IT isn’t often that a rousing speech on socialist internationalism is rewarded with a full transcript in the Spectator. In fact, it never happens. The Tory Party’s newsletter is funny like that.

Last Wednesday night, nevertheless, Hilary Benn had barely finished opposing the Government by agreeing with them than his every word was up on the Speccie website. If you hadn’t heard the Shadow Foreign Secretary speak, you might have thought the journal was making a satirical point. Instead, it was joining general adulation.

We had, it seems, witnessed one of the great Commons speeches of modern times. While MPs cheered, applauded and wept grateful tears, Benn was transformed suddenly into the saviour of his nation and his party. Acclaim was heard, said TV commentators with a shaky sense of political geography, “from all sides”.

It would have been slightly more accurate to say that those who supported the Government’s case for bombing in Syria were well-chuffed. Some seemed to think Benn had also taken out Jeremy Corbyn, Labour’s "terrorist sympathiser" in chief. A single speech endorsing an attempt to kill off Islamic State was lauded, in any case, as a triumph for parliamentary democracy.

An interesting claim, if true, and a still more interesting claim if false. The difference between resounding oratory and a great speech is that the latter depends on coherent argument. The former can get by, and is sometimes better off, without it. You don’t have to go back to Cicero to find phrase-makers playing fast and loose with the truth: that’s politics. Benn did something else: in place of argument, he gave the Commons gallery emotion, otherwise known as “passion”.

So said the reviews, at any rate. In practical terms, he simply made it a great deal harder for Labour to take on the Government if and when things go wrong in Syria. Politically speaking, he reduced a divided official opposition to fragments. Since national security was the issue, and not Labour politics, he might be forgiven for that. The Tories certainly applauded him for it. But what did Benn actually say?

Straight from the rhetorician’s handbook (and the Government script), he deployed a false opposition. In his telling, there was a choice between “doing something” and doing nothing. The UN itself, Benn said, is asking us to do this unspecified something. “So the question for each of us – and for our national security – is this: given that we know what they are doing, can we really stand aside and refuse to act fully in our self-defence against those who are planning [these] attacks?”

A stirring passage. The problem would be that no-one, even the pacifistic surrender monkey Corbyn, has advocated doing nothing. Some, like the Labour leader, actually share the Government’s view that the only hope of a lasting settlement lies with the Vienna Process of talks. Others, like the SNP, have advocated an array of actions to deprive IS of oil wealth, arms, internet propaganda, access to financial systems and patrons in Muslim countries.

Certain of these actions, particularly if they challenge Turkey and Saudi Arabia, would unsettle David Cameron far more than bombing raids. They could alter political realities in the region to better effect than a few more missiles and piles of rubble. Benn simply said, in a hurried couple of sentences, that such things can happen while bombing goes on. The singular fact remains that no-one has advocated standing aside. No-one is in favour of nothing.

Benn knew this. As Shadow Foreign Secretary, he also knew perfectly well that there is no such thing as military action without ramifications. Somehow, though, his peroration did not take him in the direction of any of those. What about the 70,000 local ground troops allegedly waiting to finish the job begun with air power? The Shadow Foreign Secretary said just two things.

First, a little way short of an oratorical peak, he noted that “there’s been much debate about the figure of 70,000 and the Government must, I think, better explain that”. So the purveyors of derided hogwash had “better explain” their hogwash? Benn then argued that it doesn’t matter how many available fighters await the call – unless the number is zero, presumably – but their number will not be increasing while we wait. He’s heard of warfare, then.

What entranced Tories and the Labour right, nevertheless, was Benn’s invocation of his party’s traditions. Here was the fight against the fascists, as of old. Here was the struggle as the International Brigaders knew the struggle, as the volunteers against Hitler and Mussolini knew the struggle. Except it isn’t. The lazy old left-wing habit of deeming every repulsive opponent a fascist now afflicts all sorts, but the ghoulish theocrats of IS don’t in any sense fit the bill. Benn was abusing language for the sake of a heroic Labour self-image.

That was almost incidental. As his roll-call of battle honours rang out, you waited for words that never came. Spain, the Hitler war, the founding of the UN, a party that had always stood up for rights and justice. Labour and Britain, said Benn, “must confront this evil”. Then it was plain: there had been not a mention, at any point, of Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya from a politician who had voted for each of those catastrophes.

There was not a single sentence, for that matter, on the most important issue of all. Cameron and all the others eager to “do something” had also failed to address the point. What follows if bombing fails? Those of us who think the course chosen by the Commons is witless and reckless still want to hear an answer. It is one thing to say, as government apologists say, that you cannot predict every outcome. Nevertheless, any plan worth the name should at least contain a footnote on what might need to be done if sceptics are proved right.

Benn was applauded after saying not a word – not one – about what should be done if IS does not succumb even after every last strategic and diplomatic domino falls as the coalition desires. For how long should bombing continue? Benn didn’t say. Will doing our bit in the name of solidarity and national security lead him to support the use of UK ground troops if there is an atrocity at home? Benn didn’t say.

The great, acclaimed speech managed to say very little. Like all the bombers, its author avoided the connection between war and domestic security. He did not explain why, having been wrong about three previous interventions, he had a remote chance of being right on this occasion. He did not spare much of his passion on the risk of civilian casualties, despite all we know of Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.

In which circumstances would Hilary Benn say “Enough” and call for the UK to stand, as he would have it, aside? If the answer is that he would never utter the word, the shadow minister had a duty to tell us what he has in mind, home and abroad, to answer for such a failure. After all, his flimsy, culpable rhetoric will have helped to make it happen.