Hilary Benn emerges as the natural successor to Corbyn

Chris Moncrieff
Chris Moncrieff

Hilary Benn – even though he probably didn’t realise it or give it a moment’s thought – has suddenly established himself as Labour’s natural choice for party leader if Jeremy Corbyn falls by the wayside.

Benn’s spellbinding Commons speech supporting the Government’s plan to bomb Syria – in defiance of his own leader – was that political rarity, an address which actually changed people’s minds as he was speaking.

I doubt very much whether anywhere near as many of the 60-plus Labour Members who supported the Government in the subsequent vote, believed, before Benn spoke, that they would take this rebellious line after he had sat down.

Benn spoke with all the passion, fluency and brilliance of his father, the late Tony Benn, although Benn senior would almost certainly have taken the anti-war line.

But replacing a leader who says, “I am not going anywhere” and who enjoys the backing of the powerful mainly left-wing paymaster trade unions, is more easily said than done.

The party’s leadership election process is ludicrous in that it gives the unions and others far more weight than they should have, at the expense of Members of Parliament who have to work with their leader day in, day out.

This has meant that Corbyn and his predecessor Ed Miliband, became leaders whom the MPs didn’t really want – to such an extent, indeed, that even some of his chosen shadow cabinet members have been in open revolt.

The hard-line left-wing are strengthening their foothold on the party, although they have not yet got a vice-like grip on it.

That is surely to come.

The unions, therefore, will not easily give up their political power now that they have got their chosen man into the job.

So Benn, who stands head and shoulders above the three dreary leadership candidates, trounced so comprehensively by Corbyn earlier in the year, may have a long time to wait.

How remarkably warlike – and cruel in some cases – the anti-war protesters (they used to be called “peaceniks”) have shown themselves to be since the bomb-Syria vote in the Commons.

They have harassed and intimidated mainly Labour MPs who supported the Government’s motion in defiance of their leader.

Stella Creasy, Labour MP for Walthamstow, came in for particularly vicious treatment as mobs harassed her office and home.

She and others have been on the receiving end of foul and threatening messages on social media.

It is a disgrace that people should be bullied in this way – it is a form of violence – just for holding a particular view.

It has been going on in universities, too, where some students and even some of their tutors have been trying to silence them in true fascist style.

If any of these people are found to belong to the Labour Party, they should be thrown out without delay.

How wrong were nearly all the pundits and political talking heads about the outcome of the Oldham by-election last week?

They largely predicted that the Corbyn effect and the internal turmoil within the Opposition party could wipe out Labour’s huge majority in this constituency at the last general election, and possibly hand Ukip the seat.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Labour actually increased its share of the vote, with Ukip trailing miles behind in second place.

The normally boastful Ukip leader, Nigel Farage, suggested feebly that the postal vote system was “bent” in this battle.

It is to be investigated.

But although the postal vote arrangements are ridiculously loose and give rise to fraud, I doubt whether malpractices could have been on the scale that Farage has alleged at Oldham.

Are we seeing the start of the demise of Ukip?

Don’t be too sure...

Trouble is looming for the Prime Minister over the bitter battle going on over the issue of a third runway for Heathrow.

It could even lead to problems within the Cabinet.

Justine Greening, the International Development Secretary, has refused to rule out quitting the Cabinet over this issue.

And Boris Johnson, who, as a West London MP, has a constituency interest in the matter, has said that a third runway “will never happen”.

But those in favour of it say it will be a huge boost to the economy.

An intractable problem for Cameron, it seems.

So he may have to wait a while before announcing a decision, to enable things to calm down.

My guess is that they will never calm down.

Trouble ahead.