TRIBUTES are being paid to the veteran Labour politician Tony Benn, a regular at Dorset's Martyrs Festival in Tolpuddle.
The former cabinet minister died at home in London at the age of 88, his family said this morning.
In a statement his children Stephen, Hilary, Melissa and Joshua said: ''It is with great sadness that we announce that our father Tony 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.
''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.”
Speaking at last year's festival in Tolpuddle, where he was a regular alongside singer-songwriter Billy Bragg, Mr Benn said: “I think Tolpuddle is one of the great events in the labour movement.
“It reminds us of the roots of our own faith, people who are prepared to sacrifice everything to build trade unions, which are fundamental to our survival today.”
Tony Benn retired from the House of Commons in 2001 to “spend more time involved with politics”.
He brought his successful one-man show to the Lighthouse in Poole in 2009 and spoke to the Daily Echo.
He said: “You know, the intelligence of the British public is being severely under-estimated by the media and politicians. People aren't just interested in sport, sex and gossip. Nothing excites me more than to hear a perceptive point made - I may not agree, but I want to hear it. I think things are changing again and people are willing to listen to ideas.”
He added: “I've just started a new book and it has the best title of any I've written but is easily the most difficult. A Letter to My Grandchildren is my attempt to pass on anything I may have learned that could be useful to them. I've learned that when you talk to young people you should start by saying 'My generation has made a complete cock-up of the world and you must do better, you have to.' Then they listen to you.
“I'm an old man now, I want nothing for myself, but I have 10 grandchildren and I worry about the world they're growing into. I'm frightened by war, ecological disaster, the nuclear question - we might all die of swine flu now - so you have to keep questioning.
“It's interesting that although political questions change, the moral ones never change - it was wrong to kill someone with a bow and arrow and it's still wrong to kill them with an atom bomb.”
Bournemouth East Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood tweeted this morning "Sad news re Tony Benn. One of my 1st engagements as MP was debating role of unions with him and @BBCPeterH at the Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival."
Lord Knight of Weymouth, formerly the South Dorset Labour MP Jim Knight, said: “He was an impossible man not to like, admire and respect – and because he had a fundamental decency in the way he wanted to relate to everyone and he showed respect to other people, that commanded respect back.
“He did what he felt people can’t do now, which is remain close to his principles, close to his beliefs and not to compromise, not be cowed by pressure of what we’re supposed to think by the media. He said what he thought.”
He said it was a tribute to Tony Benn that his children and grandchildren had gone on to make contributions in politics. His son Hilary is shadow communities secretary, while granddaughter Emily stood at the last general election at the age of 18.
Lord Knight added: “It’s a huge loss, more to them than the rest of us but it’s a massive loss for the whole of the labour movement.”
Dorset-based singer-songwriter Billy Bragg, who is in Australia, posted a tribute on Facebook He said: “I was about to go onstage at a trade union rally here in Melbourne tonight when I heard from a member of the audience that Tony Benn has died.
“Tony was responsible for educating me about the English radical tradition. During the miner's strike, he gave me a copy of his 1984 book Writings on the Wall: a Radical and Socialist Anthology 1215-1984. Having got most of my politics from pop music, it was a real eye opener, not only introducing me to the Levellers and the Diggers, but the Luddites and the Chartists too.
“I heard him speak many times since then and he never failed to connect whatever issue he was talking about with the tradition of radical dissent both here and abroad. “
He added: “I shall raise a pint of tea to him tonight here in Australia and hope that I may emulate him by becoming more radical as I grow older.”