So did you watch the Hilary Benn speech? Listen to it? The one where he was applauded roundly at the end by MPs from both Conservative and Labour benches? I’ve just replayed it on my laptop and I’m a bit puzzled.
- Everyone, even those who disagree with him, accept that it was a dazzling speech. Why, then, did two women MPs directly behind him spend much of their time texting and/or looking around them during it?
- He was reading from a script. He did so with great skill, making sure to maintain eye contact and use emphatic gestures, softening his voice to a near-whisper at some points, then soaring to an impassioned bellow the next. But he was reading off a pre-written speech, and delivering a speech that way is never as effective as delivering one that is note-free. Ask David Cameron – he got the Tory leadership by making an extended no-notes speech at his party conference.
- The content of Hilary’s speech was at times downright silly. For example, he said “Unlike Daish, none of us acts with the intention of harming civilians”. Well doh. Hands up if you thought the bombing would deliberately target Syrian civilians? Right. That’s why killing civilians as well as combatants is referred to as “collateral damage”. It’s good that the bombers didn’t mean to do it. It’s bad that the civilians are/will be still dead.
- His recall of Britain’s proud record in standing up to fascism – Franco, Hitler, Mussolini – got the audience going nicely. But it wasn’t until he said “They think they’re superior to every single one of us in this chamber” and wagged his finger round the house that the MPs really began to get annoyed with Daesh and supportive of Hilary.
There are people who say it’s wrong – offensive, even – to believe that Hilary Benn’s speech would have been rejected completely by his father Tony Benn. Benn’s grand-daughter was one such: she said it was hurtful and disrespectful. To which I say: Fiddlesticks. Of course Hilary is entitled to be his own man with his own views on events. But of course you think of Hilary’s lineage when he speaks – it’s impossible not to, such is the spooky resemblance between his father and him. And of course it was Hilary’s lineage that made it all the sweeter for the Tories to hear him support their line on bombing, and why they bayed “Heah, heah!” so loudly when he at last sat down. If it had been some ordinary Joe Soap or Mary Moisturiser who’d been speaking, the response would have been next to nil.
Finally, the speech was made with a view to showing his own party and the Tories what a properly dressed, properly compliant leader of the Labour Party looks and sounds like.
Nice one, Hilary.