Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Hilary Benn - "What we know about fascists is that they need to be defeated"

From the Commons, for The Record

After a long day of speeches, some distinguished ones by backbenchers, and mediocre ones by the main party leaders, Hilary Benn arrived at the despatch box.

The speech by the Shadow Foreign Secretary was always going to have some drama to it. He stood at odds with his party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, but his rousing words left everyone in the shade.

In a short speech the son of the late Tony Benn elevated himself to the ranks of the parliamentary greats.

He showed principle, loyalty and what many moderate Labour MPs had been crying out for - leadership.

He told MPs in the Commons: “Although he (Corbyn) and I will walk into different division lobbies tonight, I’m proud to speak from the same despatch box as him.

“He is not a terrorist sympathiser. He’s an honest, a principled, a decent and a good man and I think the Prime Minister must now regret what he said yesterday and his failure to do what he should have done today - which is to simply say ‘I am sorry’.”

Of course Benn was for striking ISIL, and he laid out the case in detail and with rigour. The packed Commons listened in rapt silence.

Chancellor George Osborne leaned out of his seat, watching intently a politician who might one day be a direct rival.

His case for Syria was made, but it was his closing remarks, addressed directly to his own party, that distinguished Benn.

Fascists need to be confronted, he said. Labour has always stood up to them. We must now confront this evil, he said.

This is what he told Labour MPs: “As a party we have always been defined by our internationalism. We believe we have a responsibility one to another."

“We are here faced by fascists; not just in their calculated brutality, but their belief they are superior to every single one of us."

They hold us in contempt, they hold our values in contempt... they hold our democracy, the means by which we make our decision tonight, in contempt. 

"And what we know about fascists is that they need to be defeated and it is why, as we have heard tonight, socialists and trade unionists were just one part of the international brigade in the 1930s to fight against Franco. 

"It’s why this entire House stood up against Hitler and Mussolini. It’s why our party has always stood up against the denial of human rights and for justice and my view, Mr Speaker, is that we must now confront this evil."

Slowly, he concluded: “It is now time for us to do our bit in Syria and that is why I ask my colleagues to vote for this motion.”

The Commons had been silent throughout. Corbyn was stonyfaced behind him.

But when he finished MPs broke into applause. In extraordinary scenes, MPs roared and waved their order papers. The SNP, who have been banned from clapping, pointed to the Speaker in outrage. Mr Bercow let the applause run, and the electric atmosphere drain from the chamber. 

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