Issue date: 14 March 2014
The University is saddened to learn of the death of Tony Benn. Tony Benn was awarded an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws in recognition of his achievements and his devotion to socialism, democracy and parliament by UWE Bristol in November 2001.
Professor Steve West, UWE Vice -Chancellor, commented, “We are very sad to learn of the death of Tony Benn, he pursued what he believed in with passion and he stood strongly for the values that he thought were right. He had a huge influence in the City of Bristol and was a formidable national figure in politics as well as being one of the greatest orators of recent times.”
Tony Benn was educated at Westminster School and New College, Oxford. After service in the Royal Air Force between 1943-1945 he returned to Oxford in 1946 and became President of the Student Union. After University, he married in 1949 and has three sons and one daughter.
Having joined the Labour Party in 1942, on his 17th birthday Tony Benn entered Parliament at the age of 25 in 1950 as Labour member for Bristol South East, then the youngest MP in the House of Commons. The Chairman of his Bristol constituency Labour Party was Dr Robert Glendinning, later Chairman of the Board of Governors of Bristol Polytechnic and the University of the West of England. In 1956 Tony Benn became a founder member, alongside Dr Glendinning, of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and in 1954 a founder member of the Movement for Colonial Freedom.
After the death of his father in 1959 Tony Benn declined to take his hereditary seat in the House of Lords.
His hereditary title disqualified him from sitting in the House of Commons but he stood again and won the by-election. This led to the law being changed to allow peers to disclaim their titles. In 1963 he disclaimed his title of Lord Stansgate and re-entered the House of Commons.
Tony Benn held ministerial office in Harold Wilson's Labour administration, which came into office in 1964. He was Postmaster General from 1964 to 1966 during which time he recommended the establishment of the GPO as a public corporation and founded the Giro. Between 1966-1970 he held ministerial responsibilities for Technology, Aviation, and Power. In 1972 he became Chairman of the Labour Party. Two years later he became Secretary of State for Industry and Minister for Posts and Telecommunications.
After a period on the back benches following Labour's defeat in the 1979 General Election, Tony Benn ran against Denis Healey for the deputy leadership of the Labour Party in 1981, losing very narrowly. In those years he became a champion of the Labour party's traditional socialist values and of the role of parliament and its elected members.
Tony Benn was a formidable politician with a reputation as one of the House of Common's finest orators and a passionate concern for democracy. His service as a Bristol Member of Parliament will long be remembered as will his exceptional knowledge and love of parliament. He was the longest-serving Labour MP ever when he stood down before the 2001 general election to concentrate on politics outside Parliament, particularly work with pensioners' movements, peace groups, and trade unions. He is the author of 14 books including 7 volumes of Diaries.