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More Mr Benn and Co please

Posted on 3 May 2009 | 10:05am

Some very good responses on Facebook to my obseration that Hilary Benn is a good speaker – pointing out he did a decent defence of the government on Question Time, others that he handled tricky questions on student finance well when he did one of the Eddie Izzard q and a sessions, plus people just saying he was a good bloke.

Last night’s rally in Leeds was in his constituency and his job was basically to introduce MEP Richard Corbett, then me and finally John Prescott. So he only spoke for a few minutes, but he packed a lot in.

As he spoke, it dawned on me that it was the first time I had seen him speaking outside of a Commons/TV  studio/press conference environment.

He has many of his father’s mannerisms, in particular quite grand and swishing right-hand movements, and a voice that rises in volume as he gets to the crux of a point. He has the same very human warmth that comes through too.

As for content, in a short off the cuff speech he managed to remind people forcefully of some of the crucial choices a Labour-Tory vote involves. He communicated the morality at the heart of some of those choices, like David Cameron’s continued commitment to cutting inheritance tax for 3,000 of the wealthiest families, rather than putting that money into public services, or – something he is particularly passionate about – development.

Also, without ignoring the political difficulties, he set out how important it was to remain confident, making the point that the public were not warming to the Tories as they had posiively shifted to us in the mid -90s.

And he delivered a herogram to JP for the confidence he showed in his ‘rout’ of John Humphrys on the Today programme yesterday morning. I didn’t hear the interview but several people had mentioned it as we travelled around – that JP had taken him and his arguments on with confdence and verve, and refused to absorb all the negativity thrown his way, instead preferring to argue back.

I make a similar point in today’s News of the World, who asked me to comment on the current situation. I say too many of our people absorb the negativity, instead of doing what we should be doing all the time – defending the record, attacking our opponents and forcing the Tories to flesh out policy positions, and above all setting out the forward policy agenda confident in the arguments we are making.

I draw some of the parallels between sport and politics – the need to understand the diffference between strategy and tactics, knowing how to use pressure, manage change. And of course understanding that both are team games.

Obviously a lot of focus falls on Gordon Brown. But we need to see more of the ministers more of the time, not least to draw attention to another Tory weakness – their lack of strength in depth. Seeing Hilary in action underlined that for me. More Mr Benn on the box please. More ministers out campaigning like JP is campaigning this weekend, with a bit of gusto and energy.

Talk about embracing new-tech. Before the rally, he showed  film of his trip so far, rough and ready but full of strong political message, and the occasional jibe thrown my way, particularly at what he called my ‘fitted shirt.’ 

If Prescott Jnr, who masterminds the 24-hour JP The Movie operation, could arrange to get his Go Fourth film up on the vlog spot here, people could see that it is just a shirt that fits. A smart one admittedly, but that’s all it is.

Now to the real reason for my visit North … Burnley v Bristol City. Three points and we’re in the play-offs. I may be gone some time.

  • Daniel Bentley

    Come on Burnley!

  • Emma Hoddinott

    Thank you for coming to Keighley and Leeds, it was a good response from Keighley and the speeches last night from you, Hilary and John were spot on.
    If people want see the fitted shirt(!)some of the photos of the day are here:

  • Julian Bray

    All very well to promote Benn Jr. (just wish he’d change the silly specs.!) but would he be a suitable new leader for the Labour Party. The fact remains that Gordon has not only lost it and is now clinging onto the wreckage for dear life but he had also taken an axe to all the remaining lifeboats. Tories in as a Government at the next election (better if Gordon called a snap election now rather than a last minute, last gasp defiant stand) and will face five years of sheer hell as they grapple with the carnage of the recession. Many long serving hard working labour backbenchers will lose their seats (and possibly their deposits as well) simply because gordon won’t listen to advice and too many of his ‘friends’ are spinning against him. All very sad but its the public who suffer in the end, a weak government, a weak leader, weakens our standing in the world. Third world status here we come..

  • Alex Grahame

    I agree Prezza mauled Humphrys but when you read the transcript – some of the Tory websites ran it to try and say he was murdering the language – it read like he was all over the place. That’s why people see John as something more than your average politician. He sort of makes sense. Humphrys gets worse and worse by the way

  • Frank

    Met you in Keighley yesterday – I was the one who said I admired what you did for mental health and leukaemia, but I felt your party had lost the plot. Maybe time just runs out for everyone eventually, but I can’t stand the Tories, so don’t quite know what to do

  • George Woodhouse

    The obvious problem in the words used by professional spin docs, is that we now see through them Alastair. When you we should not “absorb the negativity” we really see that as ignoring the genuinely expressed criticisms of what is wrong with our politics today.

    There are many people around, who are not members of any party, who just want a fair and a free society to live in. There have to be some constraints of course, but the balance is so lopsided in favour of the political class that we are now protesting and will do so at the next election.

