations.[87][88] In February 2013 Benn was among those who gave their support to the People's Assembly in a letter published by The Guardian newspaper.[89] He gave a speech at the People's Assembly Conference held at Westminster Central Hall on 22 June 2013.

Illness and death

Benn suffered a stroke in 2012, and spent much of the following year in hospital.[90] He was reported to be "seriously ill" in hospital in February 2014.[91] Benn died at his home, surrounded by family, on 14 March 2014, at age 88.[92][93]

Benn's funeral took place on 27 March 2014 at St Margaret's Church, Westminster.[94][95] His body had lain in rest at St Mary Undercroft in the Palace of Westminster the night before the funeral service.[96] The service ended with the singing of "The Red Flag".[97] His body was then cremated; the ashes are expected to be buried alongside those of his wife at the family home near Steeple, Essex.[98]

Diaries and biographies

Benn was a prolific diarist: nine volumes of his diaries have been published. The final volume was published in 2013.[99] Collections of his speeches and writings were published as Arguments for Socialism (1979), Arguments for Democracy (1981), (both edited by Chris Mullin), Fighting Back (1988) and (with Andrew Hood) Common Sense (1993), as well as Free Radical: New Century Essays (2004). In August 2003, London DJ Charles Bailey created an album of Benn's speeches (ISBN 1-904734-03-0) set to ambient groove.

He made public several episodes of audio diaries he made during his time in Parliament and after retirement, entitled The Benn Tapes, broadcast originally on BBC Radio 4. Short series have been played periodically on BBC Radio 4 Extra.[100] A major biography was written by Jad Adams and published by Macmillan in 1992; it was updated to cover the intervening 20 years and reissued by Biteback Publishing in 2011: Tony Benn: A Biography (ISBN 0-333-52558-2). A more recent "semi-authorised" biography with a foreword by Benn was published in 2001: David Powell, Tony Benn: A Political Life, Continuum Books (ISBN 978-0826464156). An autobiography, Dare to be a Daniel: Then and Now, Hutchinson (ISBN 978-0099471530), was published in 2004.

There are substantial essays on Benn in the Dictionary of Labour Biography by Phillip Whitehead, Greg Rosen (eds), Politicos Publishing, 2001 (ISBN 978-1902301181) and in Labour Forces: From Ernie Bevin to Gordon Brown, Kevin Jefferys (ed.), I.B. Tauris Publishing, 2002 (ISBN 978-1860647437). Michael Moore dedicates his book Mike's Election Guide 2008 (ISBN 978-0141039817) to Benn, with the words: "For Tony Benn, keep teaching us".[101]


During his final years in Parliament, Benn placed three plaques within the Houses of Parliament. Two are in a room between the Central Lobby and Strangers' Gallery that holds a permanent display about the suffragettes.[102] The first was placed in 1995. The second was placed in 1996 and is dedicated to all who work within the Houses of Parliament.

The third is dedicated to Suffragette Emily Wilding Davison and was placed in the broom cupboard next to the Undercroft Chapel within the Palace of Westminster, where Davison is said to have hidden during the 1911 census in order to establish her address as the House of Commons.[103][104]

In 2011 Benn unveiled a plaque in Highbury, North London, to commemorate the Peasants' Revolt of 1381.[105]


Tony Benn was widely respected by many individuals from across the political spectrum – a rarity for a modern British politician, and an affection that has endured even beyond his death. His candour and distinctive mannerisms, such as his use of a smoking pipe,[106] singled him out as a notable figure in postwar Britain.

In Bristol, where Benn first served as a Member of Parliament, a number of tributes exist in his honour. A bust of him was unveiled in Bristol's City Hall in 2005.[107][108] In 2012 Transport House on Victoria Street, headquarters of Unite the Union's regional office, was officially renamed Tony Benn House and opened by Benn himself.[109] As of 2015 he appears, alongside other famous people associated with the city, on the reverse of the Bristol Pound's £B5 banknote.[110]


  • Anthony Wedgwood Benn, Esq. (1925 – 12 January 1942)
  • The Hon. Anthony Wedgwood Benn (12 January 1942 – 30 November 1950)
  • The Hon. Anthony Wedgwood Benn, MP (30 November 1950 – 17 November 1960)
  • The Rt Hon. the Viscount Stansgate (17 November 1960 – 31 July 1963)
  • Anthony Wedgwood Benn, Esq. (31 July – 20 August 1963)
  • Anthony Wedgwood Benn, Esq., MP (20 August 1963 – 1964)
  • The Rt Hon. Anthony Wedgwood Benn, MP (1964 – October 1973)
  • The Rt Hon. Tony Benn, MP (October 1973 – 9 June 1983)
  • The Rt Hon. Tony Benn (9 June 1983 – 1 March 1984)
  • The Rt Hon. Tony Benn, MP (1 March 1984 – 7 June 2001)
  • The Rt Hon. Tony Benn (7 June 2001 – 14 March 2014)


