Hilary Benn has suddenly established himself as Labour’s natural choice for party leader if Jeremy Corbyn falls by the wayside.
Benn’s spellbinding Commons speech supporting the Government’s plan to bomb Syria – in defiance of his leader – was that political rarity, an address which changed people’s minds as he was speaking.
I doubt whether anywhere near as many of the 60-plus Labour Members who supported the Government in the vote, believed, before Benn spoke, that they would take this rebellious line. Benn spoke with all the passion and brilliance of his father, the late Tony Benn, although Benn senior would almost certainly have taken the anti-war line.
But replacing a leader who says, “I am not going anywhere” and who enjoys the backing of the powerful left-wing paymaster trade unions, is more easily said than done.
The party’s leadership election process is ludicrous in that it gives the unions and others far more weight than they should have, at the expense of Members of Parliament who have to work with their leader day in, day out. This has meant that Corbyn, and his predecessor Ed Miliband, became leaders whom the MPs didn’t really want – to such an extent, indeed, that even some of his chosen shadow cabinet members have been in open revolt.
The hard-line left-wing are strengthening their foothold on the party, although they have not yet got a vice-like grip on it. That is surely to come. The unions will not easily give up their political power now they have got their chosen man into the job.
So Benn, who stands head and shoulders above the three dreary leadership candidates, trounced by Corbyn earlier this year, may have a long time to wait.
How wrong were nearly all the pundits about the outcome of the Oldham by-election last week?
They largely predicted the Corbyn effect could wipe out Labour’s huge majority and possibly hand Ukip the seat. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
Labour actually increased its share of the vote. Ukip leader Nigel Farage suggested the postal vote system was “bent”. But I doubt whether malpractices could have been on the scale that Farage alleges.
Are we seeing the start of the demise of Ukip? Don’t be too sure...