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Tony Benn: Maverick crusader of Labour left wing

Chris Moncrieff

Tony Benn was for decades the most independent-minded, powerful and passionate voice of the hard-left at Westminster, and the man whose crusading zeal led to the new law which allowed him to renounce his own peerage and return to the House of Commons.

There was no one else in his era who so superbly and with such fire led the Left and who so utterly ignored his own personal prospects in order to get his message across.

He served in Harold Wilson's Cabinets, but was a constant thorn in the then Prime Minister's side and more than once came within a touch of resignation or dismissal.

Benn was contemptuous of the Labour leadership under Neil Kinnock, and made more than one challenge for the top post.

And when, after 18 years in opposition, Labour was swept to power in 1997 under Tony Blair's leadership, this was still not the Labour Government of which Benn had often dreamed about.

But although he was unpopular with the Labour hierarchy he remained the darling of the rank-and-file. He was uncompromising in his views which he distilled with passion and, above all, clarity, and he probably commanded more popular support among Labour voters than most figures in the movement in his era.

But, in 1999, Benn announced at the age of 74 that he would not be fighting his seat in Parliament again.

Yet he insisted this was by no means retirement from the political battle – in a way it was the reverse of that.

Away from politics, Benn was renowned as a prodigious tea-drinker, and his desk – whether in Government or opposition – was invariably laden with the largest mugs that money could buy.

Anthony Wedgwood Benn was born on April 3, 1925. But he always wanted to be known purely as Tony Benn.

He is survived by four children. His beloved wife Caroline, who supported him throughout his tempestuous political career, died late in the year 2000 after fighting a battle against cancer.

Benn was hugely proud of his son Hilary – by no means a Bennite – who became Labour MP for Leeds Central in 1999.

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