POLITICS

Tony Benn's Children Mourn A Father Who 'Taught Us A Better World Is Possible' (PICTURES)

27/03/2014 11:42 GMT | Updated 27/03/2014 15:59 GMT

From the left, the far left and even the right they came, many with tears in their eyes. Politicians and activists of all shades came on a crisp cold, morning as Tony Benn departed Parliament for the last time.

Hilary Benn, the shadow minister, could not hide his grief as he carried the coffin of his father on his shoulders into St Margaret's church in the shadow of Westminster Abbey.

The night before, the coffin had rested in the Palace of Westminster's Chapel of St Mary Undercroft, in the building that Benn had sparred with so many political adversaries, the place he began his career as the youngest member, and ended as its oldest, the 'Father of the House'.

tony benn funeral Tony Benn's coffin is carried into St Margaret's Church

Politicians came of every colour. From Labour, Cherie Blair joined leader Ed Miliband, shadow chancellor Ed Balls and shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper.

The eyes of former foreign secretary Dame Margaret Beckett were red with sadness. So too were the eyes of George Galloway, who walked inside, grim-faced, with his pregnant wife Putri Gayatri Pertiwi.

Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, the former IRA commander who is now Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister joined Conservatives including chief whip Sir George Young, his predecessor Andrew Mitchell, Michael Heseltine and prominent backbencher Bill Cash along with former Liberal leader Lord Steel for the ceremony.

tony benn funeral George Galloway attends the funeral of Tony Benn

Stop The War, the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, trade unions and anti-cuts campaigners lined the streets. Journalists, including ITN newsreader Alastair Stewart and the BBC's Robert Peston, came to pay their respects, as did impressionists Rory Bremner.

Some threw petals, and small choruses sang 'The Red Flag' as the coffin passed. Almost all were wiping their eyes. Amongst those on the streets was Arthur Scargill, the leader of the miner's strike.

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Tony Benn Funeral

A silence fell as Big Ben chimed 11, and the coffin was taken up the steps of the church, the strains of the church choir played on speakers for the mourners outside the private ceremony.

"The very last words he heard on this earth was the four of us telling him we loved him," said his eldest son Stephen.

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Daughter Melissa told the congregation her father was a "funny and mischievous" man who loved to play pranks but was also deeply emotional.

"He was never ashamed of showing his feelings," she said. "He laughed and cried easily. He was an unabashed sentimentalist. He loved a film like the Railway Children so much tears would be rolling down his checks at the opening credits."

David told how his brother had been radicalised during his childhood by his public school education "which he loathed", and after being outraged by the treatment of black Africans he saw when travelling the world during his time in the forces.

tony benn funeral Ed Miliband leaves The Houses of Parliament to attend the funeral of the late Tony Benn

Hilary Benn, shadow communities secretary, told how his father had been an inspiration.

"As a father he was always willing to offer advice. Once, he was taken ill at the Labour Party Conference. My brother and I tracked him down to an ambulance. He was lying there on a stretcher with an oxygen mask on.

"As we set off for hospital, his finger rose and beckoned. I leaned over.

"Dad, dad what is it?"

"He pulled down the mask and said: 'Now, H about your speech to conference this week'. I knew then that he was going to be alright just as I know now how much I will miss his wisdom.

"Life taught him that ideas and movements have the power to transform our world, and that's why he was so determined to support others in their struggles.

"And he taught us that a better world is possible - at times seen clearly, at others only faintly glimpsed - but in so doing he inspired others to believe that too.

"For any man, for any life, to do that alone is to tell the story of a life fulfilled."

Miliband gave a reading from The Pilgrim's Progress and Commons Speaker John Bercow read a passage from Corinthians.

As the coffin left the altar, and the mourners watched in silence, a pair of hands began to clap determinedly. It spread, until the claps became roar of applause, of emotion and appreciation.

A memorial meeting will be held later in the year.