Saturday, October 28, 2006
Benn the Younger Might Succeed where his Dad Failed
We learn today that Hilary Benn, Secretary of State for International Development, has openly entered the race for Labour's Deputy Leadership election, whenever that event might take place. Along with Peter Hain, he is the second Cabinet member to announce his candidature, though Jack Straw and Alan Johnson have both indicated their probably similar intents. Harriet Harman, the constitutional affairs minister, and John Cruddas, MP for Dagenham are the other two declared runners.
Picking the winner from this far out is impossible but, as they stroll around the paddock, the runners can be weighed up. Straw has gained a high recent profile from raising the veil issue- though whether this will count for or against him in the end is a moot point; I'd say it was fractionally negative at the moment. Harman is the only woman so far in the frame and this will help her, but she lacks name recognition and has never really recovered from her sacking in 1998, accompanied by her junior minister, Frank Field. Johnson is a real prospect for the job and, indeed, may well run for the leadership itself next Easter or whenever the contest is held to replace Blair. But he suffered some reversals as the 'top outsider' at the Manchester conference and needs to raise his profile.
John Cruddas, on the other hand, has arguably become the 'top outsider' for the deputy's job; the man whom, according to Paul Linford the unions and party members want to counter Establishment figures like Straw and Hain. He is also known, according to Paul, somewhat mystifyingly as 'The Blogger's Candidate'. There are several furlongs to run yet but he seems well placed.
So what,then, of Benn junior? I would say also well placed, having in his favour, the following advantages:
a) He is perceived as a competent minister- sad to say, a somewhat rare qualification in Blair governments. Moreover his department is seen as 'morally sound'- doing good socialistic things for needy people. Labour members like that.
b) He has a wide cross party appeal, and, according to an aide, 'will be able to rebuild the coalition that was so critical in 1997'.
c) Evidence of b) above is provided by the support of Dennis Skinner for the fresh faced Been junior; the 'Beast of Bolsover' carries clout as probably the best known representative of the Old Labour tendency in the party.
d) Ian McCartney, the diminutive trade minister and former party chairman - himself a formidable organizer and Labour fixer- is standing by to offer support.
e) Finally, Tony Benn was arguably a disruptive influence in the early eighties who helped prolong Labour's years in the wilderness. But this is not how all members see it and Benn's longevity as an unreconstructed socialist rebel has made him, paradoxically, into a species of National Treasure. His determined campaigns and scrupulous politeness won him respect from all over the House, even including the Conservative benches('we love his manners' Julian Critchley once told me). The now revered position of Hilary's once troublesome father will certainly be an assist in his bid to succeed where Dad failed, by just one per cent, way back in 1981.
PS If I had to vote today I'd go for H Benn MP...
We'll be sticking with Cruddas, but it's certainly shaping up to be an interesting and exciting race whoever you're cheering for.
Saw Benn speak at the Oxford Union last week; he was fabulous. Judgements about his cabinet competency aside (I'd beg to differ with your analysis), the old man certainly deserves respect for his continued rhetorical flair. Admittedly some substance was lacking (he did not engage with the N Korea/Iran poser, instead focusing on the "rouge state" of America) and he does re-use a few quips/anecdotes (they're so good that we can forgive him this transgression), but as far as populist elocution is concerned Benn is a genius. He certainly had me clapping loudly, along with the rest of the chamber.
(But would he have said anything else?!)
I'm with Politaholic on this one. Surely with all that time to consume industrial quantities of alcohol and drugs, you can find enough to keep on blogging....?
I'd like to see Benn run for leader that should make things interesting.
I'm leaving (industrial quantities of) drugs in the cupboard on Friday to go to watch Adam Boulton (of all detestable people) speak on the "impact of the blogosphere".* After that, if he has anything worthwhile to say - judging by his performance in a debate the other week, chances are slim - I may blog on his conclusions...accepting that, in order to have the slightest of impacts, or even (probably) the illusion of such, one probably needs to write something in the first place.
* - Actually, the said drugs, supplied by none other than Skipper, might help me to cut through the Boulton dross more clearly / stay awake.
It's too harsh to call Benn a "silver-spooned" lefty. His campaign against forced inheritance of the peerage was sincere. It's provincial - and, indeed, wrong - of impoverished lefties to think they enjoy a monopoly on socialism.
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