The Right-Minded View: On Hilary Benn’s Speech

by richardhutton

This week, debating whether or not to blow people up with bombs saw British Parliamentary democracy at its best.

However, as one of the Daily Telegraph‘s many risk-averse heroes noted, the very finest moment of all was Mr Hilary Benn’s speech: one such as “few of us have seen in our lifetime”. A truly seminal moment, which invited you to ponder “Where were you sitting. Who were you with. What were you thinking”. In some cases, people were sitting on comfortable benches in Parliament. They were with colleagues. They were thinking about what the media would say regarding them. In other cases, they were sitting in makeshift boats, in the middle of the Mediterranean; surrounded by strangers who had fled the violent conflict in Syria. They were probably thinking that they might, with a degree of good fortune, find a safe place to stay – but it’s difficult to say, because nobody has asked them for their thoughts on proceedings.

Nonetheless, few could doubt that the moment belonged to Mr Benn. The Telegraph’s author – throbbing with all due, patriotic stiffness – depicted the scene: for a while it looked as if a government, with a working majority, would not get to have a military jaunt overseas; despite the fact that it has been involved in one continuously since January; and that the Prime Minister could simply authorise it, regardless, has no bearing. Well, this really would not do. This is unarguably Britain’s darkest hour – as we face a threat far more terrible than any other, at any time in history: a group of men, engaging in violence, thousands of miles away from our shores. To make matters worse, some people were reportedly being unpleasant to each other on the internet. This was a worrying development.

Thus the scene was set. On the one hand, there was the dangerously belligerent pacifist communist fascist-appeasing warlord, Jeremy Corbyn. On the other, the right-thinking Prime Minister. For a while it looked as if Britain’s servicemen and women would be sent to war; and that the public would be aware of the likely consequences beforehand. Despite his best efforts, the Prime Minister looked on helpless, as the leader of the Opposition had the unprecedented gall – the temerity – to ask him polite questions; while making disagreeable remarks – which nobody cared to hear – about ‘casualty’ this, and ‘precedent’ that.

But then, the shadow foreign secretary rose to deliver his wind-them-up speech. A truly incredible moment. He did not merely captivate the house – his words promptly rogered the heart-strings of listeners (figuratively speaking), the media-wide; with a flaccid-vigour unseen since the Prime Minister last encountered a piece of gammon, succulent enough to to tempt his virtue aside.

Benn took centre stage – his statesman-like qualities emanating from every orifice: potential Prime-Ministery-ness was palpable. An awed hush descended; and thus he began:

“My honourable friends: terrorism is a bad thing – at least as bad as Hitler; if not worse. He never said our mothers were easy. We now have a clear and unambiguous resolution. We can’t just do nothing. We must do something. Doing something ineffective is doing something. Therefore, to defeat these terrorist chaps, we must do something ineffective. How would we look to the neighbours if we don’t go to war?

As with many of you here, I consulted my conscience earlier in the day, some time around breakfast – and received the green-light. Some people will say that every politician who asks their conscience for permission to do something invariably receives the affirmative; but that is a very cynical view, in my opinion. As is the suggestion that our compassionate-bombardments of high-explosives could somehow go awry. Our precision-engineered weaponry can differentiate between a civilian and a combatant, just as easily as they can discern a military bunker from a hospital. They are in fact so accurate that they can be fired at one city, and leave the neighbouring town almost completely unscathed.

Besides, humanitarian intervention breeds character in those who survive it; and the more refugees we cause, the more we can help. Therefore, in order to save lives, we must bomb and bomb again: beginning with Isis factories, where they manufacture evil – for example, they take chocolate oranges, and imprint devilish slogans on them: such as ‘Down with Britain’. These people have contempt for everything we hold dear – from the cut of our jib; to our native root vegetables.

Well, I say this: the enemies of freedom may be as indefatigable as they are unprincipled – but so are we. Our party has always stood up for the denial of human rights and for justice; albeit in an oblique manner – for example, by handing people over to the Americans for them ‘render’ in the scenic confines of Guantanamo Bay. But that is by the by.

In this day and age, it is more important than ever to live by principles; and we must be only too willing to let others die for them. And yes, the last war was a success of the lesser variety – in many ways precipitating the current situation; while subsequent war efforts not only failed to improve circumstances, but made matters even worse. However, we have learned the lessons of the last half-dozen or so wars, which is why doing the exact same things again will succeed this time around. It will all work out differently, for one very simple reason – which is so obvious that it requires no further elaboration at all. Besides, there is far more life to be lived when you’re prepared to be wrong.

So take heart – our service personnel will all be home by Christmas. Innumerable employees of national news publications have already volunteered to keep the armchairs warm in their absence. Now it’s time to jolly well get into the spirit; and give it the old heave-ho. Bombs + X = Freedom! I dare say the mission is all but accomplished, as is.”

It was the kind of inimitable oratory which would impress all who were predisposed to agree with it; and which would only fail to convince those who are familiar with reality. Every side promptly broke into a prolonged and sustained applause. Low murmurs of satisfaction could be heard. Parliament had been transformed into an erogenous sanctum. Patriotism boiled over. Mr Chilcot was sent for, and commissioned to begin his report on the upcoming success, of the lesser variety.

And I for one applaud. A combined strategy of explosive devices, favourable tabloid headlines, and evasive rhetoric won the day. Let the back-slapping commence. What a lovely war we are going to have. Hurrah!