"If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or your arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen."

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

PMQs: Verdict

PMQs today centred, for obvious reasons, on our Forces in Afghanistan, funding and equipment so I’ll divide this last PMQs into two sections. Questions on Afghanistan took up the majority of the half-hour and a fairly accurate transcript follows (I didn’t think it right to skimp on answers so it’s longer than usual. I still have original notes so if anyone wants clarification or expansion of this section, let me know):

It kicked off with Maples (Con. Stratford on Avon) In 2006 we sent 3000 troops into Afghanistan as part of a reconstruction mission, now our objectives are to defeat terrorism & make Afg a stable & effective state. Asked about a credible strategy and needing achievable objectives.
Brown: Objective in 2001 was to retain, constrain & defeat terrorism working with the Pakistan govt. Alchy Ada is mainly based in N Pakistan now and we have encouraging action from Pakistan. Have to make ‘shuwer’ terrorism cannot hit streets of Britain so cannot allow Alchy or Taliban to flourish or allow Pakistan to be overrun. Complementary action needed
Cameron now at Despatch Box: A need for a tighter definition of our objectives after 8 yrs - we need greater urgency, more visible progress
Brown spoke of the honour and sacrifice of the troops and said the whole country owes a debt of gratitude to Wootton Bassett. “We owe a debt of gratitude to the people of WB who have to endure great tragedies, seen them happen and welcoming back people who have died on behalf of our country.” [There’s something not quite right with that verbatim sentence but, given the sombre topic, I’ll leave it]. Purpose of mission is very clear – it is to prevent terrorism coming to the streets of Britain. Complementing military action taken with building up the Afghan Forces, ie the police, & military forces of Afg and complementing that with social and economic development programmes we are pursuing in order to give Afghanis a stake in the future. We must work on 2 fronts,, we must ‘enshuwer’ we attack terrorism in Pakistan as well as defeat what is happening in Afg. Have increased forces from 8-9000 to clear ground and areas for people to vote in election and also enjoy schools, hospitals that were denied to them. [A very very very long answer. It’s like sitting through the G8 Summit debate again when he took time out to speak about Afg. A few murmurs of dissent were heard but he soldiered bravely on, so to speak]. Spoke again of the honour and sacrifice of our Armed Forces and also the training and mentoring being given to Afghani Forces. [As he spoke Ainsworth pulled on his nose and stared into middle distance. Don’t know where he was but it wasn’t Southern Afghanistan].
Cameron said that some early objectives were “slightly lofty, slightly vague” (dissent from Lab benches). We will take people with us if we admit to some of the things that went wrong. [God, pls don’t let him waste time trying to get an apology out of Brown!] The problem is simply insufficient helicopters. Americans who have same number of troops as us in Helmand have 100 helicopters while we have fewer than 30. [I don’t know who briefs Cameron but the last I heard it was only 6 with 2 being reserved for SAS]. Invited Brown to agree with those figures.
Brown: doing everything we can [moans and groans]. Quotes Lt Nick Richardson again saying sufficient helicopters – increased by 60%, capability increased by 84%, visited RAF Bensons to see Merlins being refitted, troops being trained and will be deployed ‘by the end of the year’ [so only another five months then!] 6bn over next ten years to improve helis. Spoke of difference in terrain, heights, ; heli blades; temperatures, weather between Iraq & Afg. £6bn will be spent over the next 10 years to improve helis in the future (more moans and groans). Working with NATO who are providing ‘through contracts’ helis for transit of equipment. [Not for troops? Not for medevac?]. On own initiative Britain has created a heli fund to which allies will contribute 11 helis “over the next period” have done everything we can … I do ask the Conservatives to look at the statements that have been made by those who speak for our Forces on the ground….”
Cameron – must be frank about difficulties & dangers in Afg and one is the shortage of helis. Rebutted Brown’s answer point by point: 60% increase in number of helis compared with 3yrs ago when there were half as many troops so there hasn’t been a proportional increase. Even the 84% increase in capability is about heli hours – one heli can only be in one place at one time; if you want to move more troops around battlefield more quickly you need more helis.
