British Labour politician, a cabinet minister in the 1960s and 1970s and a leading figure on the party's left wing. He was minister of technology 1966–70 and secretary of state for industry 1974–75, but his campaign against entry to the European Community (EC; now the European Union) led to his transfer to the Department of Energy 1975–79. A skilled parliamentary orator, he twice unsuccessfully contested the Labour Party leadership iin 1976 and 1988. Benn stood down in May 2001 as an MP after 50 years in Parliament, but remained politically active until his death.
Early life The son of the 1st Viscount Stansgate, a Labour peer, Benn was educated at Oxford University. He joined the Labour Party at the age of 18 and was an RAF pilot during World War II. He was member of Parliament for Bristol Southeast 1950–60, when he succeeded to his father's title. Despite refusing to accept the title and being re-elected in Bristol in 1961, he was debarred from sitting in the House of Commons by a judgement of the Electoral Court. His subsequent campaign to enable those inheriting titles to disclaim them led to the passing of the Peerage Act in 1963; Benn was the first person to disclaim a title under this act.
Member of cabinet Benn was again MP for Bristol Southeast 1963–83 and postmaster general in Harold Wilson's 1964 Labour government, becoming a member of the cabinet in 1966 as minister of technology. After Labour's defeat in 1970, he was the opposition spokesperson on trade and industry 1970–74 and a leading campaigner against the UK's entry into the EC. He was chair of the Labour Party 1971–72. In March 1974 he became secretary of state for industry. At the time of the 1975 referendum he campaigned against the renegotiated terms of UK membership of the EC, and in June 1975 was appointed secretary of state for energy.
Defeated for leadership Benn unsuccessfully contested the Labour Party leadership in 1976, defeated by James Callaghan. After challenging Denis Healey for the deputy leadership of the party in 1981 and narrowly losing, he became the acknowledged leader of the party's left wing, and the term ‘Bennite left’ emerged.
He gave unconditional support to the striking miners in 1983 (for which he was demonized in the right-wing press). After being defeated at the 1983 general election, he returned to Parliament as MP for Chesterfield in 1984. In 1988, in the wake of the party's defeat at the 1987 general election, he unsuccessfully challenged for the Labour leadership against Neil Kinnock, who had moved the party to the right since taking charge in 1983. Thereafter, Benn became increasingly marginalized on the party's left wing, but remained an outspoken backbench critic of the centralization of party control under the ‘New Labour’ leadership of Tony Blair. In 2003 he opposed the US-led war in Iraq and Blair's decision to back it.
In 2003, his son, Hilary Benn, became a cabinet minister in Tony Blair's government.
Diaries Benn's diaries Out of the Wilderness (1987), Office Without Power (1988), Against the Tide (1989), Conflicts of Interest (1990), Future for Socialism (1991), The End of an Era (1992), Years of Hope (1994), and The Benn Diaries, 1940–90 (1995) cover in enormous detail the events of the period, and are based on tape-recordings he has made of every talk and interview given.
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