3 Dec 2015

Tony Benn vs son Hilary – to bomb or not to bomb?

In 1998 Tony Benn spoke passionately against bombing Iraq. In 2015, his son Hilary’s rousing speech to MPs backed bombing raids over Syria. On both occasions Jeremy Corbyn was sitting near by.

“Do not Arab and Iraqi women weep when their children die? Does not bombing strengthen their determination?”

Tony Benn left fellow MPs in no doubt of his opposition to proposals to bomb Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq in 1998. Recalling his own memories of the 1940 Blitz, he warned that although “war is an easy thing to talk about” it is terrifying to experience.

He predicted that the bombing would make victims of “innocent people many if not most of whom would like to see Saddam Hussein removed” adding “what fools we are to live in a generation in which war is a computer game for our children.”

Sitting behind him on the backbenches was a youthful Jeremy Corbyn, now leader of the Labour Party.

On Wednesday night Benn’s son Hilary, serving as Mr Corbyn’s Shadow Foreign Secretary, stood at the dispatch box to support the Conservative government’s motion calling for British air strikes on Islamic State militants to be extended to Syria in defiance of his party leader’s position.

His passionate speech, coming after ten and a half hours of debate, was greeted – most unusually – with applause from both sides of the House.

Describing so-called Islamic State militants as “fascists”, Hilary Benn said “what we know about fascists is that they need to be defeated”.

Jeremy Corbyn sat on the front bench behind him, listening stony-faced.