  • Speeches, Spokesman Books (1974); ISBN 0851240917
  • Levellers and the English Democratic Tradition, Spokesman Books (1976); ISBN 978-0-85124-633-8
  • Why America Needs Democratic Socialism, Spokesman Books (1978); ISBN 978-0-85124-266-8
  • Prospects, Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers, Technical, Administrative and Supervisory Section (1979)
  • Case for Constitutional Civil Service, Institute for Workers' Control (1980); ISBN 978-0-901740-67-0
  • Case for Party Democracy, Institute for Workers' Control (1980); ISBN 978-0-901740-70-0
  • Arguments for Socialism, Penguin Books (1980); ISBN 978-0-14-005489-7
  • & Chris Mullin, Arguments for Democracy, Jonathan Cape (1981); ISBN 978-0-224-01878-4
  • European Unity: A New Perspective, Spokesman Books (1981) ISBN 978-0-85124-326-9
  • Parliament and Power: Agenda for a Free Society, Verso Books (1982); ISBN 978-0-86091-057-2
  • & Andrew Hood, Common Sense: New Constitution for Britain, Hutchinson (1993)
  • Free Radical: New Century Essays, Continuum International Publishing (2004); ISBN 978-0-8264-7400-1
  • Dare to Be a Daniel: Then and Now, Hutchinson (2004); ISBN 978-0-09-179999-1
  • Letters to my Grandchildren: Thoughts on the Future, Arrow Books (2010); ISBN 978-0-09-953909-4


  • Years of Hope: Diaries 1940–62, Hutchinson (1994); ISBN 978-0-09-178534-5
  • Out of the Wilderness: Diaries 1963–67, Hutchinson (1987); ISBN 978-0-09-170660-9
  • Office Without Power: Diaries 1968–72, Hutchinson (1988); ISBN 978-0-09-173647-7
  • Against the Tide: Diaries 1973–76, Hutchinson (1989); ISBN 978-0-09-173775-7
  • Conflicts of Interest: Diaries 1977–80, Hutchinson (1990); ISBN 978-0-09-174321-5
  • The End of an Era: Diaries 1980–90, Hutchinson (1992); ISBN 978-0-09-174857-9
  • The Benn Diaries: Single Volume Edition 1940–90, Hutchinson (1995); ISBN 978-0-09-179223-7
  • Free at Last!: Diaries 1991–2001, Hutchinson (2002); ISBN 978-0-09-179352-4
  • More Time for Politics: Diaries 2001–2007, Hutchinson (2007); ISBN 978-0-09-951705-4
  • A Blaze of Autumn Sunshine: The Last Diaries, Hutchinson (2013); ISBN 978-0-09-194387-5

