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Tony Benn dies: Lincolnshire tributes to the Labour politician

By Lincolnshire Echo  |  Posted: March 14, 2014

  • Tony Benn received an honorary doctorate in Lincoln

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Local tributes are being paid to Tony Benn, the veteran Labour politician, who has died at home aged 88.

He had been seriously ill and last month had a spell in hospital.

Lincoln's Conservative MP Karl McCartney said: "I cannot call myself a fan of his politics but he was someone I admired in politics.

"He was a man of true conviction and perhaps more of that is needed in politics.

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"He said there was no greater role in life than to argue on behalf of his constituents and that's what I try to emulate."

Nick Parker, spokesman for Lincoln Trade Unionists and Socialists Against Cuts, said: "Tony Benn was an absolute inspiration to me when I got involved in politics through the movement against the war in Iraq.

"When so many politicians demonstrate a lack of principles nowadays, he was prepared to speak out against the likes of Tony Blair and George Bush and against the spilling of blood for the profits of oil companies.

"We owe him a particular debt of gratitude in Lincoln for opening the Speakers Corner on the High Street, which our movement has used time and time again in recent years in protests against the endless austerity which he too opposed.

"He could explain the ideas of solidarity and socialism in an incredibly simple yet articulate way and inspired many in his long life.

"The best way to honour his legacy would be to get involved in the fight for a democratic socialist society organised in the interests of the millions, not the millionaires."

Lucy Rigby, Labour's propective Parliamentary candidate for Lincoln, Tweeted: "V sad to hear Tony Benn has died - a political giant and a man of huge integrity, principle, warmth & kindness. A truly wonderful man."

In a statement this morning, Mr Benn's 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.

"Arrangements for his funeral will be announced in due course."

Last year he said he did not fear death after suffering a stroke and explained that the death of his wife Caroline to cancer in 2000 had helped him come to terms with the idea.

In September 2012 Mr Benn collected his Honorary Doctorate from the University of Lincoln, and described the university’s graduates as academic Olympians.

Dr Andrew Defty, Reader in the School of Social and Political Sciences,at the University of Lincoln, said: "Most politicians start out as radicals, become more moderate as they get older, and in many cases end up in the House of Lords extolling the virtues of the unelected second chamber.

"Tony Benn did the opposite. He eschewed his hereditary peerage in the House of Lords, pursued a successful career as a Cabinet Minister under Harold Wilson, became an ever more radical voice on the Left of the Labour Party and ultimately left Parliament criticising its relevance to many people in modern Britain.

"Tony Benn’s radicalism belied his age and meant that he generated a level of respect and admiration particularly amongst young people, which many younger politicians struggle to attain.

"There is often a generation gap in politics which leaves young people feeling alienated from the political process. In his later years Tony Benn’s, largely self-proclaimed outsider status, and unflinching desire to challenge authority allowed him to bridge that gap.

"I know that many of our students, whose affiliations span the political spectrum, will be debating his legacy today but that there will be a level of admiration for his principled stand on many issues which is perhaps unique amongst British politicians.

"With such a long and diverse political career it is difficult to pinpoint Tony Benn’s most significant contribution to British politics.

"His fight to his revoke his hereditary peerage changed the British constitution, although did little to change the House of Lords.

"His contribution to the Labour Party will divide commentators.

"His stand against the lack of accountability within the European Community, is an ongoing debate in which his arguments will continue to have an impact.

"His real contribution to history may ultimately be the eight volumes of diaries and the huge volume of material collected in his personal archive, which chronicle post-war British politics.

"Yet it was his unwavering insistence that those with power - politicians, governments, businesses, soldiers, Eurocrats – should be answerable to the people which lies at the heart of his appeal to many and will ensure his ongoing relevance.”

Mr Benn, who retired as an MP in 2001 after 51 years “to spend more time on politics”, told the Echo in 2012 that he was honoured at being chosen for an honorary degree for his exceptional contribution to politics.

“There’s all the proper graduates getting their degrees and I’m one of the honorary ones,” said Mr Benn, who read philosophy, politics and economics at New College, Oxford.

“I think of the real graduates as academic Olympians.

“When you think about it, they have worked so hard over the years, which is why people should be interested in people with degrees.

“Fees are a heavy burden and I think it’s quite wrong.

“These graduates have paid in kind by giving up three years’ wages, while most of the Cabinet took their degrees at a time when you got a grant.”

Mr Benn, who launched Speakers’ Corner, in Cornhill, Lincoln, in September 2010, said undergraduates should not be put off despite inevitable debt.

“It’s a genuine sacrifice to do a degree but I think it is worth it,” he said.

“It opens you up to more interesting work and a degree is a requirement for certain jobs.”

In an earlier Echo interview after speaking at the Magna Carta 2008: Exploring Democracy event, hosted at the university, he shared his thoughts on education:

“I’m not very keen on the idea of the state failing people at the age of 11,” he said at the time.

“Some of the least well-educated people I have ever met went to public schools and Oxford.”

Mr Benn’s 1975 Who’s Who entry stated: “Education – still in progress.”

The Labour leader Ed Miliband paid tribute to him today.

He said: "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."

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  • Pete67  |  March 15 2014, 8:08AM

    I might have an inherent disliking for politicians these days, but at least Tony Benn had morals and kept to them which is a great rarity in politics these days. R I P Tony Benn!

  • GedlingTnPeck  |  March 14 2014, 1:36PM

    I had the honour and privelage to meet Tony a number of times and a more sincere man you could not wish to meet. Determinator you criticise Parker for makinga political point and then proceed to do so yourself by calling Tony's politics objectionable. Ionly wish mor politicians like Tony stood up for what they believed and was always a martyr for the little mans cause. A wonderful politician who will be sorely missed

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  • Determinator  |  March 14 2014, 11:07AM

    Why is it that lefties like Nick Parker have to make an extreme political point even about someone's death? The Iraq War was clearly not about plundering for oil. If it was like Parker says our fuel costs would be a hell of a lot lower. Tony Benn's politics were objectionable at best, but at least Karl McCartney can manage an appropriate respectful response.

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  • Determinator  |  March 14 2014, 10:59AM