ON FRIDAY 2 December, the University of York PolSoc were delighted to welcome Hilary Benn MP, to converse with Dr Jim Buller. Benn largely described how his experiences in government shaped his political outlook, with the causes and impacts of Brexit dominating much of the talk.
Buller’s opening question, one that many political analysts and scientists have largely struggled to answer since 24 June: why did Brexit happen? Benn responded as any residing MP would, portraying a multitude of issues including “fear of immigration, migration; desire for change in the status quo and sovereignty”. Nonetheless he prioritised the Leave slogan “take back control” as a primary cause for Brexit in an increasingly interdependent world. Benn later linked the myriad of causes for Brexit to the forces that have “propelled” populism to the international centre stage, as people tried to return to a pre-globalisation world where they had safe, stable and secure blue collar jobs. Benn further emphasised how the referendum drew a greater turn- out as people thought their choice would matter, unlike in general elections.
Benn was then asked whether the Remain campaign could have done more, he seemed uneasy though still informative within his aswer. He primarily pointed to the failure of Remain to emphasise the need for reform in the EU, and the recession. Benn specified how he would have used the referendum to emphasise the consequences of Brexit, such as the significant drop in the pound.
He spoke further of the lack of co-operation between parties. There were few times when pro-EU Conservative and Labour MPs were seen on stage together, which could have provided a greater challenge to Leave campaigners. Benn later proclaimed that Remain could have easily contended the claims by Leave that the UK is forever having “sand kicked in it’s face” as “our European colleagues view us as a strong, powerful and influential state”, which the EU wouldn’t damage as it is a vital partner in single market.
The topic of Syria and Benn’s rousing speech in support of airstrikes on Daesh was next on the agenda. Primarily, Benn stood by the decision to go against Corbyn and support the airstrikes as he believes they are having a fundamental impact on Daesh. However, his description of Syria as “a bloody mess” seems exceedingly accurate, especially considering the complexity of the situation, which has created a power vacuum.
Nonetheless, Benn disputed the weak western response to the claims of genocide and chemical weapons being used by governmental forces was a crucial mistake as the Russians used the delay to safeguard their warm water port in Tartus, which does not scream stability to any western liberal. To close the topic, Benn revisited earlier thoughts about needing a stronger Europe to ensure Russia recognises the strength of NATO and the EU.
To end the talk, Benn answered topical and somewhat provocative questions from the student audience. One audience member asked for Benn’s opinion on whether attitudes towards HIV and AIDS have changed since his time as International Development Minister. Benn answered the question eloquently, yet highly informatively where he described his his change of policy as International Development Minister to support the expansion of antiretrovirals meant over 400 000 people were now on life saving drugs in Malawi. Benn used this success of the Labour government between 1997 and 2010 to return back to the theme of not “rubbishing” all of the good that Labour did in its 13 years in power because of the Iraq War, in which he conveyed the most passion I have seen from any MP since the speech he gave on 1 December 2015, from the opposition dispatch box.
The talk therefore bore great similarity to his passionate speech to support airstrikes in Syria, with grand sentiment, conviction and information. However, the illuminating talk largely focused on the British Exit from the European Union, as Benn spoke with some despair when discussing the urgent need to resolve global issues, such as climate change, terrorism and civil war. Nonetheless, he did seem to have greater confidence for the future of Britain than what is displayed by our own Prime Minister, perhaps showing that Mrs May is hiding a central secret amongst her plan for a “red white and blue Brexit”, which I certainly do not have a lot of patriotic faith in.—