IN AN interview with Oxford Mail reporter Reg Little in 2003, Tony Benn recalled the most important day of his life.

It was the day he proposed to his wife Caroline on a bench in St Giles churchyard. He later bought the bench from Oxford City Council for £10 and put it in their front garden and since her death in 2000 from cancer, the bench has stood in front of her ashes.

Mr Benn died at home yesterday, aged 88, prompting hundreds of tributes from politicians of all parties and others who had known or met him.

An MP for 51 years, the life-long socialist campaigner and Labour Party member, forged his political career at New College Oxford in 1946.

He became president of the Oxford Union the following year, and rose to fame as a public speaker.

His ties to the city stayed strong throughout his life, returning to the Oxford Union as recently as last year.

Yesterday, New College warden, Sir Curtis Price, said: “The fellows of New College and I were saddened to learn of the death of Tony Benn.

“He was one of the most famous of all our graduates and remained a loyal alumnus throughout his career. He often returned and was elected an Honorary Fellow in 2005.

"He was particularly pleased that two of his grandchildren, Emily and Daniel, followed him to New College and that at least one of them is thinking of a career in politics.”

Mr Benn was also a supporter of the annual Levellers Day ceremony in Burford, which commemorates three soldiers from Oliver Cromwell’s army executed in the town in 1649.

He attended the second Levellers Day in 1976 and returned three times.

thisisoxfordshire: With Alastair Campbell at Oxford Literary Festival in 2008

Oxford City Council’s Labour leader Bob Price, who helped found the ceremony, said yesterday: “Although I disagreed with some of his political views, particularly in the 1980s, I was always very impressed by his intellectual honesty and his ability to relate to such a wide range of people in a very human and meaningful way.

“He was a very nice person, who was always committed to the people of this country.”

Labour MP for Oxford East, Andrew Smith said: “Tony Benn was a towering figure in Labour and left-wing politics.

thisisoxfordshire: Speaking at Levellers Day in Burford in 1979

“His great strengths were his passion for principles, his personal courtesy, and his radical thinking.

“He was a great inspiration to many, and by the end of his life, was respected right across the political spectrum.”


Life Lines

Born Anthony Neil Wedgwood Benn in London in 1925, the young Tony attended Westminster School.

His father, William Wedgwood Benn, was a Liberal MP who switched to the Labour Party in 1928 and was Secretary of State for India from 1929 until 1931. He was elevated to the House of Lords with the title of Viscount Stansgate in 1941.

Tony Benn won his first by-election as Labour candidate for Bristol South in 1950.


The then Anthony Wedgwood Benn in 1950, centre

1960, on the death of his father, he inherited a peerage which prevented him from sitting in House of Commons.

In 1963 he became the first peer to renounce his title, and was re-elected in Bristol South.

In 1988 he lost a leadership battle to Neil Kinnock.

In 2001, on the eve of the invasion of Iraq by allied troops, he became president of the Stop the War coalition. He stepped down from Parliament the same year.

A well known and respected writer, he later published diaries spanning his political career.