It’s remarkable how some people in power either ignore, or refuse to see things which are staring them straight in the face.
This was the prevailing theme today when myself and an audience met with Ivan Lewis, Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth affairs. The topic on the agenda was primarily the war in Afghanistan, the logistics, ethics and practicalities involved in such a war. Lewis spoke for around a quarter of an hour before opening it up to the floor for questions.
It’s here when I’m going to check myself slightly. I am constantly defending politicians against others’ insults. For every expenses abusing, sleaze ridden corrupt cabinet minister, there are constituency MPs who work hard for their electorate, and want (to use a cliché) “to make a difference”. But given the responses supplied by Lewis today, can you blame young people for feeling disenfranchised and apathetic about politics? Typical politicians answers were given, instead of answering the question directly, policy was trotted out with all the panache of a Michael Howard Newsnight interview. The audience looked on incredulously as good, constructive questions were left unanswered.
Lewis is currently on a roadshow (his own words) visiting every region in the UK to stir up support for the war in Afghanistan, to “assure forces that the British people support them”. I have no doubt that the British people support them, but their ringleaders…I’m not so sure. Lions led by Lambs indeed.
Furthermore, Lewis constantly emphasised that we were in Afghanistan to rid the world of the greatest threat to our way of life. It would be churlish to point out the not-insignificant problem of climate change as our greatest threat, but you can’t have everything. For a man so clearly preoccupied with the modern threat of terrorism (Lewis voted for the Iraq war, for ID cards and against an investigation into the Iraq war) he seemed stupendously blind to it’s root causes. Much of the argument seemed to take the view that we stamp out any insurgents in Iraq and by proxy safeguard our own country. What he fails to take into account is that much of the terrorist bombings in the UK (including July 7th in London) were propagated by British residents. How exterminating members of Al-Qaeda 3000 miles around the world is going to help us, I don’t know.
Moreover, he incessantly referred to the British people being in a state of fear as “the security of the people of this country lay in the hands of extremists”. Have I ruptured the space-time continuum into a Daily Mail alternate reality? I’ve yet to meet a single person who is genuinely worried about the threat of terrorism to this country. It’s happened before, but the chances of you being in the wrong place at the wrong time are so minute that it’s hardly worth thinking about. Did people stop using the Tube when London was under threat? No, because they had to get on with their lives and it was business as usual.
Towards the end of the talk we were bombarded with statistics showing “improving” living conditions in Afghanistan. Much has been made of the effort to rebuild and reinvigorate Afghanistan. While this may be true, it still doesn’t explain the fundamental point of the whole debate:
Why are we there in the first place?