Tony Benn, a veteran leader of the Labour Party who met Mahatma Gandhi and once remarked that it was Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru who had liberated Britain from the prejudice that lay behind British imperialism, died here on Friday at the age of 88.
In a statement his children Stephen, Hilary, Melissa and Joshua said their father died peacefully at his home in west London surrounded by his family. "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," they said in a statement.
A popular leader in the left and anti-racism movement in Britain, Benn’s father, Viscount Stansgate, was secretary of state for India from 1929 to 1931. Benn met Gandhi when the latter visited London for political talks in 1931.
A cardboard cut-out of Gandhi had a prominent place in Benn’s house in Holland Park. He became an MP in 1950 and served in the cabinet of Harold Wilson and James Callaghan. Benn remarked on the death of Nehru in 1964: "It is sometimes said that Britain liberated India. In fact the reverse is the truth. Gandhi and Nehru liberated us. By winning their freedom, they freed us from the ignorance and prejudice that lay behind the myth of Britain’s imperial destiny".
In a recent interview, Benn remembered meeting Gandhi as a six-year-old in 1931: "(My) father, who was Secretary of State for India, invited Gandhi to London and I met him. I remember this little man asking me and my brother to come and sit on the floor with him. He talked to us for ages. I don’t remember what he said but I do remember the power of the man." In 2010, when a British solider was jailed for protesting against the war in Afghanistan, was hailed by Benn as acting in the "tradition" of Gandhi.
Tributes poured in across the political divide as news of his passing away was released. Labour leader Ed Miliband called him an "iconic figure of our age", and said: "He will be remembered as a champion of the powerless, a great parliamentarian and a conviction politician."
Prime Minister David Cameron said: "Tony Benn was a magnificent writer, speaker and campaigner. There was never a dull moment listening to him, even if you disagreed with him."
Benn’s son, Hilary, has been a Labour MP from Leeds Central since 1999.