TRIBUTES have been paid to Labour stalwart Tony Benn, a regular visitor to Dorset's Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival.
Mr Benn, who died at home this morning aged 88, inspired Dorset residents through his politics and beliefs.
Lord Knight of Weymouth, formerly the South Dorset Labour MP Jim Knight, said: “He was an impossible man not to like, admire and respect – and because he had a fundamental decency in the way he wanted to relate to everyone and he showed respect to other people, that commanded respect back.
“He did what he felt people can’t do now, which is remain close to his principles, close to his beliefs and not to compromise, not be cowed by pressure of what we’re supposed to think by the media. He said what he thought.”
He said it was a tribute to Tony Benn that his children and grandchildren had gone on to make contributions in politics.
The former cabinet minister's son Hilary is shadow communities secretary, while granddaughter Emily stood at the last general election at the age of 18.
Lord Knight added: “It’s a huge loss, more to them than the rest of us but it’s a massive loss for the whole of the labour movement.”
Lord Knight also took to social networking site Twitter to pay tribute.
He said: "Very sad this morning. Tony Benn inspired so many people through principle, integrity and oratory."
"Tony Benn was a regular at Tolpuddle, where he re-invigorated so many each year."
Dorset-based singer-songwriter Billy Bragg, who is in Australia, posted a tribute on Facebook.
He said: “I was about to go onstage at a trade union rally here in Melbourne tonight when I heard from a member of the audience that Tony Benn has died.
“Tony was responsible for educating me about the English radical tradition.
"During the miner's strike, he gave me a copy of his 1984 book Writings on the Wall: a Radical and Socialist Anthology 1215-1984.
"Having got most of my politics from pop music, it was a real eye opener, not only introducing me to the Levellers and the Diggers, but the Luddites and the Chartists too.
“I heard him speak many times since then and he never failed to connect whatever issue he was talking about with the tradition of radical dissent both here and abroad.
He added: “I shall raise a pint of tea to him tonight here in Australia and hope that I may emulate him by becoming more radical as I grow older."
Mr Benn attended the Tolpuddle Martyrs festival last year, where he said: "I think Tolpuddle is one of the great events in the labour movement."
The festival celebrates equality, justice and fair pay and marks the actions of the six Tolpuddle Martyrs who formed a union and were exiled to Australia in 1834.
In a statement, Mr Benn's children Stephen, Hilary, Melissa and Joshua said: ''It is with great sadness that we announce that our father Tony 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.
''We will miss above all his love which has sustained us throughout our lives.
"But we are comforted by the memory of his long, full and inspiring life and so proud of his devotion to helping others as he sought to change the world for the better.
''Arrangements for his funeral will be announced in due course.''
Prime Minister David Cameron paid tribute to the Labour veteran on Twitter.
He said: ''Tony Benn was a magnificent writer, speaker and campaigner.
"There was never a dull moment listening to him, even if you disagreed with him.''
Labour MPs also took to the social network to pay warm tributes.
Former cabinet minister Peter Hain said: ''Tony Benn was a giant of socialism who encouraged me to join Labour in 1977: wonderful inspirational speaker and person: will be deeply missed.''
Diane Abbott said: ''Admired so many things about Benn: unwavering principles; always open to new ideas; stellar political speaker but unfailingly courteous.''
Barry Sheerman, who entered parliament in 1979 and served alongside Mr Benn for many years, said : ''Sad news of Tony Benn death.
"I had my differences with him but he was a ''big beast'' in our political life and party history.''
Lucy Powell, one of the party's newest MPs, added: ''Very sorry to hear the sad news about Tony Benn. He was a political giant of the last century, principled and passionate.''