Telling the truth about terrorism
So David Cameron criticised Pakistan’s ISI – the acronym for the all-powerful Inter Services Intelligence agency - when he visited India last week. For years, it has been well known that the agency faces, as Cameron put it ‘both ways’. He said that it must not be allowed to ‘promote the export of terror’ to India, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
As a result of his remarks, Pakistan is apparently in uproar and a delegation of senior officers from the ISI have cancelled this week’s visit to London. So far, President Zardari is still coming but is said to be under considerable pressure not to do so by Pakistan’s military.
Despite what looks like a diplomatic blunder, those in the know say Cameron was absolutely correct in what he said. Journalist Ahmed Rashid -probably the best informed commentator in the region - says he was spot on and that the ISI is notorious for their support of the Taliban and other Islamic militants.
Interestingly, the member of the ISI making the most noise about Cameron’s comments is easily one of the most Janus-faced. Retired General Hamid Gul, former head of the ISI, has been described this week by the Hindu and New York Times as the ‘middleman for terror.’ Certainly, the thousands of US military documents leaked on Wikileaks last week make it clear that he is still energetically in touch with his old networks in the Taliban.
Suggestions that Cameron was pandering to his Indian hosts by attacking Pakistan are a bit thin. The PM was merely telling the truth – astonishing in modern day diplomacy.
Posted on 31 July 2010 by Richard Drax
One of Lord Mandelson’s most damaging insinuations in his recent book about the rise and fall of New Labour is that David Cameron was not forced to promise a referendum on AV to the Lib Dems in order to form a coalition. Whether he believes that Nick Clegg misled Cameron by suggesting that Gordon Brown had promised AV without a referendum or whether Cameron simply overegged what he told his party in order to persuade them is not clear. But as always, with Mandelson, real damage has been done. At the very least, Conservative MP’s are less likely to trust the Lib Dems. At worst, they will believe the Coalition was founded on a lie and will challenge the decision to hold a referendum next May. Neither is helpful. And Peter Mandelson has sown the seeds of discord in the new Government, which his what he and the Labour party seem intent upon doing. Like the IRA, I believe the only way to divest Mandelson of his power is to deny him the oxygen of publicity.
Posted on 28 July 2010 by Richard Drax
The 'special' relationship
News reaches me from Helmand that the Australians are now the US commanders' favourites in the field. Their new, most favoured status is despite the heavy price we Brits have paid in blood and treasure - and the fact that our commitment is nine times greater in terms of numbers.
Part of the problem is our geographical association with 'old Europe', which the US clearly does not trust. Yet we have always worked well with the Americans and our appreciation of their might in battle – they are always there to do the ‘heavy lifting’ - was matched only by their admiration of the sheer professionalism and quality of our fighting men. Our relationship with the Aussies has always been more complex and historically shaded.
It would be a pity if, after standing shoulder to shoulder with the USA for so long, we should be overlooked for reasons more due to petty geopoliticking than historical evidence.
Posted on 26 July 2010 by Richard Drax
Defence cuts - again
I have written before of my deep concern that cuts to the armed forces will lead to a cut in our capabilities and an over reliance on allies who have not always rushed to our aid. As Minister of Defence Liam Fox pointed out yesterday, our armed forces must be ready for three eventualities; all out warfare, counter insurgency, such as Afghanistan, and medium scale campaigns, as in the Falklands. Yet it is hard to see how the drastic cuts envisaged will leave us able to pursue any one of these lines of action.
Unfortunately, the facts are grim; this week the National Audit Office found that the MOD is already £500million over budget this year. Dr Fox describes the planned equipment programme as ‘entirely unaffordable.’ And he is also fighting hard to keep Trident off the MOD budget entirely.
There’s no doubt that defence procurement is in his sights and he is planning to renegotiate defence contracts, thereby making substantial savings. ‘Either companies reduce costs or we cancel whole projects,’ he says. Certainly, there is ample evidence of waste – home made Apache helicopters cost three times as much as ‘off the peg’ versions, for example.
