March 14: Military win or political failure?

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THE sheer scale of Britain’s military involvement in Afghanistan was epitomised by Leeds solider Captain Timothy Miller at yesterday’s service of commemoration in St Paul’s Cathedral. An Army reservist who answered his country’s call to serve on the front line, his words – spoken with great eloquence and poignancy – are worth repeating. “It’s important to remember the fallen and also to commemorate the 140,000 service personnel that took part in the whole campaign.”

Each and every individual served their country with distinction. It is also paramount that this nation never forgets the 453 brave soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice, including five members of the Yorkshire Regiment killed by a rogue Afghan soldier three years ago, and the thousands of service personnel who suffered life-changing injuries. They, and their families, will always be in this country’s debt. As the Archbishop of Canterbury proclaimed: “I’m told that each wounded person was supported by up to 80 others by the time they got home. Great is your faithfulness.”

If only the same could be said about the political leadership of this mission, not least Tony Blair’s acknowledgement that he had not foreseen the length of British intervention in Afghanistan and his assertion, now the last UK service personnel are home, that there is not “a comprehensive strategy” in place to ensure that hard-fought gains are not surrendered in the coming weeks and years.

Though it should be remembered that there was an appetite on the public’s part for a military response to the terrorist atrocities committed on 9/11 – this century’s most fateful day yet – this abiding failure to think through the consequences of intervention has certainly left Britain diminished and facing new terrorist threats in the form of the so-called Islamic State. As such, it is likely to be many more years before a full assessment can be made of the Afghanistan mission – and whether it can be construed as a military success or a foreign policy failure.

McIntosh move: MP steps down for party’s sake

THERE will be considerable relief in Conservative circles that Anne McIntosh, controversially de-selected as the Thirsk and Malton MP last year, is not to contest the constituency as an Independent candidate on May 7.

Her dignified decision, announced yesterday after months of speculation, now draws a line under an unfortunate episode

which has reflected poorly on the party’s local constituency association and its strained relationship with its MP.

As Miss McIntosh admitted herself, the presence of her name on the ballot paper in Thirsk and Malton would have detracted from her desire to see David Cameron returned to power – and the Conservative Party’s wider campaign to achieve this.

However there are lessons that election candidates can draw from this controversy ahead of polling day. Backbenchers should never take their local party for granted – even those with impregnable majorities. Politics in Britain can invariably be characterised by jealousy.

Nevertheless Parliament – and Britain – will be poorer without the expertise that Miss McIntosh brought to her wise chairmanship of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee. And it is an issue that voters will have to weigh up – are they better served by a MP who works round-the-clock on their behalf or an individual with ambitions of rising through the ranks?

Politicians’ wives: Flimflam shortchanges voters

AFTER Ed Miliband’s wife Justine gave a feisty interview in which she defended the Labour leader’s qualities, Samantha Cameron has now launched a charm offensive of her own and provided an insight into family life inside 10 Downing Street. Yet the timing of the interviews, at the end of a tetchy and counter-productive week dominated by some of the most bitter exchanges yet at Prime Minister’s Questions and deadlock over the TV election debates, risks leaving voters short-changed.

What the country wants to hear is each man’s vision for the future rather than family flimflam – such as the admission that the Tory leader is an untidy person who leaves clothes and newspapers strewn about to the annoyance of his wife. After all, Mr Cameron’s domesticity – or his decision to back Jeremy Clarkson in the Top Gear presenter’s disciplinary dispute with the BBC – have nothing to do with the choice facing Britons on May 7: who is the best person to lead the country?