tv Political Thinking with Nick... BBC News September 5, 2021 5:30pm-6:01pm BST
at a time when rents are low and there is opportunity for us to rethink even what a bakery is. tempting people back in is the big challenge now for so many of our towns and city centres, which are still struggling to fully recover from the pandemic. emma simpson, bbc news, central london. hello, this is bbc news. i'm shaun ley. the headlines: former girls aloud singer sarah harding has died at the age of 39, after being diagnosed with breast cancer last year. the head of one of prince charles�* charities temporarily steps down after claims he helped secure an honour for a major donor. relatives of a female police officer in the ghor province of afghanistan have told the bbc that she has been killed by the taliban.
—— killed reportedly by members of the taliban. plans to overhaul england's social care system are likely to be unveiled this week, amidst warnings that a rise in national insurance could provoke a "very significant backlash". i will have a full summary of the news and international news at six. now on bbc news, political thinking with nick robinson. a national tragedy, shameful, a staggering failure. britain's biggest foreign policy failure since suez, that is how my guest on political thinking this week has described our withdrawal from afghanistan. he is tom tugendhat, former soldier, former advisor to the governor of helmand province, former advisor to the chief of the defence staff. he is now chair of the foreign affairs committee of the house of commons. this is the series in
which i have conversations with, not interrogations of, those who shape our political thinking, about what shapes theirs, their background, their values, their lives, behind politics. it was precisely that which led mps to listen to him in total silence as he spoke in the commons with his struggles with anger, grief, and rage as he watched events unfold in kabul. i've been to funerals from poole to dunblane. i've watched good men go into the earth, taking with them a part of me, and a part of all of us. and this week has torn open some of those wounds, left them raw and left us all hurting. tom tugendhat, welcome to political thinking. thank you, nick. nice to see you. have you had much sleep since those events in kabul? no, i haven't.
i've got one of these trackers on my phone and i've noticed that my sleep has sort of gone from an average of seven, seven and a half hours, to something like three or four hours on average for the last three weeks. and it feels a bit like being back on operations, actually. there is a network of retired officers and soldiers trying to help those we know who are in such desperate need and so it's been pretty full on. full on because you must be getting texts and e—mails and messages saying, "get me out, help." yes. i got a phone call at two o'clock in the morning this morning from a group of individuals who are stuck on a border and these are not people i know, but somehow they got my number. and they said, "get me
out, open the border." i said, "i can't, i can't order the border guards to do that. i don't have that authority. i can't order the embassy, the high commission to give them papers." the home office has a say, the security services have a say, the foreign secretary has a say. all these decisions i can push, but i can'tjust give an order. and it's... you know, it's. .. as the old line goes, i used to say go and they went and i said come and they came, but now all i do is i shout like a voice in the wilderness. that is the big difference about being a soldier and now being a politician and a backbench politician. you can't force anything to happen. do you feel a sort of personal responsibility that you owe these people? yes. yes, deeply, deeply personal. you know, these are people i've fought with. these are people who risked everything alongside me
and others and even those i don't know i know who they fought with, i know them. these aren't foreigners. these are much more. and is that why you talked so movingly, and it was clear that you were moved, let alone the people watching you in the house of commons, listening to you about shame and anger and grief? it's funny, i've spoken to a lot of veterans recently, for obvious reasons, and a lot of people, after i made that speech, have got in touch, quite literally thousands from the united states, from the uk and other countries. and the feeling of shame is pretty universal. it's really striking to me how... for me it was almost therapeutic, you know, you are not alone. you say these things in the wilderness and you've no idea whether or not
they will find echoes. what struck me is how many of us feel the same. serving officers, retired officers, serving soldiers, retired soldiers, british, american, french. you name it. you talked of watching good men go into the earth, taking with them a part of me, a part of all of us, and it could have been you. the taliban tried more than once to kill you. yes, they did. it could have been. it wasn't. and, indeed, people around you were killed when the taliban tried to assassinate you. yes. i lost a few people. i want to ask you a difficult question. are you too close? does all this mean you speak with passion, you speak with authority, we should listen, but some would say he's too close to this, it's too personal? it's a fair question. i can understand that question. but am i too close to the nhs because i rely on it, absolutely,
