Bernard Ingham: Benn fighting spirit has lessons for Cameron

Montage: Graeme Bandeira
Montage: Graeme Bandeira
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DAVID Cameron’s 10 years at the top, celebrated last Sunday, have been full of complications and Labour’s win in the Oldham by-election added another to the list. It’s a wonder the poor chap isn’t up the pole by now.

As the fifth change of Tory leader in 15 years, he felt he had first to eradicate Theresa May’s “nasty” description of the Tory Party. So, ludicrously, he went hugging huskies and embracing the dubious concept of man-made global warming.

His enthusiasm for minimising CO2 emissions at the current UN environment conference in Paris would be laughable if it were not so futile. This conference is not about containing CO2 – they’ve been trying to do that for 21 years without result – but about how many billions of pounds the West will pour into the backward nations for having had the cheek to inaugurate the Industrial Revolution.

The estimated 44,000 warped zealots raising France’s CO2 output with their fanatical attendance do not seem to mind that the crooks who run the average backward nation will pocket the brass and not even run, let alone blush.

Cameron was perhaps fortunate that one of our worst Prime Ministers, Gordon Brown, forced out Tony Blair, even though that rascal took Britain to war on a false prospectus.

But it wasn’t enough to give him a Tory majority, so he then spent five years keeping Nick Clegg sweet. Clegg thanked him by listing 18 Tory policies he had thwarted.

Jeremy Corbyn is nowt but a learner in the tribulations of leadership.

Now with his own government but with too narrow a majority always to feel safe, Cameron is advancing on a broad front of promising reforms, but his job is at best half done.

Brown’s monumental budget deficit of £156bn has only been halved and our hitherto admirable Chancellor, George Osborne, is tending to court popularity.

Still, no one in the front line of politics stands better equipped to be Prime Minister than Cameron. But he often seems too presentational, promising far too much and delivering too little.

Now he is faced with three conundrums:

How can he keep his government together in the referendum on continued EU membership if, as expected, the EU offers mere tokens of independence?

How, allowing for the inevitable risks of war which Corbyn has converted into reasons for inertia, can he show that he is helping seriously to contain whatever the murderous crew in Syria are called – Isil or Daesh?

What is now Labour’s mainstream opinion after Oldham? Can anybody possibly say after only a 40 per cent turnout? But how can we account for Labour raising its share of the vote by seven per cent and its candidate attracting a majority of around 10,000 – five times the bookies’ best guess? It cannot all be put down to postal vote rigging.

Just who is the Labour voter these days? That is just as much a question for Corbyn as it is for Cameron.

Which brings me to Benn. I always knew Wedgie had it in him. In my view he is one of the four lost leaders of post-war politics – he by becoming the acceptable face of extremism; Michael Heseltine and Enoch Powell through lack of self-control; and possibly Reginald Maudling to hedonism and indolence.

But his son, Hilary, Shadow Foreign Secretary and Leeds Central MP, has proved his metal.

Having worked for Wedgie for four years, I have no doubt that, given his lachrymose tendency, he would have wept with pride at his son’s exalted speech on extending the air war to Syria. Pride because of the way Hilary held the House; pride over his argument if not necessarily his conclusion, and not least pride in his sheer guts in standing out against his leader.

Some will say that, in this, Hilary has inherited all of his father’s “independence”. To my certain knowledge Wedgie spent four years conducting guerrilla warfare against two Prime Ministers – Harold Wilson and Jim Callaghan – from inside the Cabinet.

But Hilary Benn’s raw courage has made him Target No 1 in the battle with the irredeemably nasty Trots, anarchists and Lefty zealots that Red Ed Miliband and Corbyn have unleashed on the party.

The 66 Labour MPs who voted for limited air war must keep us closely posted on militant manoeuvres against them. If Benn is not the next Labour leader, then God help Cameron and us all. Labour will have chucked principled and sensible politics out of the Westminster window.

Cameron now knows its always tough at the top.