Regarding Nick Richardson – Cameron has listened ‘with respect’ Brown should also listen to people like Stuart Tootle who said, in 2006 repeated demands for more helis fell on deaf ears. Then quoted Lord Guthrie former CDS [moans from Labour benches and Cameron rebuked them. He’s picked up a few pointers from Brown and is stabbing the Box and his papers quite robustly].
Important points that should be listened to. Let me ask the PM this: isn’t the reason we don’t have enough helis is we didn’t plan to have enough? When he looks back to 2004 his decision to reduce heli budget by £1.4bn, does he remember the NAO said there was a considerable deficit in heli lift? Asked Brown if he “now recognised that that decision was a bad mistake”.
[Camera cut to Brown who true to form when he doesn’t like what he’s hearing, is sitting with legs crossed, notepad on knee, glancing around and scribbling. Harman looks uncomfortable and is scratching her not-so-shiny mop of hair – probably didn’t have time to get the mobile hairdresser in this morning, what with the pressing matter of the Equalities Bill and all].
Brown reeled of his numbers: troops up from 7,000 to just over 9,000 over last two yrs. Helis have increased by 60%.. Talked to Tim Radford [interrupted… it’s difficult to know who Brown’s addressing in this session of PMQs because he constantly addresses his remarks at a point over his left shoulder, in the vicinity of Ainsworth]. “I do hope we can conduct this debate because our troops will be looking at this debate as well and looking at what we’re saying.”
Back to Tim Radford… Brigadier on the ground who Brown says has assured him that his troops have all the equipment they need. What we need is additional Afghan Forces and that is what I’ve been talking to Pres Karzai about … …
[Hain gazing up at the Great Leader with puppy-like adoration; Harman head now down, eyes downcast; Darling sombre; Straw cleaning out remnants of his elevenses from his teeth with his tongue; Johnson slumped and raggy – all sitting with arms folded and making a very unprepossessing snapshot of the Front Bench. Ainsworth is further along the row].
Brown still quoting figures – millions, billions for the Armed Forces, helicopters galore and working with allies. Says lack of helicopters has not been cause of recent loss of lives – ieds, ground ops, devices on ground, bombs against, against….more Engineers to deal with that prob and at the same time "I want to say also the Op Panther’s Claw is making progress despite implication of some of these comments and gaining ground and that is also an important aspect of this op and I hope we can have cross-party consensus on what we are doing to help our AF".
Bercow: long questions, long answers from front benches but he wants backbenchers to be able to ask questions too.
Cameron says Helicopter Fund hasn't provided one single heli for 16 months. “We have 500 helis as a country but less than 30 in Afg”. Why, out of 8 Chinooks delivered in 2001, is only one ready. Question deserves a proper answer.
Brown repeats what he’s already said but embellishes with longer sentences and a denial of complacency: Chinooks are being adapted for use in Afg. Heli crews have to be trained, there is more capability, more flying hrs. Quotes Jock Stirrup. Not a subject for cross party disagreement. I believe...I believe…I believe…
Cameron: Grey review of helicopter procurement is due in July, there are rumours it is to be delayed and re-written. Can he make clear report will be published in full and unredacted before the summer.
Brown: we said last week we are working on a strategic defence review. [So, that’s a no then].
Cameron – no answer to question about Grey review. Public want relentless commitment. We are on our 4th Defence Sec in 4 yrs, we’ve Defence Procurement shared by two part-time and unpaid [wtf?] Ministers and Ainsworth ranks only 21 out of 23 cabinet ministers. Is the commitment really there?
Brown said he had hoped the debate could escape party political point scoring[stabbing fingers]. It is right, we have a duty…professional, determined, brave & courageous Armed Forces.

And that, Dear Reader, was that. I guess what it boils down to is fine words, no action, deviation, obfuscation and tractor stats-a-plenty from the PM.

I might come back later with a review of the stupid, planted questions plus a cple on Afg which MPs saved till last but received the same answers as above.

3 comments:

  1. Spot on GV. A very accurate summary of our dear leader's performance today.

    ReplyDelete
  2. The man's a shambling wreck who disgraces this Country by his very existence.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Did you see it? I thought, given it was about our Armed Forces in Afghanistan it shd be as accurate as poss. That's why it's long and not funny this week - I just think this stuff is important to get out to the wider world - not everyone reads Hansard.

    ReplyDelete

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