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…………..