Comment: Hilary Benn showed us what Labour is missing

The shadow foreign secretary showed yesterday what an effective, coherent opposition should look like



I have been a member of the Labour Party for fifteen years and never have I witnessed anything like yesterday.

MPs had a grave decision to make – to support military action against ISIL in Syria or not.

The debate started on a poor note. The prime minister failed to give a clear explanation of his figure that 70,000 moderate Syrians were ready to provide the boots on the ground needed to back up air strikes.

His decision not to apologise for his remarks that those opposed to military action were somehow ‘terrorist sympathisers’ was also an error of judgement that diminished the standing of the office that David Cameron holds.

Then came Jeremy Corbyn – head down in his notes, he simply faced a barrage of noise from the Conservative MPs, failing to answer head on his views about the air strikes currently taking place in Iraq against ISIL, strikes undertaken at the invitation of the Iraqi government itself.

The new, honest politics obviously did not extend to answering a straight question with a straight answer. The sight of deputy leader Tom Watson with his head in his hands said it all.

But then came Hilary Benn. Since agreeing to serve under Jeremy Corbyn Benn has been placed in a difficult, if not impossible position. He was forced to clear up the mess created by Corbyn’s failure to provide leadership on the UK’s place in the EU, and over Syria he has been propelled to play the statesman role that the leader of the official opposition is incapable of doing.

Benn’s speech last night was well and truly electrifying. The passion, the energy and the clarity that he brought to the argument was the kind of speech that neither Cameron nor Corbyn could deliver. It was a speech of a prime minister in waiting.

Jeremy Corbyn sat stony faced throughout, not even able to muster a ‘well done’ on the delivery of a great speech to his shadow foreign secretary.

The Labour Party now faces a crunch moment that it has to confront head on. Yes, Labour members voted overwhelming for Jeremy Corbyn to lead the party but sometimes reality has to hit us.

Jeremy Corbyn is not a prime minister in waiting. His poll ratings are tanking further (if that were possible) among those voters who ultimately decide who governs the country.

His inability to present a united front on crucial security issues would pose severe difficulties of the UK’s position in the world if he were, by some fluke, ever to make it to Downing Street.

But worst of all has been his attitude to his parliamentary colleagues. Yes, he called for an atmosphere of tolerance as MP after MP has faced abuse for supporting military intervention in Syria, but it was he that sent Labour MPs to face the wolves last weekend, leaving them to stew. It was shameful.

Members of the parliamentary Labour Party and the country as a whole know the truth. For all his admirable qualities and principles, Jeremy Corbyn cannot and will not win a General Election. Hilary Benn showed yesterday what an effective, coherent opposition should look like.

Air strikes over Syria are now being undertaken in defence of democracy. In the UK our democracy is in peril thanks to the absence of a credible opposition to hold the government to account.

The Labour Party cannot go on like this. Something, and more specifically someone, needs to change and change now.

Ed Jacobs is a contributing editor at Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter

127 Responses to “Comment: Hilary Benn showed us what Labour is missing”


    It is not it is mainly off the right but not necessarily. Are you saying Stalin, Mao and Poll Pott were not fascists? And the money I have paid to Labour for decades is not fake.


    Blairites did not infiltrate because no one is a Blairite. Blair was elected by the British people. Get it. Elected,

  3. Dave Campbell

    er . . an effective opposition OPPOSES the government!! Over 60 Labour MPs seem to have forgotten that. And now many of those who voted for unleashing bloodshed are portraying themselves as the victims because a few intemperate people called them rude names on twitter!! They’ve obviously learned a few lessons from the zionists!

  4. Luke

    All I saw in this speech was the depths of cynicism rife in politics at the moment.

    Just two weeks before the vote he declared that Labour were against air strikes ( What changed in the following 2 weeks? The only thing I can imagine is back-door meetings where Benn started to come to the conclusion that he was the person that Frank Field talks about in this LBC interview ( – aired just a week after the first article I linked to.

    Astonishing how a man would bomb a country, including potentially innocent civilians, just to further his own political career. I say astonishing, I probably mean a sad confirmation of what many of us think about parliamentarians.

  5. Ian Kirwan

    Stalin, Mao and Poll Pott, as monsterous as they were were not fascists no. With regard to money paid to Labour, infiltrators are hardly held back by membership fees.

  6. Ringstone

    Right, so everybody but you and those that agree with you are “evil Tories” blind to the facts and in hock to the banksters and military industrial complex? Must be right to be both right and righteous.
    For the hard of thinking, can I remind you that Cameron was criticising Putin because Russian bombing was targeted in support of Assad and not against Daesh, disproportionately targeting those factions also opposed to Daesh. Distasteful as many may be, my enemy’s enemy is my friend.
    “A week ago Benn was arguing against the bombings himself”: you object to someone changing their mind on new information and due consideration? You’ll fit in well with Corbyn’s Labour, he’s not changed his mind or had an original thought in thirty years.

  7. Darren Cahil

    Getting a standing ovation from the Tory frontbench? Hilary Benn is doing ‘opposition’ all wrong!

  8. janlog

    I’m sure if I read this enough times it will start to make sense.

  9. Lo Five

    Just came over to see if this website os a reliable source of news for a left leaning constituent like myself. The answer is obviously no, bye.

