Tony Benn is a left wing member of the English Labour Party, and was a leading member of the party between about 1960 and 1983.

Benn was born into a rich family background in 1925 with the full name Anthony Neil Wedgwood Benn. His father was a member of Parliament - first for the Liberals then Labour - as a hereditary peer. Benn (Tony) was set to inherit this position and title (Viscount Stansgate of Stansgate) on his dad's death. Having been elected to the House of Commons for the first time in 1950 (aged 25), and as a committed democrat and ambitious politician, this obviously caused a problem for Benn: By law, when he inherited the seat in the undemocratic and politically inferior Lords, he would not be allowed to sit in the elected House of Commons.

A Personal Bill introduced by Benn that would have allowed him to renounce his peerage was defeated and in 1960 he had to leave the Commons for a period of three years. In 1963 the Peerage Act was changed, allowing a Hereditary Peer to give up his or her title until their death, and Tony returned to his position as elected MP for Bristol South East.

By the time of Labour's election win in 1963 under Harold Wilson, Benn had emerged as a leader of the traditionally Socialist party's left wing. From 1966 to 1970 he was Minister of Technology and in Labour's next Government (1964-1979), Prime Ministers Wilson then Callaghan kept him in their Cabinets. From 1974 to 1975 Benn was Secretary of State for Industry and from '75 until the General Election defeat in 1979 was Secretary of State for Energy.

In response to the 1979 defeat, and the Conservative party's (under Thatcher) apparent distinct change in direction (to the right), Michael Foot was elected leader of Labour and the party took a Democratic Socialist stance, it's most left wing for many years. In 1979 Benn published a book, Arguments for Socialism, and several of the ideas it presented were taken up by Labour as policy. In 1981 he challenged Denis Healey for the deputy leadership of the party on behalf of the 'hard left' and lost by a fraction of a percentage point.

Somewhat ironically, the only time that Benn lost his seat in a General Election was in 1983, when the party's manifesto was probably as close to his Socialist beliefs as it ever had been in his career. In addition to the loss of his own seat, the Labour Party's bad defeat in 1983 was a blow for Benn, though with characteristic optimism he made it clear that he was happy that "eight million people had voted for a socialist programme."

Benn regained a seat in the Commons in 1984 in a by-election for the Chesterfield constituency, but he has not been at all involved in the Labour Party's 'modernisation' which has stretched from 1984 through Neil Kinnock and John Smith to today's new Labour under Tony Blair. He resigned from the Commons at the 2001 General Election, according to him to "devote more time to politics," and, being fought for by someone else, Benn's Chesterfield constituency fell to the Liberal Democrats. His former constituents wanted Labour, not new Labour, Benn stated.

Despite failure in the political mainstream, Tony Benn has always remained independent and has been one of the House of Commons' (and the country's) great orators and has used this skill throughout his career to fight passionately and, to an extent, convincingly for Democracy and Socialism: Unlike many on the left, when arguing for Socialism Benn does not sound like - well - a complete idiot.