Friday, 9 March 2012

A bad week in Westminster - RIP our soldiers and nationals lost in Afghanistan and Nigeria

Wednesday and Thursday in the House of Commomns depressed me hugely. Too many good people lost their lives this week. There were tragedies in Afghanistan and then in Nigeria. Everyone in the House of Commons is acutely aware that our troops are fighting in far off lands. Every Wednesday before PMQs the names of those who have been lost are read out. I know that all off my colleagues across the House of Commons worry desperately about our troops in Afghanistan, and whether we are doing the right thing. The time table for withdrawal is 2014. The plan is, at least, now clear - train up the Afghan Military and Police so that they can police their own country, and then leave. That is the fundamental focus of everything the Allied troops are doing. For many years I have had grave doubts about whether we are the problem or the solution by being in Afghanistan in the way we are. However, I see no choice but to see this through, given where we are now.
I have met many of the troops on the ground and they all speak of actually making a difference by being there in Afghanistan, and previously in Iraq. Their professionalism and commitment is beyond question. Politics is many things but it is fundamentally about making hard decisions. The losses in Afghanistan were compounded by the failed rescue attempt of a British and Italian National in Northern Nigeria on Thursday. They were shot by their extremist captors whilst special British Forces were attempting to rescue them - at great risk to themselves.
There is a reason Prime Ministers go grey - leave aside all the tough decisions on the economy, welfare, NHS to name but a few. The decisions as to whether you put someone's life at risk is a judgment call that weighs heavily on the leaders mind before, during and for ever after that decision is made.
I feel it too, although a long way from the decision making process.

My week on defence was punctuated by a good meeting on Monday with the new Secretary of State for Defence, Philip Hammond, MP, who has promised to come to Northumberland and see 39 Royal Artillery and the Albermarle Barracks, when time allows; then I got the chance to speak up for Veterans and their Mental Health upon discharge.
You can read my speech by going to this link - it is a speech I am very pleased to have made and my thanks to all the support groups and charities like the Royal British Legion and Veterans in Action who helped in the drafting: