December 6, 2015


The fear and loathing in Labour and the question of accountability (Andrew Rawnsley,  6 December 2015, The Guardian)

When Labour went down to defeat last May, Hilary Benn came close to quitting the shadow cabinet. "He almost did a Harriet," says one of his friends in reference to Harriet Harman's decision to retire from the front rank. Having turned 60, he thought his race was almost run. Even if he had the ambition, he had no prospect of ever leading the Labour party. Other MPs had always spoken of him as one of the nicest men in parliament, but they also struggled to pick out anything notable from his career, even though it had encompassed seven years in the cabinet. I recall one of his colleagues saying to me: "I like Hilary as much as the next person, but what is the point of him?" Where his father, Tony, had been a mesmerising rhetorician and a massively polarising figure, the cautious Hilary seemed the exact opposite: neither offensive nor inspirational to anyone. Among the wider public, in so much as he was known at all, it was for being the son of a much more famous Benn.

That changed in the 15 minutes that it took him to deliver his electrifying speech at the climax of the marathon debate on Syria. It was a bravura performance for both reminding the left of its proud history of fighting fascism and for confronting the absurd claim of some opponents of action against Isis that all the moral arguments are their exclusive property. For added piquancy, it was delivered in front of and in defiance of that disciple of the elder Benn, a scowling Jeremy Corbyn. After delivering a piece of oratory as powerful as anything ever produced by his father, Hilary Benn is now a polarising figure himself. Only the polarities are inverted. The sort of people who worshipped the elder Benn have been enraged by the son. "Hilary Benn, shame on you!" chanted some of the protesters in Parliament Square. The sort of people who were frightened by his father express admiration for the son. [...]

What is he up to? What does he want? How does he plan to get it? This is being most intensely asked by those around Jeremy Corbyn where Mr Benn was already identified as an enemy for heading resistance to the leader over Europe and the nuclear deterrent. "They are completely paranoid," remarks one member of the shadow cabinet. I guess his team would reply that Mr Corbyn has plenty to be paranoid about.

Posted by at December 6, 2015 6:16 PM