Edinburgh pays tribute as Tony Benn dies at 88

Tony Benn. Pic: Getty

Tony Benn. Pic: Getty

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Veteran Labour politician Tony Benn has died at home at the age of 88, his family said today.

The former Cabinet minister, who had been ill for some time, passed away this morning at his home in London surrounded by family members.

In a statement, 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.”

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Politics ran in the family for Tony Benn. His father, William Wedgwood Benn, was Liberal MP for Leith from 1918 until 1927 and fought against the amalgamation of the port into Edinburgh. Mr Benn’s son Hilary is an MP and served in the last Labour Cabinet and granddaughter Emily Benn stood as a Labour candidate at the last general election.

Mr Benn was first elected to the Commons in 1950, but his father’s death a decade later led to a gruelling three-year battle – which he eventually won – for the right to give up the peerage he automatically inherited.

When Harold Wilson was elected Prime Minister in 1964, Mr Benn served first as Postmaster General, where he oversaw the opening of the Post Office Tower, then the UK’s tallest building, and later as Minister of Technology, which included responsibility for the development of Concorde.

Following Labour’s 1974 victory, he held the Industry and Energy portfolios and after the party lost office, he stood for the deputy leadership in 1981, narrowly losing to Denis Healey.

He was respected on all sides as a strong and passionate voice in the Commons.

Mr Benn stood down as an MP at the 2001 general election, saying he was “leaving parliament in order to spend more time on politics”.

Today, Edinburgh North and Leith Labour MSP Malcolm Chisholm said: “Tony Benn was a towering figure in UK politics for over 60 years. He had a great capacity to inspire people because he was a very idealistic politician.

“He is always identified with big international issues of war and peace, but he was also a very keen constituency MP and said he got a lot of his politics from his surgeries.”

Labour leader Ed Miliband paid tribute to an “iconic figure of our age”. He said: “He will be remembered as a champion of the powerless, a great parliamentarian and a conviction politician.”

David Cameron said: “Tony Benn was a magnificent writer, speaker and campaigner. There was never a dull moment listening to him, even if you disagreed with him.”