Whilst I agree that we must reconfigure our fighting forces to suit realistic potential threats – leaving behind outdated, cold war strategies – we still need boots on the ground. We continue to fight a war in Afghanistan and resources - and nerves - are stretched already. I am comforted that Dr Fox describes any suggestion of sacrificing personnel before equipment as ‘nonsense.’
Posted on 24 July 2010 by Richard Drax
So the Americans are giving Exxon permission to go after BP. The aim is to seize the assets of one of our country’s corporate crown jewels at a knock down rate because BP must be seen to be punished for the oil spill. But besides the understandable outrage, and as I have written before, the USA badly wants a piece of the Libyan oil and gas action, which BP has currently stitched up with a $900m deal.
Relations between Britain and Libya are friendly – I read that ex PM Tony Blair advises Gaddafi and one of our most senior ex MI6 men advises BP. Indeed, the relationship is good enough for the Libyans to murmer about using their mighty sovereign wealth fund to buy BP shares and prop it up. Energy security is now so important strategically that we can only be grateful for any edge we might have.
The Americans are smarting at the thought that somehow, BP has unfairly won an advantage. The suggestion has been made that convicted Lockerbie bomber Al Megrahi was released in exchange for BP’s profits. Various state senators are demanding that former ministers and advisors should be cross examined while the senators grandstand for the benefit of the folks back home.
Admittedly, Mr Al Megrahi’s astonishing longevity after he was pronounced a dead man walking serves only to confirm that medicine is an art, not a science.
And the USA is catching up fast. Currently, no fewer than 50 oil and gas exploration licences have been granted to American oil firms in Libya. Compare that to the UK’s four.
Posted on 21 July 2010 by Richard Drax
A closer examination of Lord Mandelson’s memoirs reveals nothing new. He is, of course, really interested in only one thing – himself. And while everyone talks about his extraordinary gifts as a spin meister, his abilities as a writer are mediocre, at best. What comes through immediately is how presentation matters above all - Gordon Brown in the dying days of the last government is portrayed as a wounded bear, brought low by a thousand darts. And what was Mandelson’s advice? To blame the economy on the world crisis – nothing at all to do with Labour’s reckless spending spree - and to focus on discussing the golden recovery that Gordon alone could deliver. As we all know, GB followed this advice to the letter. But it did him no good. Maybe the Prince of Darkness has lost his mojo..…
Posted on 19 July 2010 by Richard Drax
Here we go again
The television pictures from Northern Ireland are sickening. Rioting children - for that's what they are - attacking the police with whatever they can throw at them, including petrol and pipe bombs. We were told in the House of Commons this morning that more than 80 police officers have been hurt. It's a terrible indictment on this sad part of the UK. There is no excuse whatsoever for this orgy of violence, which brings shame to Northern Ireland and memories of the bad old days. Let's hope that community leaders can calm the situation before someone is killed. In the meantime, my deepest sympathy goes out to the injured police officers.
Posted on 14 July 2010 by Richard Drax
No sympathy for a murderer
I am becoming increasingly annoyed at criticisms levelled at the police handling of the Raoul Moat case. In any other country, Moat would have been shot dead immediately, with no attempt being made to incapacitate him. Moat was a cold blooded murderer, who'd shot his ex girlfriend, executed her new partner and blasted a policeman in the face with a shotgun. These are the people - and their families - who need our attention, sympathy and help. The police did their job and a murderer is now dead, having shot himself in the head.
Posted on 14 July 2010 by Richard Drax
A retired army major who attempted a 40-foot swallow dive off rocks at Durdle Door on Monday was airlifted to hospital by some very surprised coastguards. For Christopher Irven, a veteran of the first Gulf War, is 75 years old. Although very fit for his age, his decision to try tombstoning met with disaster when he belly flopped and injured his groin. Luckily his sons and a friend pulled him out. When the medics arrived they whisked him off to hospital. “The dive was a bit of a cock-up,” said Mr Irven, with masterful understatement. On behalf of my friend James Weld, whose estate owns the beauty spot, can I implore other like-minded souls not to follow Mr Irven’s example.