  10. Raife Keller-cooper

    there are two reasons to vote pro war in syria: (1) you’re an idiot because you think that despite all evidence to the contrary, despite everything that has happened before in iraq and lybia etc.despite no plan, no exit strategy, no purpose, no real side to join, no real side to fight, this one will be magically different.
    or (2) because you’ll make money out of it.
    There has been no new information since Benn made those comments. Cameron saw to that by speeding up the vote because the tide of opinion had turned against him. I’m absolutely fine with “U turns” in general, but i think these particular u-turns reveal hypocrisy and untrustworthiness.

  11. Cole

    Blimey, are you some sort of Maoist?

  12. Cole

    A lot of bitter angry old men determined to take revenge is what many of them are.

  13. Cole

    Except, as polls show, the people generally think he’s a plonker. Which he is,

  14. Cole

    What’s sick is that, being of the hard left, you see everything through the prism of party politics, even war and peace. Maybe there are some issues that should transcend business-as-usual politics – but of course that’s a ‘Tory’ viewpoint if you’re a Corbynista.

  15. Cole

    Corbyn appears to be friendly with any dictator or terrorist group if they’re opposed to the U.S.

  16. Wobbly chops

    It’s a failure that goes back years that labour have nobody of substance . Since the voters reject brown, it’s just getting worse.

  17. Ian Kirwan

    Blimey, are you some sort of Nazi?

  18. Disillusionedidealist

    Most people know that Jeremy Corbyn has been demonised by all the media ever since he became Labour leader. Immediately before the leadership election all the Blair supporting MP’s came out of the woodwork to tell us we were making a mistake and tried to make dreadful abusive slurs against Jeremy Corbyn.
    Since the leadership election the same MP’s are constantly going to the media behind his back to put the boot in. It has therefore been up to Corbyn/Labour members to speak up for our new leader against this avalanche of negative, reporting, informing, tweeting and twisting of words. How hypocritical then for these same Blairites, who have been given the greatest voice in the Tory leaning media, to start complaining about abuse.
    It is uplifting to see Jeremy keeping faith with his principles and the people, despite the media barrage of lies against him, no longer listening as can be seen by the by-election win.
    Jeremy would and hopefully will be the best leader we have had in many years. He is changing things and democracy may have a chance again.

  19. MacGuffin

    You mean, it’s not a source of propaganda that confirms your delusions.

  20. Lo Five

    No, i didnt mean that at all. How did you manage to misread that so spectacularly wrong? Silly.

  21. Cole

    He was elected as leader of the Labour Party – and Labour won 3 general elections under his leadership. Whatever you think of him that’s undeniable.

    Of course the hard left are now trying to say he was an infiltrator or a Tory. Which is daft – but what you’d think if you were a Trot.

  22. Cole

    I have a ‘right wing tendency’ apparently – although I’ve been a non Blairite Labour member for years.

  23. Saul Till

    Agree with that. According to many of Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters the labour MPs who voted to intervene in Syria did so solely because they thought it would ‘annoy’ Jeremy Corbyn. This is both staggeringly solipsistic and deeply crass, and it says something about the conspiratorial thinking that infects both extremes on the left and the right.

    Your respondent implied that there was something “fishy” about all these known anti-Corbyn MPs…just happening…to vote for intervention – he seems oblivious to the existence of the following, rather obvious argument: ie. that these MPs are anti-Corbyn precisely because their political beliefs on things like foreign policy have always diverged from Corbyn’s.

    Therefore it’s hardly a sodding surprise if they disagree with their party leader about Syria. In fact, it’d be a hell of a lot more “fishy” if they’d all suddenly decided to vote with Jeremy Corbyn against airstrikes.

    The hard left seem to need reminding that the pro-intervention labour MPs aren’t all Single White Female-style JC-obsessives who are so transfixed by, and jealous of, the man’s explosive charisma and political credibility that they’re driven to say to themselves ‘well, my principles are one thing, but seeing Corbyn’s grumpy little face when I disagree with him on Syria…that’s much more important’.
    The interventionists are average labour politicians not the fucking Sith, and as much as self-centred, illiberal left dogmatists would like to believe otherwise there’s no reason to believe these MPs took the ethics of military intervention any less seriously than the Corbynites(who occasionally seem rather ambivalent about Russian or Syrian government intervention). Frankly, considering the total dearth of positive propositions put forward by the anti-interventionists in the run up to the vote and afterwards, it seems more likely that it’s the latter who are guilty of dogmatic, thoughtless decision-making.

  24. Saul Till

    By ‘hold them to account’ you mean threaten them with being knifed?

  25. Saul Till

    And Corbyn was in favour of the IRA bombing right up until…oh wait, he’s still for it.
    We can all play this game, and considering some of the quirkier positions people like Seumas Milne, Diane Abbott, StWC, Corbyn himself etc. have held viz a vis Hamas, Hezbollah, Putin’s Russia, the Iranian theocratic government, Stalin(!) and depressingly many more it’d probably serve JC and his supporters best to not get involved. Their cupboard’s fit-to-bursting with some very ugly skeletons.

  26. Saul Till

    Maybe I’m just being overly charitable(it’s almost Xmas after all ;)) but I don’t believe you’re so dim as to go to what is an explicitly subjective comment piece, and on the basis of the opinion expressed therein conclude that the website hosting it is an unreliable “source of news for a left-leaning constituent”.
    Never mind – let’s set aside the possibility that you’re unable to distinguish an opinion piece from a news report; tell me…which factual errors in this article revealed Left Foot Forward to be unreliable?

  27. Lo Five

    No you’re spot on right, I am pretty dim – and I still get a vote, hahahaa!

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