RM Sam Alexander
The most moving tribute from a father about his son on the front of Monday’s Independent left a lump in my throat. Royal Marine Sam Alexander, already a hero and the proud wearer of an MC awarded last year, was killed by an IED. At the end of his dignified piece, Sam’s father, Stuart, questioned the rhetoric surrounding the war. He asked why NATO claims we are winning militarily, while at the same time preparing to withdraw from an ‘unwinnable war’. Mr Alexander – the Independent’s rowing correspondent – probes further, inquiring whether we are being kept properly informed about why we are there, who the Taliban really are and whether they are the true enemy at all. At the end Mr Alexander wrote this to his son: “It is time the politicians were as professional as the men, including you, and the women they send to their deaths.” This is powerful stuff, and fuelled by calls from our most senior general in Afghanistan only yesterday that the Prime Minister should delay our planned withdrawal for at least another year, there will be some serious thinking going on within the MOD.
Posted on 31 May 2011 by Richard Drax
Apaches in Libya
I was dubious about our involvement in Libya from the beginning and voiced my concerns, along with many others, in the Commons at the time. Now we are considering using Apache ground attack helicopters, which can be far more forensic when searching for targets than an aircraft, or so we are told. The hope is not only to better target Gaddafi’s war machine, but also to avoid collateral damage – civilian casualties. I applaud the motive, but question the wisdom of getting more and more involved in this civil war. And while the French continue to execute their role with some enthusiasm, the Americans have backed right off. There are signs that the regime is collapsing but we still don’t know exactly what and who will replace it should it go. I’m afraid I would continue to urge caution with this one.
Posted on 29 May 2011 by Richard Drax
It was a delicious irony to discover that the greatest private contributor to the Labour party’s coffers last year was Alastair Campbell. His donation - £10,000 – was dwarfed by some of the donations solicited in the cash for access affair at the height of the Blair years but, nonetheless, it was substantial. No sign of anything from Mr Blair or Mr Mandelson, both of whom have written successful books in recent times…..
Posted on 28 May 2011 by Richard Drax
No bail outs for eurozone
During Tuesday's debate instigated by backbenchers in the Commons, MPs passed a watered down motion urging the Government to seek a “eurozone-only arrangement” for future bail-outs, adding that the temporary £60bn bail-out fund, the EFSM, for which the UK is liable, is “legally unsound”. The motion was passed with 267 votes to 46. Thirty of the 46 were backbench Conservative MPs, including me, who had supported a tougher motion that would have required the Government to oppose any further use of the bail-out mechanism unless the UK was excluded.
Posted on 25 May 2011 by Richard Drax
Prison overcrowding - the American way
While the UK Parliament has wrestled with the thorny question of sentencing this week, the US Supreme Court has ordered California to release some 46,000 thousand prisoners due to overcrowding. One prison, designed for 80,000 inmates, is currently holding 148,000 prisoners, 200 of whom are sleeping in a gymnasium and 54 of whom must share a single lavatory. In the view of the majority of the judges on the Supreme bench, their human rights are being infringed. I fear they may be right! Part of the solution may lie in a 1,600 place jail in Southern California, which currently has only two inmates. However, those two inmates sound problematical. One is black, one is Hispanic and they are members of rival gangs, so are kept separated. Basketball is no longer an option for break times because, while one is 6’8”, the other is 5’7. He gave up playing, he says, because he got ‘tired of losing.’
Posted on 25 May 2011 by Richard Drax
The Future of the IMF
I am relieved to hear that, in the wake of IMF President Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s spectacular fall from grace, our last Prime Minister will not be taking over. Gordon Brown has reportedly been testing the waters before he throws his hat into the ring and has been assuring colleagues that he has support in America and France. I think not. The French are supporting their own very able candidate, Mme Christine Lagarde, and understandably - in view of the state of our country’s finances - David Cameron and George Osborne have backed her too. This, apparently, leaves Brown’s aspirations dead in the water. Meanwhile, Mr Strauss-Kahn’s travails may yet affect us all. The Americans are dead against another European taking over the IMF Presidency. France has, after all, been in charge for 26 of the last 30 years and there are mutterings that yet another Eurozone bailout will not be acceptable to other IMF member nations. Mr Strauss-Kahn was mourned by EU finance ministers last week precisely because he was guaranteed to fight hard for the Euro. In fact, it might not be too far fetched to suggest that his personal disaster may well ultimately end in disaster for the Euro.
