Analysis: Hilary Benn, Labour leader-in-waiting

Hilary Benn
Hilary Benn
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Few are emerging well from the chaos engulfing Labour but the Leeds Central MP is one of them.

If I was Hilary Benn I would have switched off my phone last night and headed to my Leeds constituency for some respite from another difficult week under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.

The “Mao affair” on Wednesday had been followed yesterday by his leader chairing a Shadow Cabinet meeting where it was agreed their position on bombing Syria would be considered further only for Mr Corbyn to subsequently make clear he had already decided he could not back air strikes.

But the Shadow Foreign Secretary did not duck the inevitable Today programme request for an interview and was in a studio in Leeds early this morning to be interrogated by Sarah Montague.

Presenting his own support for military action in contradiction to his leader’s vehement opposition against a backdrop of indecision over whether the parliamentary party should adopt a collective position or allow a free vote, without it appearing a complete shambles, was almost the definition of Mission Impossible.

But Mr Benn played his terrible hand as well as could be hoped. It is not the first time Mr Benn has had to perform this role.

Labour’s confusion over its support or otherwise for EU membership under Mr Corbyn also saw him having to explain the inexplicable earlier this year.

His performance on both occasions has underlined his growing credentials to take over from Mr Corbyn when (and surely it is when, not if) Labour’s disastrous experiment comes to an end.

Mr Corbyn’s departure will anger a large section of Labour supporters and assuming they don’t leave in droves when their man heads back to obscurity they will have a big say in who succeeds him.

Unlike others, Mr Benn decided not to retreat to the backbenches when Mr Corbyn was elected and he has not hidden away on difficult days like today.

Mr Benn has avoided being tagged a Blairite or Brownite and is respected as a politician of integrity with a deep personal commitment to the Labour movement.

Those qualities are likely to make him a palatable candidate to Corbynistas and someone the parliamentary party, desperate for an end to the chaos, can rally behind.

Whether voters would choose Mr Benn to be their Prime Minister is another question, Right now Labour, and the country, just needs someone to restore the party’s credibility and hold the Government to account.