Why the new Blair is a good idea

Hilary Benn could be the man to unite Labour after all.

Hilary Benn voted in favour of air strikes on Syria
Labour pains Labour are divided over Syria, but Hilary Benn's speech was undeniably powerful. Image Picture John Moore/Getty Images

Whatever your views on bombing Syria, there was little doubt that the most powerful speech around the Isis retribution came from Hilary Benn.

Benn’s speech, in which he called the terrorists “fascists”, made obvious comparisons to Britain needing to defeat the Nazis in World War II.

The trouble for the increasingly demented world of British politics is that Benn’s Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn sat stonily silent throughout his Shadow Foreign Secretary’s speech, while Conservative MPs on the other side of the House Of Commons benches cheered loudly enough to be heard in Syria.

Corbyn may have appeared unimpressed, but his best mate John McDonnell admitted on Radio 4’s Today that Benn’s speech was “excellent”.

McDonnell also compared to Benn to Tony Blair, saying: “The greatest oratory can lead to the greatest mistakes.”

The Shadow Chancellor was referring to Blair’s speech in 2003 which helped persuade Parliament that the Iraq War was essential.

But does Benn making a similarly powerful speech mean that he too is making a huge mistake? The logic seems flawed.

Regardless, the bookish-looking Benn suddenly became an unlikely trending topic. Previously, he’s only been known outside political circles as the son of Tony Benn – ironically, Corbyn’s role model on how to be a successful arch-leftie.

It’s come as a surprise to many to learn that Benn Junior is apparently politically closer to Blair than his old man.

But is he? One speech – on a cause the majority of Labour MPs agree with – doesn’t make Benn a New Tory.

Hilary Benn, possibly the man to unite Labour
Big Benn Hilary Benn has emerged from the shadow of his father Tony. Image Picture Ben Pruchnie/Getty Images

One of the many mistakes the good-hearted Corbyn has made has been to listen to his old mates at Stop The War too closely. Stop The War became irrelevant the second they said Isis’ attacks on Paris were justified payback for the death of Jihadi John.

Benn has said “I’m a Benn, not a Bennite”, and admittedly was known as a New Labour loyalist from the moment he became an MP in 1999 following a by-election in Leeds.

But he’s also been a Trade Union official and hasn’t for a moment disowned his father’s beliefs. Viewed by colleagues as quiet and dependable, even Corbyn saw him as a safe pair of hands when he kept Benn in the Shadow Foreign Secretary post when Corbyn became leader in September.

Born in 1953, it’s taken Benn until the age of 62 to emerge from his late father’s shadow. He did so in spectacular fashion. Again, you may not agree with what he said. But only an idiot would doubt Benn’s sincerity. And if Corbyn is serious about wanting a new breed of politics that isn’t so confrontational all the time, he might be wise to take notice of the impact of the words from the man he presumably trusts to represent his party’s views on foreign affairs.

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Loaded’s deputy editor John Earls has covered entertainment and sport across a range of national newspapers, plus several football and music magazines, since 1990. Follow him on Twitter at @EarlsJohn

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