HEARTFELT tributes have today been paid to Tony Benn across Worcestershire - with leading county figures describing him as "one of the last great politicians of his generation" after his death aged 88.

Mr Benn, one of the most revered figures in British political history, first became an MP in November 1950 and served in the Labour cabinet under Harold Wilson and James Callaghan.

A fierce campaigner for the left, he also had an impact on Worcester - visiting the Faithful City in January 1993 to support striking miners on a protest, as this image from our archives shows.

He stayed at The Star hotel, now known as Worcester's Whitehouse Hotel, in Foregate Street during his visit to back miners who had walked out during the national dispute.

Pipe in mouth, this classic picture shows him in front of a flag prepared by miners declaring 'coal not dole' as the row with the Government rumbled on.

He was also believed to have addressed a gathering at The Crown pub, now known as Lloyds Bar, in Crown Passage, belting out a passionate speech about miners.

Councillor Adrian Gregson, Labour leader of Worcester City Council, said: "I was there for it.

"Tony Benn was an incredible figure, he was divisive, people either agreed with him or not and I think he brought a lot of people into politics because of that.

"When he had a view on something, you listened to it.

"He was never the evil person The Sun tried to portray him as, and I think the age he got to and his longevity showed there is a room in society for someone with those views he held.

"The diaries he kept is essential reading for the history of the 20th century in this country."

Among other tributes paid today were those from current Worcestershire Conservative MPs, who said his death was an "enormous loss".

Sir Peter Luff, who represents Mid-Worcestershire, said: "The first speech I remember in 1992 (when Mr Luff was first elected) was when Tony Benn was in the commons for the election of a new speaker.

"He is a big loss, I know it's become a cliché but he really is one of the last in a generation of truly great politicians.

"What made them really good was their understanding of the really big issues facing the country after the war, they understood why democracy shouldn't be taken for granted.

"I didn't agree with what he said, but he expressed himself so clearly, with such compassion - without Tony Benn politics is diminished."

Worcester MP Robin Walker said: "It is very sad, he was a towering figure in politics.

"Although I wouldn't agree with his views the passion for his beliefs, his willingness to go out on a limb and argue this case was something I respected enormously."

Councillor Joy Squires, Worcester's parliamentary candidate for Labour, said it was a "huge loss".

"He was the last of his generation, there's no doubt this is a huge loss for the country," she said.

"He was really about conviction politics, he never wavered from the views he had, expressed them so clearly and was so easy to relate to.

"Although I never met him I know many people who did and they talked of his humility, kindness and respect."

Political figures from Worcestershire also took to Twitter to pay their respects, including MEP Nikki Sinclaire, who uploaded pictures of herself with him and said "another conviction politician gone".

Councillor Matthew Lamb, from Worcester Labour Party, said he was "a towering figure in post-war politics" while Councillor Neil Laurenson, from the city's Green Party, tweeted that he was "gutted".

Mr Benn narrowly missed out on Labour's deputy leadership in 1981 and was a popular public speaker, anti-war campaigner and political diarist after retiring from parliament in 2001, becoming a celebrity-like figure.

In recent years he toured the country doing Q&A sessions, including regular jaunts to Worcestershire at Malvern Theatres and Huntington Hall, Worcester.

In a statement, his children Stephen, Hilary, Melissa and Joshua said Mr 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," the family said.

He served as an MP for more than 50 years, becoming secretary of state for industry in 1974 under Harold Wilson and going on to become secretary of state for energy, keeping his post when James Callaghan became Prime Minister in 1976.

More tributes will follow in tomorrow's Worcester News.

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