Parliament: Benn Jnr launches his campaign to win Leeds

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THERE WAS no intentional symbolism in Hilary Benn's choice of venue for the launch of his Leeds Central by-election campaign yesterday. Though he selected a church, those who observed the powers of oratory that won him selection as Labour candidate on Monday say he won't need prayers to defend a 20,000 majority.

Hope was flowering at the Trinity Methodist Church in inner-city Beeston, as Mr Benn, the 45-year-old son of Tony Benn, launched his campaign by potting plants for the Beeston in Bloom initiative (many houses in the area do not have gardens so they're providing extra hanging baskets).

Low-key maybe, but it demonstrates that Mr Benn had picked up the Yorkshire beat. Get in among the soil and compost and you're on the way to credibility.

As with opening the batting or bowling for Yorkshire County Cricket Club, local blood is no longer an imperative. But to eradicate any doubt, Mr Benn had done some painstaking research. "If you look in the 'phone book, there are more Benns here than in any place outside of London," he said.

An ancestor almost as distinguished as his own father - Mr William Benn - was born in Leeds 200 years ago. Then there was his own wife's parents, who live in Yorkshire, and a relative who works at Leeds University. Mr Benn ought to know that Leeds is cosmopolitan enough to accept outsiders. His defeat of a popular local, Maggie Giles-Hill, proved that.

Leeds, which boasts the biggest financial centre in England outside of London, fancies itself as the second city. Its MPs tend to be Blairite ministers such as George Moody, John Battle and the late Derek Fatchett (whose seat Mr Benn is fighting)."They've dropped the Labour red ties and tweed jackets," said one observer. "If this man is Benn and not Bennite he will be accepted."

Benn Jnr described himself as his "own man". But he offered little evidence of his father's renegade spirit, which might have upset the flower- arranging. "Leeds is a successful city but it is important that everyone has an opportunity to share in that success," was as strong as it got.