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Tony Benn: Radical figurehead of the left

Tony Benn acting as disc jockey on BBC Radio London's 'Morning Star' programme. Photo: Press Association

By any standards Tony Benn's was a rich and fascinating life. Born into a political family he met both Gandhi and Lloyd George before he was in his teens. He went on to become a kind of avuncular, radical figurehead, a national treasure in a cardigan. He'd spent time in the RAF and the BBC by 1950 when, at 25 years old, he was elected to Parliament. Benn first wrote his own name in the history books when he became the first British peer to formally renounce his title in 1963.

He had become Viscount Stansgate on the death of his father. That automatically disqualified him from sitting in the House of Commons and Benn wasn't having it. He fought hard to forsake his inherited seat on the red benches for the electoral uncertainty of the green. More commonly politicians aim to travel the other way.

Tony Benn addressing the Labour Party Conference in 1970. Credit: Press Association

During more than half a century as an MP, Benn held several Government posts. As Postmaster General he opened Britain's tallest building, The Post Office Tower, in 1964. As Minister for Technology he oversaw the development of Concorde, later he became Industry Secretary then Energy Secretary.

But the Tony Benn for which many people have so much affection really came into being after he left government. His politics veered leftwards; he wanted to nationalise industry, leave the EEC and abolish the House of Lords.

He supported the miners' strike, opposed the Falklands War and wanted to get rid of the monarchy. So it was perhaps not his ideas which turned him into a national treasure so much as his integrity - he believed you should say nothing at the cabinet table that you would not say in the House of Commons and he seemed to stick to that.

Tony Benn speaks at the Celebration of the Life of Nelson Mandela last December. Credit: Stuart C. Wilson/PA Wire

Benn eventually left Parliament in 2001 famously saying he wanted to "spend more time on politics". From then on he became an unlikely fixture at events like the Glastonbury festival and the President of the Stop the War Coalition. In 2003 he travelled to Baghdad to interview Saddam Hussein in an attempt to prevent the Iraq War.

That may have failed but Tony Benn continued to campaign well into his eighties, addressing rallies in Trafalgar Square from the base of Nelson's column. He was delighted when Parliament voted against military action in Syria.

Tony Benn leaves behind him four children, ten grandchildren, eight volumes of diaries and several interesting plaques in the Palace of Westminster. He also leaves many admirers who might not have agreed with his ideas but respected his gentle humour, flinty integrity and bloody-minded independence.

Political Correspondent Romilly Weeks looks back at Mr Benn's life in politics:

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