Crowds line the streets to honour Tony Benn

Labour stalwart Tony Benn was given an emotional send off as figures as diverse as a former IRA commander, hard-right Tory opponents and a television impressionist gathered in Westminster to pay their respects.

Outside, hundreds of well wishers gathered to listen to the service, which was being broadcast on loudspeakers, and frequently cheered and broke into applause as Mr Benn’s family shared memories. In the moving hour-long service mourners were brought to tears and roused to laughter as his children Stephen, Hilary, Melissa and Joshua, as well as Mr Benn’s brother David recounted tales of family life.

Mr Benn was an influential figure in the bitter mining dispute and visiting Mansfield to join demonstrators back in the 1980s.

Mansfield MP Sir Alan Meale said Mr Benn was a close friend, helping to run his office for seven years.

“He was a credit to Parliament and the Labour Party who put him there,” he said. “He’s almost irreplaceable.”

“From the 80s right through until the end of his time in Parliament he was a great ally to call upon and even on his retirement he popped in to see me.

“He never stopped, giving his all to politics, and he will be sorely missed.”

And Ashfield MP Gloria De Piero added: “Tony Benn was a giant of the Labour movement. He enriched our politics with his intelligence and ideas, his campaigning energy and, of course, his brilliant diaries.

“I don’t think there’s anyone in the Labour Party who hasn’t been moved or inspired by him in some way.”

In a statement, his children Stephen, Hilary, Melissa and Joshua said: “We will miss above all his love which has sustained us throughout our lives.

“But we are comforted by the memory of his long and inspiring life and so proud of his devotion to helping others as he sought to change the world for the better.”

Mr Benn was considered one of the most famous post-war politicians and a great orator.

Coun Anne Western, leader of Derbyshire County Council, said: “Tony Benn was a hugely influential and popular politician, the likes of whom we’ll never see again.

“He was a man of conviction and lived by his values, which inspired trust.”

Mr Benn was the son of an hereditary peer, but renounced his peerage.

He entered Parliament in November 1950 and served as Minister of Technology, Industry and Energy in the Wilson and Callaghan Cabinets.

He opposed joining the Common Market, was pipped to the Deputy Leadership by Dennis Healey and backed the Miners’ Strike.