Hilary Benn’s speech in favour of air strikes on Syria is, in my view, one of the best parliamentary speeches in years. Here’s my assessment of why I think it is brilliant.
(Disclaimer – I’m not endorsing the view on air strikes, I am admiring the rhetoric. I coach speakers from all the main political parties, and I find it helpful to keep my views to myself, in order to continue that work)
It’s an attention grabbing opening, where he acknowledges that he will vote a different way to his party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, but is still proud to speak from the same despatch box as him. He chastises David Cameron for calling people voting against the strikes, terrorist sympathisers.
He references the Paris attacks, personalising it to his audience by saying it could just as easily have been London, Leeds, Glasgow or Birmingham. Mr Benn is now in full flow and as if by magic a shopkeeper appears. It turns out to be Jeremy Corbyn, who doesn’t look best pleased.
Having addressed the legality of strikes Hilary Benn then turns to the atrocities committed by IS or Daish. He cranks up the pace, raises his voice and shows the sort of charisma his party leader can only dream of.
Then he slows down as he asks, what if we do nothing?
He tackles the question that air strikes are not helpful, refuting that argument and backing it up with evidence from a Kurdish representative in London. Every aspect of the speech answers a question. He targets his audience with precision.
His closing is phenomenal, appealing to Labour’s tradition of internationalism.
The applause from all sides of the house is genuine, with shouts of outstanding and brilliant. Whichever side of the argument you support, you have to admire his speech.