Financial Assistance and Afghanistan

Baroness D'Souza

In a previous blog I banged on about Afghanistan – but noted that, as before, this is not a topic of great interest to the world of bloggers. It seems that what really turns you on are finer points of constitutional change, quizzes and (money)expenses.

So I thought I would try and combine at least one of the above with Afghanistan – surely a crucial matter of our time?

I sat in between Generals Petraeus and Richards the other evening at a dinner given by the US Ambassador. I ventured forth with my usual concern about the mismatch between the overall goals of our presence in Afghanistan and current activities. These two immensely distinguished and courteous gentlemen of course refuted these arguments. One wouldn’t expect otherwise. But what struck me so forcibly was that neither was prepared (or perhaps even able at this point) to think outside the surge plan – there truly is no plan B. I suggested that one didn’t need 100,000 soldiers to deal with training camps or safeguard major cities. I asked General Petraeus where did he think we would all be in a year’s time and the answer was a sincere expectation that the Taliban would be routed and Al Qaeda banished and all would be well in Helmand and Kandahar.  I really think not.

On to more parochial matters: Cranborne money was agreed in 2002 to ensure that Opposition parties had sufficient means to carry out their parliamentary roles. The Cross Benches were also allocated a small sum. The question that has now arisen is as follows; is the Liberal Democrat party now precluded access to Cranborne money given it is a coalition partner? The matter will be decided in the House on 24th June but the word is that the LibDems will  not receive the quarter of a million pounds odd that they had when in opposition.  Labour will get their almost half a million and the Cross Benches will get just over £63,000.

This latter sum covers the salaries of one and a half assistants/researchers in my office. I am arguing for an increase and the argument against was as follows: why do the Cross Benches need greater financial assistance, they have no policies to defend and no front bench spokespersons? This needs answering. I maintain that the Convenor’s office has increasingly to provide information on almost an hourly basis if Cross Benchers are to be able to schedule time in the Chamber to participate and most importantly to vote.

While it is true that the Cross Benches are clearly not any part of the opposition, they need information but have no party structure to provide them with the political intelligence necessary to make significant contributions. I think one important fear is that the Cross Benches would morph into a non-party party and possibly hold the balance on votes.  The evidence over the years (and we keep careful statistics on this) is that over a period the Cross Bench vote is split 50/50 for and against Government amendments. That said there are certain areas in which the Cross Benches are more unified and one of these is House of Lords Reform. But this is for  another blog at another time…………..

14 comments for “Financial Assistance and Afghanistan

  1. JH
    12/06/2010 at 5:36 pm

    Baroness D’Souza,

    Having been slightly stung by your opening words, I feel I should respond to your post. But first I take issue with your saying “Afghanistan …is not a topic of great interest to the world of bloggers. It seems that what really turns you on are finer points of constitutional change, quizzes and (money)expenses.” Do you measure interest by comments posted or numbers of hits – I often read with interest but only comment from time to time. Furthermore, the surprising omissions from your list of favoured topics (e.g. Home Education, the DEB and freedom in various forms) perhaps renders your implicit charge a little unfair.

    With regard to Afghanistan, I feel less qualified to comment than on some other areas, but I understand the surge to be a temporary thing to try to improve the situation (and give time for more training of Afghan forces) before introducing a lower level of involvement such as you propose. There really is no suggestion that the 18 month surge is the final answer but a step along the road, is there? Did General Petraeus really say that that all would be well in Helmand and Kandahar in a year? ‘Progressing well’ I could believe but that is a far cry from all being sweetness and light.

    Re Cranborne money, I shall confine myself to wishing you well – and add that while the arguments against an increase seem valid if that increase were to parity with the opposition, that is clearly not the case here.

  2. Senex
    12/06/2010 at 7:09 pm

    BDS: “The evidence over the years (and we keep careful statistics on this) is that over a period the Cross Bench vote is split 50/50 for and against Government amendments.” Looks like a normal distribution to me? Does that make you an average peer? Love the dots! Or are they canon balls?

  3. 13/06/2010 at 12:25 am

    Noble Baroness D’Souza,
    A short-list of useful know-how sources comes to mind, for dealing with the situations you are involved with here:

    1. The Military Appreciation: where not only our Own-Powers versus those of the Enemy have to be quantitatively and qualitatively known and ongoingly mapped, but variable-neutral powers have to be similarly distinguished and ongoingly mapped (as one would do with numbers of ‘swinging-voters’ in an election campaign).
    Also, neutral or fixed-powers have to be known and mapped (lest for example they fall under the control of the Enemy who might be able to turn them against our own Powers).

