November 5, 2001

Some Stupid Ideas for the War

It was supposed to be one of the best parliamentary debates for years, but the debate on November 1st also had some extremely stupid ideas coming out of it. Two honourable mentions should go to Andrew Tyrie and Bob Marshall Andrews, one Tory and one Labour for two excellent speeches. So here are the five worst ideas from the debate.

5. Hearts and Minds

The fifth spot goes to Bernard Jenkin. Not really for any bad ideas, but for a lacklustre and (I hope) below par performance. It is also a chance to moan about the Conservatives' performance in general.

Mr. Jenkin is the new defence spokesman for the Conservatives. He was an average performer in the Commons, whose best decision in his political life was to choose the right father, Patrick Jenkin, a former Cabinet minister. A second good decision was to have a falling out with Michael Portillo, the presumed heir apparent to the Tory throne, and, as a consequence, to work for Portillo's most potent threat to the right, Iain Duncan-Smith. As a reward Mr. Jenkin got the leader's old job, defence spokesman.

This is a bit of a shame really, because he may be nice, but he is useless.

During the Kosovo adventure, the then Foreign Secretary was forensically disinterred by his Conservative opposite number, Michael Howard. Not that anyone noticed. I am told, from a trustworthy source, that the Conservative shadow cabinet was within a vote of opposing the Kosovo adventure. Indeed Michael Howard's successor has hinted that he privately opposed the Kosovo adventure.

No such luck this time. In a rather boring article for the Daily Telegraph, Iain Duncan Smith aimed some extremely mild criticism at Blair, accusing him of not setting out clear war aims. The response was quick. Charles Clarke, the Labour Party Chairman (and a Cabinet minister) accused Duncan-Smith and his shadow cabinet of being "known nutters". He also boasted about blackmailing Duncan Smith with a "killer fact file". The fact that some Tories may have built up a fact file on Charles Clarke from when he was in charge of housing allocations in a very corrupt London Borough may concern him.

Anyway, the point is that the Tories have neither opposed the war, nor, more realistically, put it under any serious scrutiny, yet they are still accused of being one step away from treachery. If the Tories were to oppose a war that had no conceivable British interest, or employed the same sort of critical attention they intend to apply to domestic legislation, they would get the same treatment as they are getting now. Supportive stance for a bad war – bad idea.

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4. Market Forces

Here is a suggestion for Geoff Hoon, Defence Minister: get some basic economics lessons. Like how a monopoly works. Let us try this exchange for a start:

Paul Flynn (Newport, West): My question arises from an earlier intervention. Will my right hon. Friend now kill the myth that the conflict will have some effect on the flow of heroin to this country and confirm what the United Nations has just said – that the Taliban have reduced their poppy cultivation by 91 per cent, but the Northern Alliance has increased its poppy cultivation threefold? A great deal of the heroin coming to this country comes from Burma, Pakistan and other countries. Whatever the outcome of the conflict, it will have no effect whatsoever on the flow of heroin into this country.

Mr. Hoon: I am afraid that I do not agree with my hon. Friend, and I caution him against relying on the argument that, somehow, the Taliban regime had reduced the supply of heroin. In fact, the Taliban regime prohibited others from producing heroin so that they could exploit substantial stockpiles of heroin. Indeed, they were seeking to raise the price to derive further cash from that appalling trade. So I do not accept that there would not be a significant disruption of the heroin trade; it would certainly prevent the regime from trading in other people's lives to sustain its own appalling activities.

It really speaks for itself. The Taliban are evil because Ö they reduced the supply of heroin. Drug induced logic.

3. Get Israel

Well, not quite. Simply put, Gerald Kaufman wants to replace the Government of Israel by blackmailing them with the withdrawal of aid. Now I think that all foreign aid, whether to Israel or any of its Arab neighbours, should be cut off. However, that is not because I am attached to the losing party in the Israeli election. This is not Mr. Kaufman's situation, with his extremely close relations with the Israeli Labour Party. He has never really forgiven Likud for committing the cardinal sin, beating the Labour Party in an election. Now he wants to use foreign aid as a way of bringing in the Labour Party manifesto. Who said that foreign aid doesn't corrupt?

2. What are we fighting for?

Are we aiming to finish off the Taliban, or merely dismantle any terrorist camps and to extradite Bin Laden? It really depends whom you listen to, the Prime Minister or the Defence Secretary. Blair said that we want to get rid of the Taliban, and Hoon said that we merely wanted rid of the Arab terrorists. If British servicemen are going to die to improve your diplomatic standing, you should at least have the decency to let them die for a stated and achievable aim. After all, we do not want an open ended-war like the Cold War. Or do we?

1. The Wimmin speak

Joan Ruddock was the leader of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament when it was at its Soviet-funded prime in the 1980s. When Tony Blair was a member, actually. One would expect her to be sceptical about the war or at least desire some achievable aims. Well she has one aim in mind for the war, but it's not to defeat terror. Well this is her reasonable suggestion:

The hon. Gentleman repeats what many hon. Members have said about the range of people who should be involved in a post-Taliban Government. Will he make it explicit that that must include women, who have been greatest victims of the Taliban regime?

Thatís right, our boys (and girls) are to fight and die for female cabinet ministers in a foreign land. How utterly pathetic. The idea that Western social mores need to be imposed on foreign countries by force of arms is a dangerous and open-ended commitment, although skillfully deflated by Andrew Turner, one of the new Tory MPs. It is even worse from a woman who campaigned full-time for Britain not to have the ability to defend itself, yet now we want to launch wars to socially engineer foreign countries. How the Peaceniks turn.

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