At a time when it is fashionable to decry all politicians as self-serving villains - an approach which is as dangerous to civil society as it is inaccurate - it is sad to note the passing of Tony Benn, one of the very finest British politicians of his generation. No doubt the right-wing media will today be singing his praises, but I remember Tony Benn from the days where he was being vilified by those same newspapers as an extremist whose views were either bad or mad or more probably both. I met him on a few occasions during the mid 1970s when he was a Government Minister and I was a young apparatchik working at Labour Party headquarters in London. I particularly recall a time in 1975 when he came into our office in search of some Labour Party documentation or other.It was the period just before the referendum on continued membership of the European Union (or Common Market as it then was) and the Party was somehow managing to accommodate both pro and anti EU factions within its ranks. Tony Benn was one of the leaders of the campaign for a "No" vote to continued membership and my boss who sat at the desk opposite me was also a keen opponent of the EU. I, on the other hand, was a enthusiastic supporter of both the EU and continued European unity. After a few words with my boss, he turned to me and asked me for my thoughts on the issue, and I nervously tried to explain my position. Expecting to be either ignored or crushed by his superior debating style, I found myself entranced by a politician who seemed to listen, to consider my views as being equally important as those of a Cabinet colleague, and be capable of taking two apparently conflicting views and moulding them into a synthesis of agreement. It was political skill of the highest order and I became a dedicated disciple of Tony Benn from that day on. He will be missed.