He was educated at Westminster School and New College, Oxford. Tony Benn's father William Wedgwood Benn was a Liberal MP who defected to Labour and was later elevated to the Lords. Both his grandfathers were also Liberal MPs. After serving in the RAF in the later stages of World War II, he was elected to Parliament as member for Bristol South-East in 1950. Knowing that he would be disqualified from the British House of Commons when his father died and he inherited the title of Viscount Stansgate, he campaigned from the early 1950s for a change in the law to allow peers to renounce their titles and sit in the Commons.
In 1960 Benn's father died, and in 1961 he was ejected from the Commons. Despite his disqualification, the people of Bristol South-East re-elected him at the subsequent by-election. An electoral court decided that the voters were fully aware that Benn was disqualified, and gave the seat to the Conservative runner up in the by-election, Malcolm St Clair. Benn continued his campaign, and eventually the Conservative government accepted the need for a change in the law. The Peerage Act 1963, allowing renunciation of peerages, was given the royal assent and became law shortly after 6 pm on July 31, 1963, and Benn was the first peer to renounce his title, at 6.22 pm on that day. St Clair took the Chiltern Hundreds, (making himself ineligible to continue as an MP, and so effectively resigning), and Benn returned to the Commons after winning a by-election on August 20.
In the 1960s government of Harold Wilson he became Postmaster General and then Minister of Technology, a post which allowed his enthusiasm for gadgets to shine through. In the 1970s he became Secretary of State for Industry and then for Energy, including responsibility for overseeing the development of Concorde (already commissioned by his Tory predecessor). By the end of the 1970s he was clearly identified as a left-winger.
In 1981 he stood for election against the incumbent Denis Healey as Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, disregarding the appeal from party leader Michael Foot either to stand for the leadership or to abstain from inflaming the party's divisions. Benn defended his decision with an insistence that it was not about personalities but about policies. The contest was closely fought and Healey emerged victorious by a margin of barely 1%. The decision of several moderate left wing MPs, especially Neil Kinnock, to abstain from supporting Benn triggered the split of the Campaign Group from the left of the Tribune Group.
Change of Constituency
Benn's Bristol South-East constituency was abolished by boundary changes in 1983, and he was defeated in the neighbouring seat of Bristol East by the Conservative's first non-white MP, Jonathan Sayeed. He was elected as MP for Chesterfield in a by-election the following year. His support for the 1984-1985 miners' strike resulted in much hostility from the conservative press. He stood for election as Party Leader in 1988 and was defeated again.
In 2001 he retired from Parliament "to devote more time to politics", and has since toured with a one-man stage show. He became a leading figure of the British opposition to a war on Iraq, and in February 2003 he travelled to Baghdad to meet and interview Saddam Hussein. The interview was shown on British television. He also spoke out against the Iraq war at the protest in London organised the Stop the War Coalition, attended by over 1 million people.
Tony Benn was married to American-born educationalist Caroline Benn from 1949 until her death in 2000. They had four children - Stephen, Hilary, Melissa and Joshua. Their son Hilary is a Labour MP and cabinet minister.