Thursday, 3 December 2015

Benn-t out of Shape (part one)

 This post was intended to be a longer analysis of Benn's speech. However, Vice has beaten me to the punch (like Hilary, I love a cheeky cliche). Please follow this link for some of the things I would have added, but there is no need just now.

1. Oh, please, stop it. I am not sure why Hilary Benn's speech is being lauded this morning, but since I fear rhetoric, became bored with the cult of personality around Tony Benn after reading Nick Cohen's What's Left and have a strong aversion to bombing countries both strategically and morally, I'm getting off this bandwagon right now. 

I don't understand. The Guardian has published an opinion piece that seems to see his speech as an Oedipal victory for Benn Jnr. My Facebook feed is full of anti-bombing posts that pay respect to Hilary's style. Even my hero Cohen is as pleased to hear a Labour politician stand up against fascists. 

Hasn't anyone noticed he reverts to comparing ISIL to Hitler, a rhetorical trick so disingenious it has its own trope, Goodwin's Law?

Hasn't anyone studied Classics, which reveals both the emptiness of Cicero's celebrated rhetoric and the way Athenian democracy was led to disaster by a series of demagogues?

Doesn't anyone remember that rhetoric is a tactic of patriarchal oppression, making the weaker argument seem stronger?

2. Speaking of weak arguments, I'll begin with mine. When John Crace praises Hilary, he mentions his Dad, Tony. There is even further analysis of the family dynamic, which tries to reconcile the political positions and dynamism of Tony and Hilary.

The article notes that Hilary is the fourth generation of Benns to work in politics. He's part of a political dynasty, an establishment figure (not mentioned in Owen Jones' book, because that would undermine his argument that the establishment is right wing).

Aside from their association with royalty, political dynasties are dubious. The Bushes, the Nehru-Ghandis in India, The Pitts in the UK: not only does their proliferation suggest representative democracy is controlled by an oligarchy, they are professional politicians, living in a bubble of power and influence. 

When, for example, a government goes to war against the wishes of at least a large proportion of the governed (hello, Tony Blair), the disconnect between state and population could be the result of career politicians simply not knowing what the people think.

I think this is the echo-chamber effect

Owen Jones does a good job of listing those politicians who are married to other politicians or business and media people. He worries about this web, suggesting that it concentrates power in certain areas, thereby corrupting democracy.

I am not sure how fair it is to claim that Hilary has a degree of respect due to his family heritage - he is, after all, opposing his father's line. But the veneration for Tony Benn is wide and refuses to recognise that Benn was a great speaker (remember that thing about power he said?) and a poor activist (remember what he said to Saddam Hussein?). 

Although he went to a prep school, Hilary has a socialist heritage and credibility gifted by his father's legacy. Does this help him, rather like when Nixon went to China, to appear an unlikely, and therefore moderate, voice for his political stance?

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