    2. Appropriate Organisation of Own-Powers: purposes, skills and equipment distinctions between, for instance, our (a) peace-keeping personnel (b) peace-building teams, and (c) peace-securing armed troops; in Afghanistan, Iraq, and anywhere else.

    3. All-Round Preparedness: deriving from
    (a) Friendly Method III Needs & Hows Recognition and win-win-win Cooperative Problem-Solving thereupon; original author Dr Thomas Gordon.
    (b) All-Round Thinking using for instance the Six-Thinking-Hats model and Six Action Shoes practicums: original author Dr Edward de Bono.
    (c) Cooperative Conflict Resolution (e.g. using the method taught at international levels by the Australian Conflict Resolution Network: “Every-one Can Win” original authors Cornelius & Faire).

    4. Double-Checks, in case any problem-factor has been wrongly or insufficiently appreciated; e.g. Percentages-Indexing in formulating Adequacy of Income between the rich and the poor, where the logarithmic equations have insidiously become grossly penalising to the needy and grossly bloating to the rich.

    Instance: Person A’s income is £200 per week whereas Person G’s income is £2000 per week.

    The legislated adequate income for one person to live long-term healthily, happily and citizenlike, i.e. one human living, is £200 per week.

    Person A has no money left over.
    Person G has £1800 left over.

    Similar cases may exist ‘hiddenly’ in others of our Foreign involvements, in our Home (British Isles) Security, and in Parliamentary and various other levels of Costs, Allowances and Expenses-formulating; and they may be bigger factors than we had hitherto realised and prioritised, perhaps ?

  4. 13/06/2010 at 12:51 am

    Perhaps another source-for-thought might help in both this Afghanistan blog and in your previous ‘Returning to fundamentals’ idea, Baroness D’Souza:

    Prof Jonathan Stone says (‘)We humans have become a plague on earth(‘); and Prof David Smith says (‘) When the Earth’s Lifesupports, upon which Economics totally depends, are being exponentially disrupted whilst the economists’ GDP and longest-term sharemarket reckonings show our Lifesupports to be improving and rising, somebody has to get it through to the Economists that there must be something radically wrong with at least one of their key equations (‘).
    [“Australian Environmental Studies” 26 weeks TV Open University course in Australia].

  5. Gareth Howell
    13/06/2010 at 10:48 am

    “that what really turns you on are finer points of (constitutional change), quizzes”

    Heh! Heh! I take great exception to that remark noble Baroness!

  6. Gareth Howell
    13/06/2010 at 10:56 am

    General Petraeus is interesting in that he obviously knows his job and also obvious that he knows the limitations of it, which a good many soldiers are not prepared to accept.

    The political committee is the paymaster of the military man, and there is nothing either he or they can do to prevent that being so, nor anything he can do, to improve the resolve of the committee, nor anything they can do to decrease his.

    ….Until there are anti-Vietnam demos outside the US embassy that is, and tales of woe across America, then democracy begins to grind in to action….

  7. 13/06/2010 at 12:15 pm

    The answer to Afghanistan’s problems is not purely military. Liam Fox’s and David Cameron’s view is too narrow, in my opinion.

  8. Baroness D'Souza
    13/06/2010 at 3:28 pm

    JH, fair comment all round! However General Petraeus was consistently upbeat about destroying the Taliban – although I do take the point about political paymasters made by Gareth.

    Senex, of course it IS a normal distribution but not of much political strength for that very reason?

    I think, if I have got it right, that John Sydney Denton Miles is making an important point(s).

    • Senex
      14/06/2010 at 8:09 pm

      BDS: In an elected house with fixed boundaries and given that the XB’s are so politically mean one could argue that they represent stem cells ready to restore the balance by accepting whips as required; a sort of XB coalition. Of course this would only apply if the mean, mode and median coincided. Have you a Chi-Square ‘Goodness of Fit’ proof to your claim?

  9. Croft
    14/06/2010 at 1:28 pm

    Does the Cranborne money divide as the short moneys ie shared among the opposition not proportional to the share of the house. If so it has the perverse result of giving an opposition party more money if there is a coalition -v- a single party government even where they have the same seats.