  • Andy G

    I heard John Prescott on BBC Radio 5live last night criticise the appalling Stephen Nolan for following a Daily Mail agenda. I wish more Labour MP’s were as robust as JP when confronted with interviewers who don’t seem to be as impartial as they should be.

    These ‘controversial’ presenters don’t speak on behalf of their listeners/viewers. I’m sure most of the audience like hearing these giant egos taken down a peg or two.

    Giving the government a hard time is fine, but when will they start asking the Conservatives some tough questions. With the election just a year away it’s about time they started.

  • Bernard Cowley

    Hilary Benn a good speaker? Come off it. He doesn’t understand that in the English language there is such a thing as the letter “t” which he never uses whilst spouting his revolting estuary English. He’s just as obnoxious as his father.

  • Chris

    As a Labour party member I am disgusted at Kate Hoey’s comments in today’s papers. This awful woman is obviously not against a Tory win as she chairs and organisation, the Countryside Alliance bloodsports organisation, that was set up with the one aim of bringing about a return to Tory government. This is so these barbaric people can go back to lawfully chasing and tearing apart wild animals for fun. It is time we kicked out this traitorous woman who takes Labour resources whilst stabbing the party in the back.

  • Alan Quinn

    Hilary Benn does a good job at DEFRA not least putting up with the moans of right wing farmers who are all free marketeers but want whatever subsidy is going from the EU.
    They are the only section of sociery to plead poverty from behind the wheel of a Range Rover. As I’m an early riser I listen to Farming Today and Hilary always comes across as a fair minded bloke.
    Anyway Ally good luck to Burnley FC and here’s to you bending SAF’s ear next season to get some players over from United to Turf Moor on loan!

  • Marion

    Hazel Blears and Charles Clarke have been on SkyNews all day. I think it is a real shame (and a bit of an own goal for Labour) drawing media attention when JP, yourself and others are out campaigning hard. My ignorance about politics will show now: I imagine being an Cabinet Minister is a bit like being a Church Minister; if you stop believing in what you are doing, you probably should step aside and let someone else have a go.

    I will be looking at the pics of AC’s “fitted shirt” later. I need something to cheer me up… The UN has sent my husband-to-be to Darfur. We were supposed to be getting married today – tricky without a groom! Incidentally, I am not feeling sympathetic towards any form of development or conflict prevention!

  • gary Enefer

    Dear AC

    I don’t wish to hijack your blog but I found you on Twitter and wondered if Marion – in the Sudan – and Jane A would allow me to follow them and vice versa? My Twitter username is MYYOGA if anyone is interested.

    As far as Marion’s point-about Clarke and Blears – she raised something interesting about calling it a day if you stop believing(like the Church Minister) I have found that,since starting Yogic things,after my nervous breakdown in 2005 aged 42, there is always a need to keep working at things as they will break down and renew all the time. There is no solid matter – we are all energy particles and water. Clark and Blears are the yang to JP and hilary Benn’s ying? They are all working at ‘it’ in different ways. Hope your husband to be is back with you soon Marion
    Thank you AC
    gary enefer

  • Phil McNally

    I too was impressed by Hillary Benn on Question Time, as I was hoping I would be, being a huge fan of his father. And to Bernard Cowley, “obnoxious” is the most inappropriate word possible to describe Tony Benn. Maybe you don’t recognise honesty when you see it.

  • Em

    …funny how I posted on FB about your shirt and negativity before reading this blog entry…I had no idea, I swear.

    I don’t understand what people have against John Humphrys. Then again, British people have no idea how lucky they are to have journalists with better than double-digit IQs. If you knew how bad journalists are across the pond, you’d all build shrines in honour of the BBC news department. I don’t think Humphrys is unfair and at least he knows his stuff. Didn’t hear the JP interview but Humphrys had eleven minutes with Blunkett earlier this week. I enjoyed it quite a bit. DB mentioned something about GB being too busy running the country to concern himself with minor stuff and of course Humphrys pounced, as he should. DB soon got his own back and he made good points.

    As far as JP goes, I just wish more politicians could exudes his verve, energy and the sheer love of the game. As we say here, he’s “keeping it real”.

    Alas, I missed Hillary Benn on Question Time. Thanks to the jingoistic BBC iplayer, I can no longer watch it online. But no need to sell me on the Benn men. They positively make me swoon.

    Now, what’s the whole Hazel thing about? And am I right in thinking Burnley achieved their goal? Sorry, I’m just a girl.

  • Jane A

    “Fitted shirt” looks fine to me. Beats the Tory “Bordeaux and pheasant gut” look hands down.

  • Em

    On a gagné!

    Cardiff has Doctor Who and Torchwood, isn’t that enough?