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Hillary and Hilary

“Hillary, meet Hilary.”

It could happen. 

Hillary is Ms. Clinton, who is almost certain to be the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate in next year’s election.  Hilary is a Labour Member of Parliament whose speech in support of the Conservative government’s proposal to bomb Syria electrified the House of Commons earlier this week.  He may be the next leader of the Labour Party, and, who knows, the next Prime Minister.

That is a long shot in a long game, but it is feasible.  The bookmakers are already shortening the odds on a Benn leadership.   

We know all about Hillary, of course, but who is this Hilary?

He is the son of Tony Benn, a left-wing parliamentary firebrand (or so he became in his late years) from the 1960s to the 1980s.  Tony is no longer with us – which may be just as well, as he would have listened to his son’s speech with anger and dismay.  It might even have caused them to stop speaking to each other.  As it is, Tony will have to be content with turning in his grave.

Hilary Benn is on the face of it hardly leadership material.  He is quiet and modest to the point of diffidence.  His years as a minister in Labour governments under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown hardly marked him as a future party leader.  Nor does he have his father’s charisma.  One might add to that, “For all the good it ever did him”.  Hilary’s delivery has tended to be leaden.  Not on Tuesday evening.

For American readers who may not have heard the speech, it is worth quoting the main point.  “We are faced by fascists.  Not just their calculated brutality but their belief that they are superior to every single one of us in this Chamber tonight and all of the people that we represent.  They hold us in contempt.  They hold our values in contempt.  They hold our belief in tolerance and decency in contempt.  They hold our democracy in contempt.  And what we know about fascists is that they need to be defeated.  We must now confront this evil.”

Powerful stuff.  And times have changed.  

The Labour Party, roundly defeated at the large general election, is now in turmoil, divided into warring camps representing its hard left and its soft right.  Jeremy Corbyn, who hijacked the party to become leader – much to his surprise, I suspect – has become a laughing stock.  His extreme left-wing positions put him out of kilter with the majority of his own party, and more to the point, with the British electorate.  His about-turns on issues of principle – such as bowing to the Queen – and reversals on strategy – offering Labour MPs a free vote after insisting they would have to toe the party line – have angered even his own supporters.   Corbyn, as Ms. Thatcher would have said, is ‘wobbly’.

He is unelectable, regardless of what the skewed opinion polls of his own party are saying, and despite the esteem in which apparently he is held by younger voters – not to mention the Scottish National Party. 

But mainstream Labour – including the overwhelming majority of its (elected) MPs, consider him an embarrassing aberration.  They can’t wait to dump him.  Benn’s speech may be a one-off but it also just might thrust him into the forefront of the leadership election battle that everyone knows is coming.  Whether Benn likes it or not, I suppose one should add.            

This writer does not support the bombing campaign, for reasons more complex than the moral indignation voiced by the Left, but Benn was impressive in the House, almost Churchillian. 

And I say that even while disagreeing with the means of confronting ISIL being advocated (and now, apparently underway).

Hilary may fade from the scene.  One speech does not a leader make.  But Labour is in such a mess that anyone who can impress a broad non-partisan constituency the way Hilary impressed on Tuesday evening, must be a contender.  

Right now, Hillary meeting Hilary does not sound so far-fetched.  Unless, of course, you think it will be Donald meeting Hilary …..    

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