Emily Benn and Alex Salmond 41

Emily Benn inherited her grandfather’s physiognomy.


She has come to fleeting attention by criticising Alex Salmond for saying that Tony would be “birling in his grave” at Hilary Benn’s warmongering.

During the Westminster elections, I received a text from the SNP asking members living in the centre of Edinburgh to nip down to the Mound for a photocall with Nicola Sturgeon. I looked out of the window at a cold Edinburgh morning, rain driving horizontally, and decided against it. Nadira remarked “If it was Alex Salmond you would have gone.” This is true. If it were Alex Salmond, I would have gone if it had entailed attempting to cross a river of molten lava.

It is therefore with consideration that I say that on this occasion I think that while Salmond was absolutely right that Tony Benn would fundamentally have disagreed with Hilary’s speech, the expression was perhaps over-colourful. I did not really get to know Tony until 2005 on, when the great chasm of Hilary’s support for the Iraq War already loomed between them, but Tony’s parental affection and pride were undimmed. There would be something really wrong with you for your opinion of your children to be conditional on their sharing your political opinions. So probably not birling.

But equally, I am quite sure Tony would not have felt Alex had anything to apologise for, and would have much admired Salmond’s own contribution on Syria.

UPDATE Several commenters have formed the impression that I object to the phrase “birling in the grave” as offensive. I do not, it is a perfectly ordinary phrase. My point is rather that there was no family split in the Benn family despite some radically different political opinions, and that seemed to me in fairness worth noting. I describe “birling in the grave” as over-colourful purely as a description of the Tony-Hilary relationship, not as an offensive phrase. Tony certainly is birling in his grave over the Syria vote.

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41 thoughts on “Emily Benn and Alex Salmond

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  • mike

    If Corbyn had any balls he’d take the whip away from the 66 Red Tories, including Mr Benn the aspiring gauleiter. If he wants a real Labour party that’s what he’s got to do.

    But Corbyn is too nice to do that, I suspect. He’s too entrenched in Parliamentary procedure to do what needs to be done.

    Red Tories out.

  • ElaineS

    Rubbish!! Are Scots now to curtail an age old saying “He/she will birl/spin/turn in their grave” when someone says/does something that that person would not agree with!! Are you saying I am over the top for saying it to my grown up daughter when she does something that I know her gran would be unhappy about!!! what is this that Scots have to stop using sayings we’ve said for years because our neighbours in the south are offended!! Bloody hell! Kneel to the south you lowly Scots!

  • ElaineS

    Another thing I’d add! I was 40 years Labour till I switched to SNP, Tony Benn WOULD birl in his grave at the thought of his son standing up proudly and speaking up for bombing! I met the great man several times when he did talks at the Fringe!! Stop making Alex Salmond the bad guy when he is speaking the truth!!

  • MerkinScot

    Tony Benn helped shaft Scotland with his suppression of the McCrone report.
    He also voted for the 40% vote pockle during the last referendum.
    That he was no friend of Scotland is quite clear.
    Despite that he would be birling faster than a Dentist’s drill at his offspring reading a speech which looked like something prepared by Mark Regev.

  • BrianFujisan

    ElaineS is correct, to most folk i Know, this is a harmless Phrase Often used. I have used the Phrase myself to close friends..it’s a shrug and a Sheepish smile thing.

  • craig Post author


    I am sure Tony will be birling in his grave at the Syria vote, but not at the behaviour of his son.

    The point I am gently making is that Tony already knew that Hilary was a Blairite, but it did not upset their family relations.

    Nothing I wrote could be taken by any rational person as implying that Alex Salmond is a bad guy.

  • Margaret Ann MacPherson

    I also agree with ElaineS. Birling in a grave is indeed an acceptable Scottish phenomena.

  • craig Post author


    Their is nothing wrong at all with the phrase, or the English equivalent turning in his grave. My point is purely a factual one that there was no family split, even though political opinions were radically different. It is I think an important point to make in fairness.

  • BrianFujisan

    I missed the Emphasis on that Craig… Tony Loved Hilary… I should know all about opposites with a boy of mine in the Military.. Still It’s to be admired that there was no family split.. In away you have taught me something on this… Keep up the Good work

  • craig Post author


    You are quite right, Tony Benn’s attitudes to Scotland were alarmingly Britnat. He was also a pretty spikey and bruising character; his avuncular image could be misleading.

  • Herbie

    Hilary’s argument is that we should go to war to save people.

    Tony’s argument was that in not going to war we were saving people.

    And, their view of war is different.

    Tony understood that war is a plundering racket.

    Hilary seems to believes that it is a moral crusade.

    One has a belief in humanity. The other in the machine.

  • Anon1


    Average wage 17k after 50 years of Labour. I think there’s a trend there.

    Meanwhile 15 Labour councillors on 100k+ per year.

