The Right Honourable Anthony Neil Wedgwood Benn (born April 3, 1925), known as Tony Benn, formerly 2nd Viscount Stansgate, is a British politician regarded as being on the left of the Labour Party.
Tony Benn's father William Wedgwood Benn was a Liberal MP who defected to Labour and was later elevated to the Lords. Both his grandfathers (John Williams Benn and Daniel Holmes) were also Liberal MPs (for Wapping and Devonport, and Govan, respectively).
He is a cousin of the actress, Margaret Rutherford.
Benn was educated at Westminster School and New College, Oxford. After serving in the RAF in the later stages of World War II, he worked as a radio producer for the BBC. He was elected to Parliament as member for Bristol South-East in 1950, at the age of 25, to succeed Stafford Cripps.
Benn was regarded as a centrist within the Labour Party; he did not join the Bevanite left. However he knew that he would have to fight the establishment over Peerage law. Before taking a Peerage from Winston Churchill, his father asked his elder brother Michael if he would object; as he intended training for the priesthood, Michael Wedgwood Benn had no objections, but two years later he was shot down and killed and his younger brother became heir to the Viscountcy of Stansgate. Knowing that he would be disqualified from the British House of Commons when his father died, Benn campaigned from the early 1950s for a change in the law to allow peers to renounce their titles and continue to sit in the Commons.
In November 1960 Benn's father died, and he lost his seat in the Commons. Still insisting on his right to abandon his unwelcome peerage, Benn fought to retain his seat in the by-election caused by his succession. Despite his disqualification, the people of Bristol South-East re-elected him at the subsequent by-election. An electoral court decided that the voters were fully aware that Benn was disqualified, and gave the seat to the Conservative runner up in the by-election, Malcolm St Clair. Benn continued his campaign, and eventually the Conservative government accepted the need for a change in the law. The Peerage Act 1963, allowing renunciation of peerages, was given the royal assent and became law shortly after 6 pm on July 31, 1963, and Benn was the first peer to renounce his title, at 6.22 pm on that day. St Clair took the Chiltern Hundreds, (making himself ineligible to continue as an MP, and so effectively resigning), and Benn returned to the Commons after winning a by-election on August 20.
In the 1960s government of Harold Wilson he became Postmaster General and then Minister of Technology, a post which allowed his enthusiasm for gadgets to shine through. In the 1970s he became Secretary of State for Industry and then for Energy, including responsibility for overseeing the development of Concorde (already commissioned by his Tory predecessor). By the end of the 1970s he was clearly identified as a left-winger.
In 1981 he stood for election against the incumbent Denis Healey as Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, disregarding the appeal from party leader Michael Foot either to stand for the leadership or to abstain from inflaming the party's divisions. Benn defended his decision with an insistence that it was not about personalities but about policies. The contest was closely fought and Healey emerged victorious by a margin of barely 1%. The decision of several moderate left wing MPs, especially Neil Kinnock, to abstain from supporting Benn triggered the split of the Campaign Group from the left of the Tribune Group.
Change of Constituency
Benn's Bristol South-East constituency was abolished by boundary changes in 1983, and he failed to depose Michael Cocks in the safe seat of Bristol South. Rejecting offers from the new seat of Livingston in Scotland, Benn fought and was defeated in Bristol East by Conservative candidate Jonathan Sayeed. As the darling of Labour activists it was not surprising that he was selected for the first Labour seat to fall vacant, and he was elected as MP for Chesterfield in a by-election the following year when Eric Varley resigned. His support for the 1984-1985 miners' strike resulted in much hostility from the conservative press. He stood for election as Party Leader in 1988 and was defeated again.
In 2001 he retired from Parliament "to devote more time to politics", and has since toured with a one-man stage show. He became a leading figure of the British opposition to a war on Iraq, and in February 2003 he travelled to Baghdad to meet and interview Saddam Hussein. The interview was shown on British television. He also spoke out against the Iraq war at the protest in London organised the Stop the War Coalition, attended by over 1 million people.
In October 2003, Benn was a guest of British Airways on the last-ever scheduled Concorde flight from New York to London.
Tony Benn is a prolific diarist: seven volumes of his diaries have been published (the first six collected as ISBN 0099634112, the latest available as ISBN 009941502X). In August 2003, London DJ Charles Bailey created a rap album of Benn's speeches (ISBN 1904734030).
Tony Benn was married to American-born educationalist Caroline Middleton DeCamp (from Cincinnati, Ohio, daughter of a lawyer) from 1949 until her death in 2000. They had four children - Stephen, Hilary, Melissa and Joshua. Their son Hilary is a Labour MP and cabinet minister.