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Tony Benn Obituary: A Conviction Politician
Tony Benn was one of the most charismatic, iconoclastic and - to many colleagues - infuriating figures of his generation.
Born into a world of privilege, and married to a wealthy American, he entered Westminster as a centre right politician.
But over time he veered to the hard left, renouncing not just his peerage but also the orthodoxy of mainstream power politics.
He had many critics but he stuck to his guns and in later years the pipe-smoking vegetarian acquired cult status, especially among young people.
He was born Anthony Neil Wedgewood Benn on April 3, 1925, at 40 Millbank, Westminster.
The son and grandson of MPs, Benn's links to the Labour movement ran deep.
His next-door neighbours were Sidney and Beatrice Webb, who wrote Clause IV of the Labour Party Constitution which was adopted by the party in 1918 and set out its aims and values.
His father, Viscount Stansgate, was a Liberal MP who defected to Labour and was then elevated to the Lords.
Tony Benn was educated at Westminster School and Balliol College, Oxford, interrupting his studies to serve in the RAF in the later stages of World War II.
In 1950 at the age of 25 he was elected the member for Bristol South-East and went on to serve as an MP for 47 years, a Labour party record.
After his father's death in 1960, he fought a long, hard and ultimately victorious battle to relinquish his peerage and remain in the Commons.
He was a cabinet minister in the 60s and 70s under Harold Wilson and James Callaghan, serving as technology minister, postmaster general, and industry and energy secretaries.
His ability was never in doubt but his unwillingness to compromise his ideals often put him at odds with his colleagues.
Wilson once commented waspishly that Benn had "immatured with age". His reply: "I haven't yet decided what I want to do ... when I grow up".
He supported unilateral nuclear disarmament and favoured closer ties between western and eastern Europe.
It was hardly surprising then that he was vilified by the right and once denounced as "The Most Dangerous Man in Britain".
But he also backed the abolition of capital punishment, the ordination of women priests and the televising of Parliament, showing himself way ahead of his time.
His main aim was to achieve peace in the world - he campaigned against both wars in the Gulf, insisting they were about profit, oil and control of the region.
The death of his wife Caroline, an educationalist and writer, in 2000, was a huge blow. They had four children and 10 grandchildren.
Benn retired from the Commons in May 2001 to, as he put it, "devote more time to politics".
He was an assiduous diarist, recording everything in his notebooks every night since 1940, seven volumes of which have been published.
He also wrote several books and tracts, including a powerful polemic against nuclear energy.
At different times he was described - with some justification perhaps - as self-righteous, a crackpot and manic.
But Benn was a compelling performer and when he spoke, people always listened.