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Exeter pays tribute to veteran Labour politician Tony Benn

By Exeter Express and Echo  |  Posted: March 14, 2014

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Tony Benn at a rally at the Barnfield Theatre in Exeter in 1980. He is pictured with Doug Hitchcock, Rod Tremlett, Phil Bialyk and Ian Ducat

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Tributes have been paid by people across Exeter following the death of veteran Labour politician Tony Benn.

The left-wing activist, born Anthony Neil Wedgwood Benn, was 88.

His grandfather, John Benn, had served as MP for Devonport between 1904 and 1910.

Mr Benn was also high-profile supporter of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

His family said: "We will miss above all his love which has sustained us throughout our lives."

Councillor Phil Bialyk remembers Mr Benn speaking at a rally at the Barnfield Theatre in 1980.

Cllr Bialyk, who was reopresenting the RMT, is pictured with Doug Hitchcock, of the T&G in Exeter, Rod Tremlett, President of Exeter TUC and Ian Ducat, of Unison.

He said: "I remember it well. It was a great day and we had lots of workers there. Tony Benn was inspiring. His death is a great loss - he kept our politics alive.

"It has been devastating to loss Bob Crow and Tony Benn in the same week."

Exeter barrister John Lloyd, a former Parliamentary Labour candidate for Exeter, said: “I first met Tony Benn properly in 1979 when he sat in our garden in Newtown, drank tea, smoked his pipe and enchanted young Labour activists with his trenchant views.

“He was a mesmerising speaker, but many of his colleagues thought him a bad team player.

“At that time he was hated and demonised by most of the right wing press, so it was fascinating to see his gradual metamorphosis into a Grand Old Man of British politics.

“His diaries published over these years gained him a wider following.”

Express and Echo editor Jonpaul Hedge said: "He was one of the most interesting people I have been lucky enough to interview. He had strong links with the Way With Words Festival at Dartington and was happy to speak on any topic, usually with great insight. I also remember seeing him sat on his briefcase at Exeter St David's waiting for a train - enjoying the sun. Some students came up to him and started talking, an open debate started there and then. He held court very well and whatever your political stance, you were left with respect for him"

Mr Benn became an MP in November 1950 and served in the Cabinet under Harold Wilson and James Callaghan.

A major figure on the left of the party, he narrowly missed out on the deputy leadership in 1981 and went on to be a popular public speaker, anti-war campaigner and political diarist.

In a statement his children Stephen, Hilary, Melissa and Joshua said Mr Benn, who had been seriously ill, 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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