Britain bids farewell to socialist stalwart Tony Benn

Britain bids farewell to socialist stalwart Tony Benn

LONDON - Comrades and relatives bade a tearful farewell Thursday to Tony Benn, the totem of the British left whose funeral was held opposite parliament where he served for half a century.

There were tears and applause as Benn's coffin was driven from the Houses of Parliament in London to St Margaret's Church across the road, his coffin topped with red roses.

A Labour cabinet minister in the 1960s and 1970s, Benn was a widely respected orator who clashed with his party's leadership over its drift away from the radical socialism he espoused.

Aged 88, Benn died peacefully at his west London home on March 14, surrounded by his family.

Former Labour foreign secretary Margaret Beckett, 71, was among those shedding a tear as Benn's coffin was taken into the church.

"We give you thanks for Tony's passion for justice, for his integrity and tenacity in refusing to compromise in striving for what he believed to be right," Reverend Rose Hudson-Wilkin, the parliament speaker's chaplain, said in a prayer.

After the service, socialist anthem "The Red Flag" was played.

Well-spoken with colourful gesticulations, Benn was never too far away from his pipe and a huge mug of tea.

Benn forced a change in the law allowing hereditary members of parliament's upper House of Lords to renounce their titles, after he was disqualified from his seat in the elected Commons on inheriting his father's Viscount Stansgate title in 1960.

As president of the Stop the War Coalition, Benn led the anti-war movement as Britain, under Labour prime minister Tony Blair, sent troops into Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003.

Benn's coffin had spent the night in parliament in its 13th-century Chapel of St Mary Undercroft, an honour given to former prime minister Margaret Thatcher in April last year.

His funeral was to be followed by a private family cremation later Thursday. A memorial meeting is planned for later this year.

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