See also


  1. ^ a b Re Parliamentary Election for Bristol South East [1964] 2 Q.B. 257, [1961] 3 W.L.R. 577
  2. ^ "British socialist Tony Benn dead at 88". Retrieved 18 March 2014. 
  3. ^ Renton, Dave (February 1997). "Does Labour's Left Have an Alternative?". Socialist Review. Retrieved 2 May 2010. 
  4. ^ "Collection – The Rt Hon Tony Benn MP". Art in Parliament. UK Parliament. Retrieved 3 May 2010. 
  5. ^ retrieved 9 December 2014
  6. ^ "Tony Benn – Official Website". Retrieved 2 May 2010. 
  7. ^ Hale, Leslie; Potter, Mark (January 2008). "Benn, William Wedgwood". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Online. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 2 May 2010. (subscription required (help)). 
  8. ^ Benn, Tony (2003). Free Radical. Continuum. p. 226.  
  9. ^ Brodie, Marc (January 2008). "Benn, Sir John Williams". Oxford National Dictionary of Biography Online. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 2 May 2010. (subscription required (help)). 
  10. ^ Stearn, Roger T. (2004). "Benn, Margaret Eadie Wedgwood". Oxford National Dictionary of Biography Online. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 2 May 2010. (subscription required (help)). 
  11. ^ "Tony Benn: You Ask The Questions". The Independent (London, UK: Independent News and Media). 19 August 2005. Retrieved 2 May 2010. 
  12. ^ a b Jesse Oldershaw (camera); Andy Cousins (editor) (25 April 2009). Tony Benn – Stop the War Conference 2009. Stop the War Coalition. Event occurs at 3:06. 
  13. ^ A fuller transcript of that speech, in which he called the Home Guard "Dad's Army", is given in the section "Retirement and final years".
  14. ^ "Tony Benn". The Biography Channel. Archived from the original on 30 September 2007. Retrieved 2 April 2007. 
  15. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 37124. p. 3077. 8 June 1945. Retrieved 14 March 2014.
  16. ^ "William Wedgwood Benn". Spartacus Educational. Retrieved 2 April 2007. 
  17. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 37327. p. 5276. 26 October 1945. Retrieved 14 March 2014.
  18. ^ "Mr Benn wipes away his past". The Times Diary (Times Newspapers). 18 March 1976. 
  19. ^ "Not Out". The Times (Diary). 4 April 1977. 
  20. ^ "Caroline Benn". Daily Telegraph (London, UK: Telegraph Media Group). 24 November 2000. Retrieved 2 May 2010. 
  21. ^ "Benn's granddaughter runs for MP". BBC News. 25 September 2007. Retrieved 2 May 2010. 
  22. ^ Skinitis, Alexia (10 January 2009). "Emily Benn the younger". Times Online (London, UK: Times Newspapers). Retrieved 2 May 2010. 
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  30. ^ Tony Benn and Peter Kellner "Tony Benn's Finest Speech", The Huffington Post, 14 March 2014.
  31. ^ "Peerage Act 1963". Retrieved 23 April 2015. 
  32. ^ Jad Adams, Tony Benn: A Biography (MacMillan 1992) ISBN 978-1849540964 at pages 203-4, e.g., Viscount Hinchingbrooke, and Lords Hogg and Douglas-Home.
  33. ^ The London Gazette: no. 43072. p. 6534. 2 August 1963.
  34. ^ "Tony Benn dies: his most memorable quotes". The Telegraph. 14 March 2014. Retrieved 14 March 2014. 
  35. ^ "A Revolution in British Stamp Design". The British Postal Museum and Archive. Retrieved 2 May 2010. 
  36. ^ Asa Briggs, The History of Broadcasting in the United Kingdom: Volume V: Competition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995, pp. 515-19, 540.
  37. ^ "Wireless and Television (Pirate Stations)", Hansard, HC Deb, vol. 730 cc858-70, 22 June 1966.
  38. ^ "Marine, & C., Broadcasting (Offences)", HC Deb 27 July 1966, Hansard, vol. 732 c1720.
  39. ^ "UK Confidential Transcripts: Tony Benn – The Labour Minister". BBC News. 1 January 2002. Retrieved 2 May 2010. 
  40. ^  
  41. ^ Benn, Tony (1995). The Benn Diaries. Arrow. p. 432.  
  42. ^ Powell, David (2003). Tony Benn: a political life (2 ed.). London & New York: Continuum. pp. 82, 84.  
  43. ^ Benn, Tony (1988). Out of the Wilderness: Diaries 1963–67. Arrow. p. xi–xiii.  
  44. ^ Benn, Tony (1988). Out of the Wilderness: Diaries 1963–67. p. xiii. 
  45. ^ Kavanagh, Dennis (1990). "Tony Benn: Nuisance or Conscience?". In Kavanagh, Dennis. Politics and Personalities. p. 184. 
  46. ^ Kavanagh, Dennis (1990). "Tony Benn: Nuisance or Conscience?". In Kavanagh, Dennis. Politics and Personalities. Macmillan. p. 78. 
  47. ^ Whiteley, Paul; Gordon, Ian (11 January 1980). "The Labour Party: Middle Class, Militant and Male".  
  48. ^ "Benn's call for SF to take seats".  
  49. ^ Emery, Fred (30 September 1980). "Mr Benn proposes timetable of one month to abolish Lords and leave EEC". The Times, archived by Gale Group. Retrieved 3 May 2010. (subscription required (help)). 
  50. ^ Seyd, Patrick (1987). The Rise and Fall of the Labour Left. Macmillan Education. p. 165.  
  51. ^ "House of Commons Statement: Falkland Islands". Margaret Thatcher Foundation. 15 June 1982. Retrieved 4 October 2007. 
  52. ^ "Benn on the couch". The Sun (News international). 1 March 1984. 
  53. ^ "Labour's new line-up". The Times (archived by Gale Group). 3 November 1983. Retrieved 3 May 2010. (subscription required (help)). 
  54. ^ "Chapter 06; ...1974 strike...a conversation with miners...Labour government... Benn helps divide miners...". Retrieved 3 May 2010. 
  55. ^ Robertson, Jack (23 April 2010). "25 years after the Great Miners’ Strike". International Socialism (London, UK: Socialist Workers Party) (126). Retrieved 3 May 2010. 
  56. ^ "Miners' Amnesty (General Pardon)". Hansard. House of Commons. 28 June 1985. Retrieved 2 May 2010. 
  57. ^ a b Stadlen, Nick (8 December 2006). "Brief Encounter: Tony Benn". The Guardian (London, UK: Guardian News and Media). Retrieved 3 May 2010. 
  58. ^ Hansard, HC Deb (22 November 1990) vol 181, cols 439–518, at 486
  59. ^ "Commonwealth of Britain Bill". Hansard. House of Commons. Retrieved 3 May 2010. 
  60. ^ Benn, Tony; Hood, Andrew (17 June 1993). Hood, Andrew, ed. Common Sense: New Constitution for Britain. London: Hutchinson.  
  61. ^ "50 Soho brothels targeted in raids". Herald Scotland. 16 February 2001. Retrieved 22 March 2014. 
  62. ^ a b Niki Adams; Tony Benn; et al. (22 February 2001). "Law violates sex workers". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 March 2014. 
  63. ^  
  64. ^ "Full text of Benn interview with Saddam". BBC News. 4 February 2003. Retrieved 3 May 2010. 
  65. ^ Million' march against Iraq war"'". BBC News. 16 February 2003. Retrieved 3 May 2010. 
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  75. ^ "The Magnificent Seven political heroes...". BBC News. 12 December 2006. Retrieved 4 October 2007. 
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  102. ^ "Suffragettes display". UK Parliament. Retrieved 12 February 2014. 
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  105. ^ "Tony Benn to unveil Islington People's Plaque commemorating the Peasants' Revolt". Islington Borough Council. 2 June 2011. Retrieved 3 November 2011. 
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  107. ^ "Bust celebrates politician's work". BBC News. Retrieved 4 July 2015. 
  108. ^ [2]
  109. ^ "Former Bristol Labour MP Tony Benn opens union HQ". BBC News. Retrieved 4 July 2015. 
  110. ^ "New Bristol Pounds". Bristol Pound. Retrieved 4 July 2015. 