  • MerkinScot


    I still have a family super 8 film of Tony Benn speaking at Queens Park Bandstand when I was a wee boy, in the 60s.
    My parents were big fans of his at that time.
    Both of them would now be birlin’ at the thought that, 50 years later, Son of Benn would be urging the killing of more and more Arabs and that those who speak out against it are vilified as terrorist sympathisers.

  • Anon1


    I still have a family super 8 film of Tony Benn speaking at Queens Park”

    Oh do get over it. He achieved nothing except passing over a large portion of his wealth to his son tax-free.

  • fwl

    Craig, sometimes I think you must be deliberately awkward ie why not just go to photo shoot and built bridges. Anyway just posting to say that Californian Congressman Dana Rohrabacher has put out an interesting statement on Syria, IS and Russia.

  • Herbie


    Your lot have been dictating economic policy for the last 35 years. Don’t blame the conditions in deprived northern towns on their local MPs. They’re just trying to keep up with the fallout.

    You want to be looking to the City of London to explain Britain’s economic woes.

    Britain is basically in House Clearance mode now. Selling whatever to whomever.

    That’s where your economic heroes have brought us.

    Beggars and streethawkers.

  • Tony M

    Tony Benn: “My Mother was a Scot, my wife was an American, one son married a girl who was the daughter of an Indian and another married a Muslim.”

    History will not, does not judge him harshly. Hilary Benn though, I think quite the opposite. Did he dare to be a Daniel? As his father was fond of saying. Or a Judas?

    I think living in the shadow of his father is an impossibility, but without his father he would have amounted to less than the nothing he is now become; we’re all floundering trying to understand how, but not particularly perturbed or surprised by his duplicity.

    I’m no fan of political dynasties, but Emily Benn and others are of course blameless and shouldn’t feel personally diminished, to say that someone would be birling/turning in their grave is a mark of respect, it’s a common enough and well understood though nonsensical saying which no doubt has equivalents too in other languages and cultures.

  • Tony M

    While Tony Benn turns in his grave, Hilary Benn digs his own.

    Alas there is not I think any published ‘etymology for idioms’, it would be fascinating.

  • punklin

    Tony may be birling or turning but Hilary is definitely spinning – this speech, light on reasons, over-reliant on emotion, was carefully prepared with others of Blairite warmongering persuasion.

  • Mary

    UBS Branches in ME and Africa
    Saudi Arabia
    South Africa
    United Arab Emirates

    Quite so.

    There is a long list of ‘controversies’ on the UBS Wiki page. Naughty little Swiss gnomes.


    Her tweets support Uncle Hilary and the war mongering section of the Labour party.

    Emily Benn ‏@Emily_Benn Dec 2
    Incredibly proud of @hilarybennmp tonight-Superb speech demonstrating so powerfully why we must fight and defeat fascism wherever we find it

    Emily Benn ‏@Emily_Benn · 15 hrs
    I’m now travelling without twitter. All our thoughts are with the brave RAF servicemen and women who are serving our country

    and some retweets from the Red Tories.

    Her father, the 3rd Viscount, did not inherit the urge to sit on the green benches.

    Dr Stephen Benn
    Director of Parliamentary Affairs
    Institute of Biology.

    The former Labour minister left an estate worth £5m to his children, but official documents suggest he used legitimate tax planning strategies to reduce death duties.

    It was ever thus.

  • pardeep singh

    It’s not an issue, it really isn’t worth wasting a few paragraphs on. Hillary voted for the Iraq way, the destruction of Libya and now the assault on Syria. He’s never apologised and that has had more serious consequences than Alex saying what everyone was thinking.

  • Tony M

    There’s no such thing as ISIS/Da’esh infrastructure though. It’s the Syrian state’s infrastructure and that of the private investors if any, in refineries, storage etc., it hurts Syria and the Syrian people in the long run far more than the short term annoyance of Da’esh and Turkish or Israeli profiteers. Little attention is being paid to Iraq, whose oil is also being stolen too, the US is not keen to interdict this traffic as Iraq would not grant legal amnesty to US and other ‘coalition’ nationals who committed notorious war crimes and atrocities there. What this nuisance attack by the UK government’s bombers has achieved is hard to discern as it is ephemeral, it seems this refinery had already been hit repeatedly by the US, and caught amidst localised ground fighting rendering it long out of operation, I suspect what and who were being bombed were oil and engineering workers of all nationalities, working for the Syrian government, salvaging what they could from the ruins. I expect we’ll be treated to a nice video of some stereotypical balaclaved louts burning an effigy of Cameron or a butcher’s apron, specially flown in, to get them message to the chloroformed masses down South that the air-strikes really made Da’esh mad at us, with lots of waving of guns, firing in the air and all the usual comedy routines, we know and love, from the the crew and cast of Da’esh in their Christmas special, with special guest star Scary Beardy Dude, in his best pyjamas.

  • Ken2

    After the speech the aftermath. The win at Oldham. Oh dear.

    Son of Kinnock popped up recently care of the foxy Press report. The privileged £Millionaires.Why do they need to inflict their offspring on others. A purge to all their Houses.

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