Hilary Benn’s speech in favour of bombing Syria is being presented to us as if it belongs on the same level as Churchill’s ‘fight them on the beaches’ speech after Dunkirk. Even though we have a media establishment in this country which supports a government that is in the business of closing libraries instead of opening them, surely even they don’t think we’re stupid enough to fall for that one?
Rather than Churchillian or Ciceronian, Benn’s speech was a scream from the bowels of mediocrity, a tocsin sounding the call to the barricades for every middle manager, placeman, machine politician, unprincipled opportunist and technocrat in the land. It was delivered by a man who during the Spanish Civil War you know would have described as a mindless rabble the working class men and women who, in defiance of the non interventionist policy of the British government of the day, heeded the call of those holding the line against fascism in Spain.
Indeed the most offensive part of his speech was the cynical opportunism involved in exploiting the courage and heroism of the International Brigades to argue in favour of eight ageing British bombers dropping bombs on an Arab country in clear violation of its sovereignty, while allied to regional governments that have been and continue to facilitate the very menace we are supposed to be fighting. Never in the annals of historical revisionism has such an absurdity been articulated and lauded and praised from the rafters.
In the aftermath of what history will record was a low point to rank with any involving the House of Commons, the forces of reaction have waged a full on media and political offensive not only to cement their victory over bombing Syria, but to return the Labour Party to the tender embrace of Blairism, Thatcher’s most cherished accomplishment. The determination with which the anti-Corbyn faction within the PLP have sought to demonise the Labour leader’s supporters with accusations of intimidation and bullying is being vigorously supported by newspaper editors and columnists whose revulsion of democracy is only matched by the passion with which they use it as justification when it comes to defending the indefensible.
Democracy to them is the exclusive property of people educated at Eton, Oxford and Cambridge, while anyone with a working class accent who dare become politically engaged beyond their station of being allowed to cast a vote every few years is a reprobate, part of a rascal multitude deserving of contempt.
Labour’s by-election victory in Oldham immediately after the Syria vote proves that Corbyn’s message is managing to penetrate the dense fog of anti-Corbyn media bias, which has descended over the nation’s political discourse like smoke over a battlefield. Now is the time for Jeremy to start imposing his leadership within the shadow cabinet and to reject completely the portrayal of his supporters as an unruly mob intent on sowing mayhem.
His mandate is a matter of record and his pledge to democratise the Labour Party constitutes the only hope of it being re-fashioned as a weapon of social and economic justice. This is why the Tory establishment fear him more than they ever could the mediocrities who’ve revealed beyond doubt that Jeremy Corbyn’s bitterest foes are to be found in the Commons sitting behind and alongside him, rather than opposite.
They mistake his decency for weakness, and his lack of bombast for timidity. The time has arrived for him to prove them wrong and bring his mandate to bear. Protests, lobbying, agitating, these activities come under the rubric of legitimate and honourable political activity in any democratic society, which is the very reason they loathe it so. Being exposed and held up to scrutiny by ordinary working people beyond the hallowed halls of the Commons is not something our political class is used to. It makes them accountable and accountability, real accountability, for them constitutes an unpardonable intrusion into their right to rule.
During her farewell address to the volunteers of the International Brigades in Barcelona in 1938, Dolores Ibarruri, known to the world as ‘La Pasionara’, said: “You are history. You are legend. You are the heroic example of democracy’s solidarity and universality in the face of the vile and accommodating spirit of those who interpret democratic principles with their eyes on hoards of wealth or corporate shares which they want to safeguard from all risk.”
Hilary Benn was a medicroity prior to his speech on Syria and remains a mediocrity after it. Shame on him for blaspheming the name and heroism of those men and women of the International Brigades.