Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Debate Afghanistan and the War on Terror? Er, sorry..important engagement....whips won't allow...can't speak because we're elected...can't be bothered

With the UK bogged down in an increasingly unpopular war in Afghanistan, the mounting death toll of British soldiers, the realisation of the corrupt nature of the Afghan government, and the impact on many local people of the 'war on terror',  you would think that the politicians who support the war would stand up and defend their policies in front of the voters of Brent.

Far from it. Dawn Butler had pleaded another important  engagement weeks ago but there didn't appear to be any more important election activity anywhere else in Brent that evening. The Metro reports today that just as the hustings were about to begin she tweeted that she 'was sitting in a cafe in Kensal Green resting after door knocking'.

To make matters worse she had nominated local councillors Van Kalwala and Butt to speak on her behalf at the meeting but they withdrew at the last minute. In a message to organisers they said that the Labour Group whip had advised them that due to this being a national issue and the fact that they were local councillors they 'would not be best placed to speak on the topic.' They also said that as elected members they would not be able to speak in a personal capacity either.

The Conservative candidate for Brent Central, Sachin Rajput, had also said he could not make the meeting but would find a replacement. Despite frequent reminders he submitted no names and there was no Tory speaker.

My personal opinion is that this failure to debate with the public one of the most pressing issues of the day, involving national security, the deaths of British troops, not to mention the enormous economic cost, shows a complete contempt for the people of Brent.

Despite the Labour and Conservative absence the 80-90 people present, the local press and a Middle Eastern TV station, heard passionate and informed presentations from experts on Afghanistan, the 'war on terror', Palestine and Guantanomno.  Shahrar Ali, the Green Party candidate and Sarah Teather, Liberal Democrat candidate made considered and detailed responses to the questions from the experts and the audience. 

The main differences that emerged between the parties were on Afghanistan and Trident. The Green Party are for immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan accompanied by a regional peace process and for the scrapping of Trident. The Liberal Democrats are for a review of the Afghanistan commitment and were challenged that their desire to maintain stability though the use of troops would inevitably mean a long term presence. Sarah Teather wanted to retain options on the nuclear deterrent whilst being opposed to the renewal of Trident. On Palestine Shahrar Ali said the Green Party supported all of the PSC's pledges while Sarah Teather wanted to consult with legal experts on trade before commiting to a ban on settlement goods.

In her concluding remarks Sarah Teather said that the Brent Central contest would be a too close to call two horse race and if the audience largely agreed with her that was the way they should vote. She promised that she would be prepared to challenge the Lib Dem whips on issues of principle.

Shahrar Ali said that the Green Party was founded on firm principles of justice and equality. He challenged the the two horse race concept and said that voters should vote in terms of their beliefs and principles. He quoted the 9% plus local vote Greens received in the 2008 GLA elections and said that there was no better time than now than to cast a Green vote.

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