    The XBs best argument is surely that all the other ‘parties’ have various other sources of money and public assistance to cover their organisation structures. The XBs only have this single funding stream.

    I’m sure General Petraeus is just being loyal and careful in not disagreeing with the political strategy. I have something of an interest in this area having written my dissertation on a somewhat similar set of military issues. The military always have other plans and are in my experience far more realistic and flexible than their political masters. But they do have to take orders however much they disagree…

  10. MarkP
    17/06/2010 at 7:13 am

    Please, please do keep blogging about Afghanistan. The trend here in the US seems to be towards minimal and insubstantial reporting, and virtually nothing in the way of strategic discussion. Afghanistan is being treated as an insignificant event in a place far, far away, and perhaps all the more so since the lack of progress is somewhat embarrassing. I may be cynical, but I can’t help wondering whether keeping the war quiet is deliberate policy, and that thought bothers me tremendously. Every day real civilians and real soldiers are dying, and that is horror enough. But if in our complacency we fail to demand honest answers from those shaping policy do we not in part enable those deaths?

    • 17/06/2010 at 11:47 am

      MarkP in USA;
      You’re feeling caught between Scylla and Charybdis ?

      I’m thinking in two sets of three each:
      (1) Distinction, concentration & economy of Force
      a) peace-keeping personnel should be plain-clothes, mostly unarmed administrators and ‘civil-servants’ (except for armed-police whom I place next in b).
      b) peace-building teams should be in civil uniform and be visibly armed only whenever firearms-level policing becomes necessary; but at all secure quiet times may be invisibly armed with only easily concealable weapons such as pistols, pepper-pistols, ‘tizers’, nets, handcuffs and suchlike.
      c) peace-making forces should be fully Military, fully armed and battle-equipped, organised, administered and commanded at all times.
      The above three jobs are ‘clinically’ distinct, and each such arm requires its own task-related special skills.

      Similarly, we are The Citizenry, Mark; and can only be effective as far as we are (i) enabled by our Nation-State (ii)matchingly empowered by our Nation-State, and (iii)progressively maintained by our Nation-State.

      Therein it is false to think of us as being a) complacent b) unwilling or c) apathetic.
      Those are totally insubstantial ‘projections’ by the ‘Powers-That-Be’ and the Media.

      Thank you for sharing ‘The Watch’ and joining in the feedback, Mark.

      • MarkP
        17/06/2010 at 8:54 pm

        If I were to adopt a classical analogy for my position it might be Plato’s allegory of the cave, rather than Scylla and Charybdis. From here, Afghanistan appears like a shadow war. I can see that there is conflict, and that troops and resources are going in (in the US, these are funded from a shadow budget, no less!) The attitude of the figures on the wall suggest that events are not all one way, but the official word whispered in our ears is along the lines delineated by Gen. Petraeus to the Baroness. What I seek is a little light from those who are in a better position than I am to know what is going on. Fiat lux, Baroness!

        JSDM, I feel competent only to address your comments on the nature of the citizenry. I think there is more of a symbiotic relationship between the individuals that form the basis of the state and the state that sustains them. I do not think I need the enabling of the state to function as a thinking or morally feeling human being. If my state commits war crimes, then I expect that the state will neither enable nor empower my protests, and it may threaten to take away my measure of sustenance. Nevertheless protests ought to be made. The state is not omniscient. It makes mistakes, and when it does, I believe it is in some measure the duty of the citizens to hold it to account; the citizens must care for the health of the state,just as the state cares for the health of the citizens. It is in this framework that I see the possibility of complacency. With regard to Afghanistan in particular, I do not think complacency is purely a projection. I was looking at recent polling data last night on what issues are considered most important. When unprompted, the Afghanistan war barely rates a mention. On the other hand, when one poll asked specifically whether the Afghanistan was a serious problem, around 75% indicated it was either serious or very serious. In principle, then, the situation is serious. But the shadows we are see are indistinct and too non-specific to mean much on an everyday basis to many outside of, say, military bases and peace activist groups. Obviously, my case needs further elaboration, but I think this comment is already long enough.

        Thank you, JSDM, for your good wishes. I return them in equal measure.

  11. Baroness D'Souza
    20/06/2010 at 2:39 pm

    Some really excellent ideas here. We may have a full day’s debate on foreign affairs (very broadly defined) and I will certainly aim to include some of them. Thanks to all.

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