FIVE YEARS after the last British troops were withdrawn from Iraq, it is important that the Yorkshire Regiment’s return to the front line is placed in wider context.
It made practical and logistical sense for a specialist team to be asked by the Ministry of Defence to help train the Kurdish peshmerga to use heavy machine guns as part of their struggle against the advance of ‘Islamic State’ extremists advancing across Iraq and Syria.
The 2nd Battalion the Yorkshire Regiment has been stationed in Cyprus and the expertise of its soldiers is beyond reproach – they represent the very best of the Armed Forces and everyone will be hoping that this mission is both successful and shortlived.
That said, it was inevitable, once the Ministry of Defence had confirmed newspaper reports about this deployment, that it would be seen through the prisms of ‘boots on the ground’ and ‘mission creep’.
This operation is small-scale – the number of soldiers in northern Iraq is said to be less than 20 – and it is due to end by the end of this week, allaying those people who do not want the Army to become embroiled in another protracted struggle in the Middle East.
That said, David Cameron’s update will be awaited with interest after the emergency recall of Parliament on September 26 authorised the RAF to take part in air strikes against IS targets in Iraq.
Not only has this been blamed for the execution of aid worker Alan Henning, but there are also fears that the greater threat to the West is being posed by IS forces in Syria as they fight for control of the symbolic and strategically important town of Kobane close to the border with Turkey.
While Britain, America and others appear extremely reluctant – and understandably so – to deploy combat troops, it is difficult, at this stage, to see how air strikes alone will stop the advance of the ‘Islamic State’, and also the radicalisation of those young Muslims who are feared to be planning barbarous monstrosities of their own in this country.
Labour in denial: Tory blame game is not a policy
THE joint attempt by Ed Miliband, his equally ineffective deputy Harriet Harman and Labour’s aspiring leader-to-be Chuka Umunna to regain the political initiative played into the hands of Ukip as Nigel Farage’s ratings soar.
The response of both to Labour’s narrow victory in the once safe seat of Heywood and Middleton was to attribute this to the collapse of the Conservative vote rather than the public’s exasperation with uncontrolled immigration.
Unlike the Tories who have promised a referendum on the totemic issue of EU membership, Labour is in denial about the changing political landscape as Mr Miliband limps towards the next general election. In some respects, it might have been better if Labour had lost Heywood and Middleton – the party would have been compelled to address the leadership question. Many compare this to the Darlington by-election in 1983 when Labour came within a whisker of losing this seat to the Tories – Michael Foot remained in place and then led his party into the electoral wilderness.
Yet Mr Miliband is being naive if he expects to win back waivering voters with the promise of “stronger border controls” and laws to stop the exploitation of migrant labour. He was part of a government which ceded control of these poliices to the European Union and voters are simply not prepared to trust a wobbly leader until he provides far more clarity over how Britain would regain control of its borders, and manage immigration, on his watch. This is an energised electorate who should be treated with intelligence rather than shallow soundbites.
Getting railways back on track
AS control of the East Coast Main Line returns to the private sector at the same time as Ministers finalise new rail franchises for Yorkshire, it is a sobering thought that 75 per cent of operators are now foreign-owned.
Ministers will say competition works, a record number of passengers travel by train and there is nothing to stop British firms from bidding for key contracts. Where the RMT union is right, however, is highlighting the disconnect between operators – and the travelling public.
On the whole, commuters are not exercised about the ownership of trains. They simply want a reliable service, good lines of communication and new rolling stock on those overcrowded routes where passengers are herded like cattle, a point that the Department for Transport needs to address in its franchise negotiations.