Tributes pour in for former Bristol MP Tony Benn – the man who brought us Concorde and hi-tech

March 14, 2014

A book of remembrance has been opened in Bristol’s City Hall for former Labour cabinet minister and Bristol MP Tony Benn, who has died aged 88.

The book is in front of the bust in the building's lobby of Mr Benn who served the city as MP for Bristol South East between 1950 and 1983.

As minister for technology in Harold Wilson’s government in the late 1960s he was responsible for the Concorde project and Bristol’s role in designing and building the iconic Anglo-French aircraft. Many of the innovations on the supersonic plane formed the basis for technology still used in Bristol's vibrant aerospace industry.

Picture: Isujosh/Wikipedia

He also brought Inmos, the pioneering State-owned computer chip company, to Bristol, insisting that the UK needed to develop new hi-tech industries to compete with the US. Inmos, unlike many of Mr Benn's State interventions in industry, was hugely successful and within a few years had 60% of the market for its innovative chips.

It also became the crucible for Bristol's world-leading silicon chip industry, spawning scores of firms and putting the city on the international tech map.

He also officially opened Oldbury Power Station near Bristol in 1967 – one of the first wave of UK nuclear power plants. However, Mr Benn later changed his view of atomic energy and became vehemently opposed to nuclear power.

Mayor George Ferguson led local tributes to the city’s highest-profile political figure of modern times and said he would consider ideas for a permanent memorial to the Labour stalwart.

He said: “Tony Benn was undoubtedly the most remarkable politician to represent a Bristol constituency since Edmund Burke.

“He was a great orator and I always admired him on a personal level and stood side by side with him on such issues as human and civil rights.

“I shall have enduring memories of him – not least my last conversation with him while waiting for a bus by Waterloo Bridge reminiscing about his time as a young MP in Bristol of which he was enormously proud.”

In a statement Mr Benn’s children Stephen, Hilary, Melissa and Joshua said Mr Benn died peacefully early this morning at his home in west London surrounded by his family.

“We would like to express our heartfelt thanks to all the NHS staff and carers who have looked after him with such kindness in hospital and at home,” the family said.

“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.”

Mr Benn was unexpectedly selected to succeed Sir Stafford Cripps as the Labour candidate for Bristol South East in 1950, winning the seat in a by-election on November 30 aged just 25.

He remained until 1983 election when the constituency was abolished by boundary changes, and he lost a selection contest with Michael Cocks in the new seat of Bristol South.

Rejecting offers from the new seat of Livingston in Scotland, Mr Benn contested Bristol East, losing to Conservative candidate Jonathan Sayeed. He was selected for the next Labour seat to fall vacant, and was elected for Chesterfield in 1984.

Labour MP for Bristol South since 1987, Dawn Primarolo, gave an emotional tribute to Tony Benn this morning.

“I first met Tony when I was a 21 year old Labour Party member. He inspired a generation of young Labour activists with his passionate beliefs in democracy and social justice, and that party politics can change our communities for the better,” she said.

“For much of his life Tony was vilified by his opponents, but in recent years he had come to be respected for his principled opinions. He was always extremely loyal to the Labour Party, despite well-known differences.

“Tony will be remembered in Bristol as the Labour MP for Bristol South East for 30 years, a great campaigner for peace and a powerful advocate for equality.

“Politics in Britain has lost a great man.”

The Lord Mayor of Bristol, Cllr Faruk Choudhury, added: “RIP Tony Benn, Bristol MP. Words cannot do this great man justice. A true inspiration and will be sorely missed.”

Labour leader Ed Miliband led the national tributes to an “iconic figure of our age”.

“He will be remembered as a champion of the powerless, a great parliamentarian and a conviction politician,” Mr Miliband said.

“Tony Benn spoke his mind and spoke up for his values. Whether you agreed with him or disagreed with him, everyone knew where he stood and what he stood for.”

The family said arrangements for Mr Benn’s funeral will be announced in due course.

Mr Benn often returned to Bristol to meet friends and former colleagues in the city and was also a firm supporter of the local National Union of Journalists (NUJ) branch. The branch holds an annual Benn Lecture which explores media issues. In 2006 Mr Benn, a life-long NUJ member, spoke with passion about truth-telling and lies.

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