Posted on 13 July 2010 by Richard Drax
Football superstar born in Weymouth
At least the world cup has spawned one global superstar – and I am proud to note he comes from South Dorset! Paul is a four-year-old octopus, born in Weymouth and currently residing in a German sea life centre. The psychic cephalopod has stunned the world of football by correctly predicting the outcome of Germany’s seven world cup matches. His verdict for Sunday’s match is Spain – but since that no longer involves his adopted homeland’s team, perhaps we should take it with a pinch of salt water!
Posted on 9 July 2010 by Richard Drax
The Queen - value for money
Of all the good deals in all the world, our own, dear Queen has to be the best value for money I can think of. Her Majesty, who is 84, now costs the taxpayer a paltry 62 pence per head per year – considerably less than most European republics. Her frugality, her rock-like stability, her extraordinary industry and dedication, her stalwart support of the commonwealth, her value to tourism, tradition and heritage – all these are beyond price. Puts those footballers to shame, doesn’t it…?
Posted on 8 July 2010 by Richard Drax
An uncertain world
I was not surprised to read in the Daily Telegraph today that our armed forces are to be cut. The armed forces' minister, Lib Dem Nick Harvey, also implied we will have to rely more and more on our allies. I am deeply suspicious of both moves. While I quite accept we must re-organise our services to meet likely future threats, rather than maintaining a structure designed for the Cold War, this must not lead to a cut in our capability. And relying on allies to help us out in difficult times has proven to be disastrous on countless occasions in our history. Not only do we need to defend our island, and our many interests around the world, but our armed services are an integral part of our country, not least a shining beacon of excellence which gives many of our young an opportunity to contribute in a way they'd otherwise not be able to do. And, God forbid, we ever have to stand alone again, we need to have an army, navy and airforce fit for purpose.
Posted on 8 July 2010 by Richard Drax
"Scrutiny by screech"
This was the Speaker's view of Prime Minister's Questions, revealed during a recent speech to the Centre for Parliamentary Studies. Mr Bercow continues to make it clear to us all in the House that he is not fond of rowdiness, reminding us frequently that's not what the public wants. I'm not sure there's any evidence to support that, but when you have 650 men and women with good minds of their own all crammed into one Chamber, one or two are inevitably likely to let rip. The Chamber's very design encourages confrontation, and rightly so, because through healthy and heated debate we hope comes sensible law. The Speaker's job is to control this hot house and, from I've seen so far, Mr Bercow is doing a good job. He appears to be fair to both sides of the House and he has a sense of humour - an important characteristic in a job like his! So, Mr Speaker, please allow us to enjoy a bit of rowdiness; democracy needs it.
Posted on 7 July 2010 by Richard Drax
NHS database confidentiality
South Dorset has recently been deluged with letters from the local health authorities explaining the new NHS database -where the private medical records of some 50 million patients in England will be stored – and inviting patients to opt out of the scheme.
Certainly, there is every reason to suspect the database. The NHS has a poor record already of keeping patient notes confidential. The data protection watchdog, the Information Commissioner’s Office, warned of the lack of safeguards in NHS Trusts only last week. Notes should always be encrypted and password protected. Yet confidential medical information, with no protection, has turned up in some strange places, including a skip and a car wash.
Analysis of data shows that 835 patient records go missing every single day on a local level. The thought of a poorly policed national database, open to hackers as well as its proper users, is not comforting.
Posted on 5 July 2010 by Richard Drax
Let's be under no illusion, we need to cut public expenditure and figures of 25 per cent have already been used by George Osborne. Today, the press is reporting figures of 40 per cent, which will have huge implications if followed through. I detect support for our austere moves from most of those I meet, however, I can't help thinking that we need more of a fiscal stimulus to fire up the private sector. I know we are cutting Corporation Tax, but is that enough? VAT is rising to raise something like £13 billion, but that will hit business and dampen economic activity. As a businessman myself, I believe we could go much further, lowering all taxes and really encouraging growth and essentially the private sector, which will mop up many of the lost jobs from the public sector. We need to really roll back the State in every sense and ignite the afterburners in our capitalist democracy. Then, and only then, can we decide how much money to spend on the public sector and cut our cloth accordingly.
