(Tony Benn talked with young activists well into his 80s)

Anthony Neil Wedgwood “Tony” Benn a legendary socialist activist and previous UK cabinet minister died today at age 88. After having a long career within government supporting democratic socialist policies Benn endeavored to leave public service in order to offer a compelling vision of a democratic society as a private citizen. His advocacy and passion for his beliefs was respected even by his political opponents in the center and on the right.

Tony Benn joined the British Parliament as a Labour MP in 1950 at the age of 25. Ten years later his father died making Benn the inheritor of his peerage and thus disqualified from being in the House of Commons. Rather than accept the peerage, Benn attempted to resign and run for his seat which eventually led to the Peerage Act 1963, allowing Peers to resign.

Benn would go on as an MP to serve as Postmaster General where he introduced the Girobank. Later he served as Minister of Technology and the Secretary of State for Industry before drifting to the left wing of the Labour Party in the late 1970s.

After his political evolution Benn laid out a strong left wing agenda when competing for leadership in the Labour Party calling for the nationalizing of industries, putting in capital controls, and restructuring the British economy as an industrial democratic system led by trade unions. He also called for ending the House of Lords and creating more seats in the British Parliament.

Meanwhile the United Kingdom came under the grip of Margaret Thatcher for whom Benn disagreed with immensely becoming one of her most vocal critics, particularly her attack on trade unions and privatization schemes. This made Benn a target for Rubert Murdoch’s media machine in the UK where Benn faced nasty coverage that included questioning his mental health.

Though “New Labour” under Prime Minister Tony Blair embraced Thatcherism, Benn held true to his hard left views opposing privatization and war until 2001 when he decided not to run for re-election saying he was ”leaving parliament in order to spend more time on politics.”

He became a leading critic of the 2003 war in Iraq and hosted his own TV series articulating his political views called “Big Ideas That Changed The World – Democracy.” Benn believed in being optimistic despite often being the loser in political contests saying:

It is very important to keep optimism. I think there is a characteristic of the left to be professionally pessimistic and I don’t go for that. I think progress has been made by two flames that have always been burning in the human heart – the flame of anger against injustice and the flame of hope that you can build a better world.

Farrell Tony, we will miss you.