Tony Benn

Article by Kate Nevens | 14 Aug 2006

At a sprightly 81 years of age, still bouncing around healthily and wagging his lefty political tail with some force, Tony Benn is probably the best advert for the National Health Service they could possibly hope for. Given that he has a pacemaker fitted by one of the worst hospitals in the country, topped with the fact he is a rather dedicated smoker, it's something of a surprise he is mobile, let alone able to string together lively and informative arguments for social justice and democracy.

The former Old Labour MP, who famously quit parliament in order to spend more time in politics, is as cutting and persuasive as ever, hugely sceptical of New Labour policies and charmingly damning of its leaders. Spending his time speaking – or performing – to audiences who brim with love and admiration for the aging superstar of the radical left, rallying against the Iraq war and selling books about his life and opinions in their tens of thousands, Benn is proving to be as auspicious in his retirement as he was in his lengthy and accomplished career. Voted number 12 in the New Statesman's list of "Heroes of our Time", given a stage at Glastonbury and recently challenging the bigwigs of political interviewing on prime time Channel Four, Tony Benn is showing no sign of retiring from the public's affectionate gaze.