BBC news is reporting that the British former MP Tony Benn is seriously ill. Benn served in Parliament for over half a century, retiring in 2001 at the age of 76. Famously, he said he was "retiring from Parliament to spend more time on politics".

Benn was born into wealth and privilege; his father was Viscount Stangate, a title he was expected to retain. Instead, he rejected his title in order to serve in the House of Commons, an early indicator of the passion and commitment to democracy that defines his politics. During his time as Postmaster General in the 1960s he proposed removing the Queen's image from British stamps, though this was overruled.

This is how he explained the importance of the vote in 2001:

"If one meets a powerful person - whether Adolf Hitler, Joe Stalin or Bill Gates - ask them five questions: "What power have you got? Where did you get it from? In whose interests do you exercise it? To whom are you accountable? And how can we get rid of you?" If you cannot get rid of the people who govern you, you do not live in a democratic system."

Benn still serves as president of the Stop the War coalition, a post he assumed immediately upon leaving Parliament. He was often demonised by the press during his career as an MP - the 1983 Labour election manifesto, which he was a principal author of, was famously dubbed "the longest suicide note in history" - but retains a large amount of public affection and support.

He is, of course, on an NHS ward.