Posted on 4 July 2010 by Richard Drax
First past the post
I'm afraid I'm a first past the post man and will never support AV. I am not sure rumours that a referendum is to be held next May are particularly helpful at the moment. There are more important issues to sort out. David Cameron gave away a lot when he agreed this compromise with Nick Clegg to form a coalition. I sympathise with Mr Cameron's position, but this referendum must not be rushed and certainly not before the boundary changes are made.
Posted on 3 July 2010 by Richard Drax
Public sector waste
The recent emergency budget, where George Osborne promised a 25% cut in public sector expenditure, was greeted with predictable outrage and threats from the public service unions. Certainly, at first glance, such cuts appear draconian. But then you remember the stories about away days and advertisements for non jobs and naked high jinks in tax offices and you wonder...
A recent article, written anonymously by a senior planning officer in an inner London authority, confirmed my suspicions. He described a culture of complete inertia – where getting in on time is irrelevant and the six months fully paid sick leave is abused to the fullest extent. In a department of 60 employees, 10 were off sick on any one day. One went to Marbella to recuperate for three months and one, who was sick for six months, came back for two days, then went sick again, on a new, six month deal.
Another employee would come in, take both his phones off the hook and play online poker and Skype his relatives until his daily, two-hour snooze at his desk. He was paid £64,000 to advise local council tax payers on the progress of their planning applications. He was impossible to get rid of – at 63 he was an ‘untouchable’, which means too expensive to fire before he retires on his final salary pension.
The stories are almost unbelievable; being forced to attend a mandatory ‘cultural awareness and sensitivity course’ for asking a black colleague to open a window, fact finding missions which were excuses for drinking sessions in taxpayer funded hotels and secretaries going sick with stress for being asked to retype misspelled letters.
Yet I believe them. And so would thousands of tax payers around the country who have found their local planning departments unresponsive and painfully slow. I am glad to note that Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, has the planning system in his sights. But on a more general point, this culture of getting the minimum done for the maximum pay is exactly what we can’t afford any longer. With such generous pay, pension and benefits packages, public sector employees are no longer the Cinderellas of the working world. And if this account is in any way typical of public sector employment, there is plenty to cut.
Posted on 2 July 2010 by Richard Drax
Cost of justice
I, like several of my colleagues, are concerned about Ken Clarke's proposal to replace short prison sentences with tougher community punishments. While I agree that too many people are being sent to jail, I must add that once in there they cannot re-offend and the public are protected, which is our duty as a government. I am alarmed at the rise in the prison population to 85,000, and the cost of it - each prisoner costing more than sending a boy to Eton for a year. However, magistrates have no other deterrent for criminals at the lower end of the scale, other than to threaten prison and ultimately send them there. As a journalist of some 17 years, I covered the courts frequently, and was amazed at how many criminals were not jailed for their misdemeanours. I have often been asked whether we should re-introduce national service and in the ideal world I think it's a brilliant idea. However, our professional armed services would not want this, and I can quite understand why. I have suggested already that we form something like Her Majesty's Coastguard (HMC), run by professionals, to whom miscreants could be sent by the courts for a period of time. And those coming to the end of their sentence could also be given the option of joining this force in exchange for an earlier release. Anyone not playing by the rules would be sent straight back to prison. I have worked with young people long enough to know that most of them only need an ordered structure, discipline and encouragement to turn from villain to contributor. And, although such a force would cost money to establish, just think of the savings not only in terms of money but also the human cost. For too long now a significant minority in this country has been allowed to get away with it in effect. It's time now for them to contribute and in doing so to turn our country round.
Posted on 1 July 2010 by Richard Drax