That family name, which has already opened so many doors for her in a fledgling political career, might have just got The Hon Emily Benn into a bit of a scrap.The Hon Emily, who is the daughter of a hereditary peer and who moonlights as a local councillor for Croydon’s West Thornton ward, appears to be warming to the idea of a bit of political fisticuffs.
After taking on the task – and failing – of getting one of Jeremy Corbyn’s advisers kicked out of the Labour party, today The Hon Emily found time in her busy schedule as a City banker to take on Alex Salmond, the Scottish Nationalist MP, supposedly to defend the integrity of Uncle Hilary and the reputation of her grandfather, Tony Benn.
Those at Croydon Town Hall who are familiar with The Hon Emily’s frequent rushed or late arrivals from her day job to attend council business, or her complete absence at very late notice from attending important meetings, might think it odd that she has today managed to find the time to start a row with a political bruiser such as Salmond.
Hilary Benn, after all, is an experienced MP and former cabinet member quite capable of fighting his own political battles. Last night the shadow foreign secretary delivered the speech of his political life, with the sort of rare oratory for which his father was well-known. Even if there is some debate over what Tony Benn himself might have made of the content of the speech.And there, as they like to say in the parts north of the border which Salmond inhabits, lies the rub.
None of us – including The Hon Emily – can say with real certainty what Tony Benn might have made of the arguments put forward last night by his son Hilary, in which the Labour shadow cabinet member supported a Tory Government’s motion to take Britain to war in Syria.
But one of Tony Benn’s more famous speeches was given from the back benches, and saw him speaking passionately against military misadventure in Iraq. It drew from his own experiences of war because, unlike Uncle Hilary and The Hon Emily or Alex Salmond, Tony Benn knew what it was like to serve in the forces and to live in a city which its enemies were trying to bomb into submission.
And that was the strategy which Hilary Benn spoke in favour of last night.
The SNP, including Salmond, voted against the Government’s bombing plans. Hilary Benn and some others in the Labour Party did not.
This morning, on LBC, reflecting on the Syria debate in the House of Commons, Salmond said of Hilary Benn: “His father, whose speech I heard in the Iraq debate all these years ago, would be burling in his grave hearing a speech in favour of a Tory prime minister wanting to take the country to war, and that’s just a reality.”
Now that, to experienced observers, is what is usually referred to as “fair comment”. It is Salmond’s opinion, and he is entitled to it.
But not according to The Hon Emily.
The Croydon councillor “took to Twitter”, as you do, to register her displeasure with the former First Minister of Scotland: “Mr Salmond, Your comments are both deeply offensive and simply untrue. I hope you reflect and retract them.”
The naivety for a 26-year-old scion of a political dynasty to comment in this manner may surprise some people. She also seems to take offence very easily, which might not be a terrific trait if she ever wants to have a third try to get elected to parliament.
Salmond, for his part, ain’t apologising.
Tonight, he expanded on his earlier remarks, saying: “I think it is a fair comment that Tony Benn would have been astonished to hear his son make a pro-war speech in favour of a Tory Prime Minister’s war plans.
“There was certainly no disrespect meant to Tony Benn, who I held on the highest regard. Not least of which because of his passionate anti-war speeches – for which I was present.
“The Labour Party would be better employed demanding an apology from the Prime Minister for calling their own party leader a ‘terrorist sympathiser’.”
Here, for those who haven’t seen it, is Tony Benn’s anti-war speech to parliament, from 1998 – with Jeremy Corbyn in support in the row behind. Once you’ve seen it, you can make your own mind up what Tony Benn might have thought of the 2015 Tory Government’s arguments to send our young men and women to war.
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