Benn’s Speech Was Eloquent Yet Hollow
“May I say at the start of the Parliament, that the convention that we do not clap in this Chamber is very, very long established and widely respected, and it would be appreciated if Members showed some respect for that convention.”
Unless of course you are a pack of braying Tories applauding a vapid, warmongering speech by a Labour front bencher. While Many would argue that it was rhetoric deserving of adulation. It is clear to me that while Hilary Benn’s oratory was articulate and impassioned, the substance of what he conveyed was insubstantial. Similar in its lack of tangibility to almost every utterance from those who stood up to explain why they would vote for bombing. Benn’s thinking, it seems, ends where mine begins, as all he did was to defiantly articulate facts that we already know. Facts that are not in dispute by either side of the debate.
We all worked out Daesh are nasty several years ago and we don’t need reminded. We know about Paris, we know about Beirut, about propelling homosexuals from the top of tall buildings, mass graves, downed planes, raped women and the legion of barbaric snuff movies. However, before committing ourselves to bombing, we just want to know that our actions are going to be effective in stopping those heinous crimes. Maybe bombing will help but Benn did not make the case for this. The only point he made in the entire speech that tackled the issue of the efficacy of the bombing is that it has worked in Iraq. Surely though, even he can see that there is a world of difference between using air strikes to help the Kurds and Iraqis regain their own territory and what is proposed in Syria. For there we don’t really know who will fill the vacuum if we do eradicate Daesh. Time after time those who voted for war were unable to advise who our friendly allies are, how willing they will be to work together and how extreme their values are.
And thanks for reminding us but we already know there is a risk to the UK from Daesh, although the size of the risk is a debatable point. As we have discussed here previously you have more chance of being killed by a poisonousness plant in the UK than by a terrorist. Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms have taken more British lives than IS ever will. And even when there is a rare attack here, our reaction to it is far more dangerous to our way of life than the event itself.
Amanda Solloway, the Tory MP for Derby North, stood up during the debate and said she was voting for air strikes as she wanted her grandchildren not to have to worry while at play. Wouldn’t it be easier to give your grandchildren a rudimentary knowledge of statistics as opposed to engaging in an action that will certainly kill other people’s grandchildren? If they are worried about being killed at play by terrorists in Derby then it’s because they have sadly inherited their family intellect gene. Something that can’t be said for Hilary Benn, who spent a lot of time talking about how Paris, London, Glasgow or Birmingham could be next. And they could be next but if it did happen here again we would move on like we did after the Blitz, after multiple IRA bombs and after the 7/7 attacks. The institutions and way of life in this country are too robust to crumble after a terror attack.
Telling us we could be next isn’t an argument for bombing especially when that action might increase the risk of terror here. For, just like in Paris, the 7/7 attacks were perpetrated not by people from Syria or Iraq, but by our own citizens who have spoken openly about being radicalised by previous conflicts that Benn voted for.
And although France is a great country and a great ally, the much trumpeted idea that we must bomb by their side is idiotic. In his speech Hilary opined:
“What sort of an ally would we be if we failed to help France in their time of need.”
A bad one, but there is more than one way to help a friend. For instance when my friend came round to my house one night agitated after having his car windows smashed in, I didn’t acquiesce to his request to join him in a bloody quest for vengeance. Instead, I sat him down, poured him a drink and talked some sense into him. He thanks me now as he appreciates not being in prison. This is the type of approach we need to adopt with our allies.
We need to stand by their side when they truly are in peril, like we did when France was occupied by the Nazis. And we need to talk to them when we think they may be making a mistake. That is what friendship is, not blind thoughtless conformity. Before we help our friends, we need to know what we are helping them with and think through what the consequences of that would be. Issues that Benn glossed over or avoided completely.
He ends by talking about Labour’s role in forming the UN, the proud history of the UK standing up against the fascist ideology held by the likes of Hitler, Franco and Mussolini. And this again is true but those ideas were held by the leaders of countries and they were defeated when those leaders were defeated and replaced by more sensible ones. Daesh is a wide and disparate organisation with no decisive figurehead. If you kill one leader another will pop up and take his place. They meld into communities all over the world. They are a virus spread by the internet. Unlike the fascists of the past that Benn mentions, they can’t be defeated on the battlefield so they have to be defeated in the collective consciousness of those who have joined or are tempted to join them. And as we have seen in previous conflicts, bombing is possibly not the best way to do this.
The truth is that despite its reception Benn’s speech was style over content. And the main reason it was so enthusiastically received by the Tories and the right wing press was that it showed the gaping fault lines at the heart of Labour. When Benn finished Corbyn looked distraught, and for good reason. The party is failing as an effective opposition on issues that the members feel strongly about. Also, he was probably reminded that decades earlier he had sat in the shadow of another Benn and listened to a far more nuanced, forensic and in my opinion, honourable, speech. And I’ll leave you with that.
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