Parliament bids farewell to Benn

Preston and Leyland Citizen: The funeral of former Labour cabinet minister Tony Benn will take place at St Margaret's Church, Westminster The funeral of former Labour cabinet minister Tony Benn will take place at St Margaret's Church, Westminster

Westminster will say goodbye to Tony Benn today at a funeral service yards from the House of Commons where he spent a career spanning more than 50 years.

The former Labour cabinet minister's body lay in rest before the funeral service in the Palace of Westminster's Chapel of St Mary Undercroft, only the second politician to be granted the honour after Baroness Thatcher.

The service will take place in St Margaret's, which is known as "the parish church of the House of Commons", after his body makes the short journey by hearse from Parliament, with family members following on foot.

First elected to parliament in 1950, Mr Benn renounced a peerage to remain in the House of Commons, serving in the cabinets of Harold Wilson and James Callaghan and staging a bitterly divisive battle with Denis Healey for the Labour deputy leadership as the champion of the left in 1981.

He famously retired from Parliament in 2001, saying he wanted to "spend more time on politics" and won a new status as a national treasure touring the country to speak to packed audiences in venues from town halls to West End theatres and the Glastonbury festival.

Well into his 80s, he was a familiar and popular figure at demonstrations and anti-war rallies.

Tributes poured in from across the political spectrum after his death at 88 was announced on March 14.

Labour leader Ed Miliband described him as an "iconic figure" while Prime Minister David Cameron said that Mr Benn ensured there was "never a dull moment", even for those who disagreed with every word he said.

Mr Benn's son, Labour shadow cabinet minister Hilary, told MPs how much his father, who won 16 elections, loved Parliament and was devastated when he was initially barred from entering the Commons upon his father's death in 1960, "because it was alleged that his blood was blue".

He added: "His blood was never blue, it was the deepest red throughout his life."

The funeral will be followed by a private family cremation later in the afternoon and a memorial meeting will be held later in the year.

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