Frank Field MP
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Shooting Yourself in Both Feet

3
Dec
Afghanistan

What must have gone through the mind of British and America troops in Afghanistan yesterday when reports came through of the British Prime Minister and the American President signalling a time limit to the Afghan War?

Relief perhaps that the nightmare might now have an ending. But no doubt incredulity too.

The Taliban have proven themselves to be determined fighters, but it is surely an own goal to assume they cannot read or listen to broadcasts. Talk about shooting oneself in the foot.

The Taliban now know that the political leaders of most of NATO's effort in Afghanistan want out at a certain date. Taliban tactics will change. If they can survive the next few years they know they will win unless NATO ceases to count voters at home that think this war can be over quickly.

Both British Prime Minster and American President have caved into domestic pressure in talking about an end date, and have therefore increased significantly the chances that troop sacrifices will prove futile.

Of course a political leadership needs to have an end-strategy in mind - it would have been useful to have had one before we went in to Afghanistan. But to announce the date raises huge questions about the people that are advising both men.

Both are surrounded by advisors who have never fought in a war themselves and therefore do not bring to any discussion the practical - as opposed to the technical - knowledge crucial for conducting successful warfare.

This crude political pandering sadly swamps the good news in the President's strategy. He sees the war as one of countering insurgency and that mean the NATO strategy is now one that might lead to a successful conclusion if not a win.

Parliament

Another bullet went into the foot of the House of Commons authorities almost as soon as they announced an appeals system for MPs feeling aggrieved over the arbitrary Legg judgements imposed upon them.

Sir Thomas Legg was commissioned by the Prime Minister to carry out a an audit on the expenses of Members over the past five years. The good Sir Thomas simply went about his task making up his own rules.

The House Authorities obviously realised what a clanger they have made here and have therefore wisely instituted an appeal process.

Reading the note about the appeal process and the press release and you could be forgiven for thinking that at last and for the first time the House authorities got onto the front foot on this whole issue. But immediately the lobby reported that the Speaker's spin doctor was spinning like mad that the appeal was merely presentational and that it was really to clear up queries about Sir Thomas' inability to add up correctly. Indeed MPs failing to pay the Legg fines will have reductions made to their salaries or pensions.

None of that appears in the official statement so here is another wonderful example of the Speaker shooting himself in the foot. Wouldn't a better approach have been to say that the House Authorities accepted that there was a need for an independent appeal but that it hoped those MPs using the appeal process would bind themselves in to whatever conclusion the judge - Sir Paul Kennedy - comes to. This might have voluntarily brought a conclusion to the whole issue.

Instead the nasty little spinning operation was at work feeding the media with the sort of rough talk they love to report.

It was of course a huge error for the Speaker to even think about appointing a spin doctor. If there is one group more despised than MPs it is spin doctors.

What the public wanted was a Speaker who would talk directly to them. Needless to say the appointment of a spin doctor never came before the House, it has never been approved, and was appointed arbitrarily by the Speaker.

So instead of getting on to the front foot on this issue, this front foot now bears another brilliantly crafted self inflicted bullet wound.
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