Posted on 24 May 2011 by Richard Drax
I am in complete agreement with David Davis, MP, who wrote in yesterday’s Mail on Sunday that judges should not be allowed to curb the ancient parliamentary rights to free speech in both Houses of Parliament. Parliamentary privilege is just that, and for the judges to argue that MPs have effectively silenced themselves by passing the Human Rights Act - based on the European Convention on Human Rights - is absolute nonsense. It is the judges’ interpretation of these laws which are debatable. And it is these laws which are being used by the very rich to protect themselves from the scrutiny of their peers. I am not saying that having an affair is a hanging offence, but it does reveal a trait which could undermine the position of someone in a position of power or influence. For judges to sign up to this, and even worse to suggest that the reporting of Parliament should be censored in order to protect their clients, is disgraceful. MP John Hemmings, who first raised the subject of super injunctions in the Commons in February, says that some of his casework involves people who have been instructed not to talk to their MPs by judges. As David Davis says, talking to your MP is a fundamental right of all Britons and Parliament will remind the judges of that shortly.
Posted on 23 May 2011 by Richard Drax
Government credit cards
After the scandal over MPs’ expenses, it is almost unbelievable that civil servants have continued spending more than £1 billion a year on the 140,000 government ‘procurement' credit cards currently in circulation. Local government minister Grant Shapps is reportedly meeting fierce resistance over his demand that these bills should now be published on line – just as with MPs’ expenses. The reasons why became clear when local government Secretary Eric Pickles forced Nottingham City Council to disclose its expenditure using a Freedom of Information request. Expenditure, totalling £3.5m in a single year, included £80 at Alton Towers, £69 on Dominos pizza and £7,011 at a local wine shop. Nottingham City is not alone. 71,000 of these cards are used in central London and 69,000 are issued to councils and quangos. Unbelievably, monthly bills under £1,000 are not checked because of the amount of time it would take. A transparency drive is long overdue. Of course, I am sure much of the expenditure can be justified but, then, there should be no problem with publishing details. Officials are complaining that it would be time consuming and cause ‘pandemonium.’ I don’t agree. Only those who have something to hide could possibly be concerned about holding these receipts up to public scrutiny.
Posted on 22 May 2011 by Richard Drax
I, along with many of my colleagues will not compromise with the defence of our country. As politicians, it is our most solemn duty to ensure the safety and well-being of our people and their interests, both here and abroad. Tucked away in the news-in-brief columns in yesterday's Telegraph was a story which left me cold. The headline, 'Trident to be reviewed', forwarned me of the content. I wish I'd been disappointed, but I was not. Apparently, the Liberal Democrats (Lib Dems) have forced a concession from the Government to look again at our nuclear deterrent. Having lost the AV vote, many of us felt the Lib Dems would target something else they sought. One colleague, sharp as a button, even predicted that it would be this one. The Lib Dems are viscerally opposed to nuclear weapons because they have never understood defence and never will do. Their latest claim is that an air-launched launched deterrent is as effective and cheaper. The latter may be true, but the former is not. The whole point of a submarine-based nuclear deterrent is that it cannot be detected, hence it cannot be destroyed in a pre-emptive strike. This is the key point. I shall be writing to Dr Fox, asking why he has given this concession when I thought the argument was done and dusted. My loyalty, and that of many of my colleagues, is to my country, not to the Lib Dems or the Coalition.