External links

  • Hansard 1803–2005: contributions in Parliament by Tony Benn
  • Face-to-Face with Tony Benn, Freeview video interview by the Vega Science Trust.
  • Unofficial Tony Benn quotation site.
  • Andrew Roth. "Tony Benn Chesterfield and Bristol South East MP", The Guardian, 25 March 2001.
  • web guide to Benn.The Guardian
  • Tony Benn interview for Leftfield appearances at the Glastonbury Festival.
  • Tony Benn. "Atomic hypocrisy: West is not in a position to take a high moral line", The Guardian, 30 November 2005.
  • Amy Goodman. "Interview with Tony Benn: How Britain secretly helped Israel build its nuclear arsenal", Democracy Now!, 10 March 2006.
  • Benn in the 1960s as seen by Private Eye.
  • Audio interview with The Guardian.
  • His Address to the College Historical Society of Trinity College.
  • Interview with Tony Benn – Radio France Internationale, 28 March 2008 – 6-minute audio – Ahead of G20 marches, London.
  • Tony Benn on Tony Blair: "He Is Guilty of a War Crime", video report by Democracy Now!.
  • Late Developer: Review of Against the Tide: Diaries 1973–1976 by Tony Benn by Paul Foot (1985).
  • Works by or about Tony Benn at Internet Archive
  • Works by Tony Benn at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Stafford Cripps
MP for Bristol South East
Succeeded by
Malcolm St Clair
Preceded by
Peter Baker
Baby of the House
Succeeded by
Thomas Leslie Teevan
Preceded by
Thomas Leslie Teevan
Baby of the House
Succeeded by
John Eden
Preceded by
Malcolm St Clair
MP for Bristol South East
Constituency abolished
Preceded by
Eric Varley
MP for Chesterfield
Succeeded by
Paul Holmes
Political offices
Preceded by
Reginald Bevins
Postmaster General
Succeeded by
Edward Short
Preceded by
Frank Cousins
Minister of Technology
Succeeded by
Geoffrey Rippon
Preceded by
Peter Walker
Secretary of State for Industry
Succeeded by
Eric Varley
Preceded by
Eric Varley
Secretary of State for Energy
Succeeded by
David Howell
Party political offices
Preceded by
Brian Abel-Smith
Chairman of the Fabian Society
1964 – 1965
Succeeded by
Peter Townsend
Preceded by
Ian Mikardo
Chairman of the Labour Party
Succeeded by
William Simpson
Non-profit organisation positions
New office President of the
Stop the War Coalition

To be decided
Peerage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
William Wedgwood Benn
Viscount Stansgate
Title next held by
Stephen Benn

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