In a documentary that is to be released this spring, called ‘Tony Benn, Will and Testament’, an ageing, pipe-in-hand Tony Benn jokes, “I was once called the most dangerous man in Britain and now I am called a national treasure.”
He goes on: “What they are really saying is that you are a kindly, harmless old gentleman. Well, I am old, and can be kindly, but am not harmless!”
Tony Benn – socialist, parliamentarian (he was the longest serving Labour member of parliament) and firebrand campaigner for progressive causes, died on Friday at the age of 88 after a prolonged illness.
Born Anthony Neil Wedgwood Benn on 3 April 1925 to a privileged, though left-leaning, family that was politically well-connected (Respect Party MP George Galloway tweeted that Mahatma Gandhi used to bounce a little Tony on his lap), Tony Benn first stood for elections in1950 on a Labour ticket from Bristol South East, becoming the youngest MP in Parliament.
He renounced his peerage in the early 1960s in order to continue as an MP in the House of Commons.
Tony Benn’s position was ever and unwaveringly on the Left both inside and outside the Labour Party in his long political career, during which he was a minister both in the Harold Wilson and James Callaghan labour governments.
As a parliamentarian, he campaigned on a range of issues both national and international, joining progressive causes like the anti-apartheid movement, and giving his support to the miners during their historic strike in the mid-1980s.
He quit parliament in 2001, in order “to spend more time on politics” as he famously said. And more time on politics he did, campaigning across the country, writing, and speaking at meetings to the young and old.
Fiercely opposed to Britain’s involvement in Iraq during the Blair years, he actively campaigned against war, becoming President of the StoptheWar coalition.
Labour leader Ed Miliband called him an “iconic figure of our age.” “He will be remembered as a champion of the powerless, a great parliamentarian and a conviction politician,” he said.