Posted on 20 May 2011 by Richard Drax
Plans to dramatically reduce our greenhouse gases concern me greatly. We should, of course, be looking at reducing our carbon emissions, but the levels announced by Chris Huhne the other day in the Commons are totally unrealistic and will seriously damage our manufacturing base and ultimately our competitiveness. It's reported in the Press that several Cabinet members resisted Huhne's targets, not least the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I can quite understand why. Mr Osborne is a realist and appreciates that by hamstringing the economy, the UK will not create the wealth and jobs we need to restore the perilous situation we find ourselves in. We need pragmatism here, not head in the clouds wishful thinking and acres of on and off-shore windfarms, which are costing us a fortune in subsidies. Let's hope that a sensible debate on this delicate issue will see sense bubble to the surface. In the meantime, yes, of course let's try and find alternatives to fossil fuel, but alternatives which work, are affordable and don't place the UK at a severe disadvantage, or worse.
Posted on 19 May 2011 by Richard Drax
A principled Fox
If the papers are to be believed, the Defence Secretary has criticised the Prime Minister's policy on overseas aid. And I can quite see why. Apparently, the government wants to put our commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of national income on overseas aid into law. Quite apart from the fact that in Dorset we cannot even afford lollipop ladies, enshrining a commitment such as this in law is asking for legal challenges and trouble. In addition, we continue to cut our armed services remorselessly at a time the world is becoming more and more unstable. Other countries such as China, India, Russia and Argentina are increasing their defence budget, while we decimate ours. Let's hope that more senior Cabinet ministers like Dr Fox speak up.
Posted on 18 May 2011 by Richard Drax
The European External Action Service
The creeping influence of the EU advances. Labour Peer Baroness Ashton, head of the EU’s European External Action Service (EEAS) – a kind of European State Department, with 7,000 staff and a network of 136 embassies – has asked the UN General Assembly to give the EEAS ‘enhanced status.’ As well as taking part in debates and addressing the General Assembly, she hopes to secure a seat for the EU on the UN Security Council.
The UN apparently already recognises the EU as a ‘legal personality’, with its ability to sign treaties and conventions, as established by the Lisbon treaty. And the UK, as signatory, is obliged to uphold European policies in international organisations.
Already we are told that, as the Foreign Office shrinks by 40% due to cuts, some EU embassies will take over duties from some of our smaller embassies and consulates.
Despite this, William Hague has said he is determined that Britain should retain its own foreign policy, independent of the EU.
But as one of the smaller countries on the UN Security Council, how long will it be before our position is swallowed by the monster we have helped to create?
Posted on 10 May 2011 by Richard Drax
Labour and No2AV
Interesting that despite the accusations flying last week, it turns out that it was Labour supporters who insisted on using Nick Clegg in the No2AV ads and flyers. Apparently, Tory HQ repeatedly asked for photographs of the Lib Dem leader to be taken off the literature. But the likes of David Blunkett, John Reid , Margaret Beckett and John Prescott threatened to pull the plug on Labour’s part in the campaign if Clegg’s ‘broken promises’ were off limits. The reason given was that, while Labour voters didn’t like Cameron, they hated Clegg.
Posted on 9 May 2011 by Richard Drax
Redrawing the boundaries
In the Coalition agreement, holding the AV referendum was linked with redrawing the constituency boundaries in order to create fewer MPs with constituencies of a more equal size. This was to get rid of the anomaly whereby a Conservative candidate must poll 7% more votes than a Labour candidate in order to win a seat. The intention is to reduce the number of MPs from 650 to 600. Like turkeys voting for Christmas, this is not entirely favoured by MPs and news that having failed to win what they wanted, the Lib Dems may now not be prepared to support it, does not surprise me.
Like holding the AV referendum on May 5th, the boundary changes must now be honoured - or I can see no point in continuing with a Coalition.
Posted on 8 May 2011 by Richard Drax
Trounced, and rightly so
The last 48 hours have been a disaster for the Liberal Democrats. And with characteristic venom, leading members of their Party blame everyone else for their plight. The truth is that people did not want electoral change and have said so in the most emphatic way. I don't believe they want constitutional change, either, and, on this point, I truly hope Mr Clegg is not entrusted to take reform of the House of Lords any further. The question now on everyone's lips is whether the coalition can survive. Personally, I don't see how it can. We Conservatives would be wrong, in my view, to compromise any further to appease the Lib Dems. We've already gone far too far already, the AV referendum being one example. Our country needs strong leadership as never before and I cannot see how this will be delivered shackled to a jilted and acrimonious group of politicians, who don't know what they stand for. And it's on this last point that the Lib Dems have been punished. This rather public humiliation is a warning to all of us that the electorate will not accept spin and bluster from any political Party any longer. Truth, integrity and courage are the hallmarks of any future government, or it will fail, and deservedly so.
Posted on 7 May 2011 by Richard Drax
John Humphrys, terror of the airwaves and hammer of politicians had a bad week. He got completely confused when discussing the AV system with David Cameron, neatly allowing the Tory leader to prove his point about its complexity. And then the very next day Humphrys called Ed Miliband, ‘David.’ To Ed’s credit, he laughed it off as a ‘Freudian slip,’ but it is unusual to see Humphrys on the back foot ever – let alone twice in two days.
Posted on 6 May 2011 by Richard Drax
Today the electorate has an opportunity to change our voting system or stick with first past the post. I have long argued for the latter and nothing has changed my mind. A system that makes winners out of losers is not for me, and I believe not for the country. If minority parties, like the Liberal Democrats, want to attract more votes, they must change their policies, or better argue their case. I suspect that if they lose today's referendum their supporters might also see attempts to change their top man. First past the post is simple and fair and has served our country and her people well. Vote No today and keep our democracy safe.
Posted on 5 May 2011 by Richard Drax
Osama Bin Laden
We live in a strange world, where the President of the United States can watch, via a helmet mounted camera, while a special forces squad hunts down and kills the world’s most wanted man. This was a daring and well executed raid, planned meticulously over months, as a result of information extracted from an inmate of Guantanamo Bay.
‘Justice has been done,’ said the President and, indeed, for the US, it seems that way. As with the old Roman Empire, America ruthlessly finds and extinguishes her enemies, however long it takes. And the relief in the voices of those who lost people they loved on 9/11 was poignant. For them the war is, at last, over.
It raises more than a few questions. How was it that Osama Bin Laden had been living peacefully, for at least four years, in a villa a few streets away from a Pakistani army garrison and a military academy? Until today’s news, the wisest heads all agreed that he must be hiding in the tribal badlands of Waziristan, rather than the suburban equivalent of Camberley.
The Americans insist that the Pakistanis knew nothing. I am inclined to believe them – past experience would suggest that the leaky security services would have ensured Bin Laden’s escape before the helicopters arrived. Denying Pakistani involvement also protects President Al Zadari’s shaky government. Woe betide him if it is found he agreed to let infidel soldiers conduct an act of war on Pakistani soil.
Meanwhile, I admit to feeling a little ambivalent about hunting down and killing a man like a dog. But any hesitation on the Americans’ part would have looked like weakness. The same calculation went into burying Bin Laden’s body promptly at sea. There can be no martyr’s shrine to act as a focus for more terror.
And, if you live by the sword, you die by it.
Posted on 2 May 2011 by Richard Drax
I am sure, like me, you were enthralled by Friday's Royal Wedding. Organised to perfection, the day passed in a swirl of music, emotion, happiness and clearly love between bride and groom. As a nation, we do put on a wonderful pageantry, demonstrated by the billions of people who, like us, watched the day unfold on their televisions. Countless tens of thousands of well wishers took to the streets to show their support to the Royal couple. It was a day we should all be proud of. I think it would be over the top to claim the UK has been re-born, but certainly a sprinkling of magic settled all over the country on Friday, which will no doubt rub off in a positive way in the months ahead. We are a great country, with a long and proud history and an exciting and challenging future.
Posted on 1 May 2011 by Richard Drax