for the protection of my family? am i too close to the welfare policies in the united kingdom because i rely on it completely for the protection that my family, my friends might rely on the people i've served with often do rely on, many people i know? am i too close to the transport policies that we vote for because i and many other people rely on notjust the train to run on time, but also the change from petrol to green energy, whatever it is. i mean, the nature of democratic politics, if you have a democracy, is that you've got people who are, by definition, close to this and if you don't, what you are actually voting for is an aristocracy, people who are remote, who are separate. and so i accept what you are saying, and i constantly need to ask myself, and i constantly do ask myself,
am i wrong? have i overinvested ? am i throwing good money after bad, if you see what i mean? i'm intrigued by you saying you have had to ask yourself, even on so little sleep, even in the heat, if you have got it wrong. is there a possibility that the argument that was made, for many years, by many people, that afghanistan could never be quelled, it could never be governed safely and securely, that they were always right for 20 years? you see, i don't buy that. and history of afghanistan suggests that ain't so. there were long periods where afghanistan was governed peacefully under the late king zahir shah and his father. you know, many people, i don't know whether you did it, did the hippie trail. no. it will not come as a huge revelation to many people. i don't suppose they had manchester united fan shops in afghanistan then, they probably do now.
it was a well—governed peaceful place, women and girls went to school and university, they were civil servants and so on. it was a pretty uninteresting and relatively prosperous country. the main argument it seems thatjoe biden is making as president is, "look, the status quo wasn't really an option." the idea that you have promoted, the idea that tony blair has promoted, which is why notjust carry on with a couple of thousand troops, almost no casualties for several years, just keep going, was unrealistic, because the taliban would have seen that as a declaration of war after the 20th anniversary of 9/11, given that donald trump had made a deal to get out, given thatjoe biden was known as the politician who promised the american people he would get out. so there was only one option to get out or reinforce and possibly send
in more troops. see, i don't buy that. i do buy that this was very well signposted in advance, as you rightly say, notjust biden but also trump and also obama, who set the deadline, the first departure date, when he did the surge way back when. so you are right, this was very clearly signposted but that doesn't mean it's right. if you look at the troop numbers, you say it is a serious troop commitment. look, you know, one soldier in a country can be a serious troop commitment, depending on what they are doing. in this case it was 2500 us troops, that is about half the crew of a us aircraft carrier. you have spoken to lots of people in washington, dc, i've no doubt, to try and get your mind around what is in his mind, the biden argument seems to be it wasn't going to stay at 2500. if he had said we are staying, the taliban would have said that's fine, we're going
to attack your troops, british troops, and you will then be forced to send many more people back in. that's assuming british troops and american troops were doing the kind of operations that would allow that to happen, which is simply not so. the afghan armed forces, whether they be police or ana, afghan national army, were the ones conducting operations. what we were doing is we were the enablement, so supporting the air movements, supporting air strikes and supporting logistics. and all that was being done basically by two relatively isolated airbases in kandahar and bagram with huge amounts of stand—off and thousands of contractors who would only stay if the us stayed. so that's not a valid argument. the other argument you and others have made, which biden took on, specifically, when he spoke to the nation a few days ago, is the idea that this is like korea or it's like germany after world war ii. the idea that we could stay
for decades and with far higher troop numbers than we had in afghanistan. because those were no longer hot wars, they were effectively over. oh, really? you would say that south korea in the early 19705 was no longer a hot war? i think there are plenty of people who would disagree who were looking at what was going on across the other side of the parallel and really wonder whether that was so and you would have looked at the south korean government at that time and you would have said this is a basket case. it's run by a bunch of military dictators, its economy is below that of afghanistan, roughly equivalent of congo, will it ever rise again, will it ever prosper? now look at it, it is one of the world's great economies, one of the world's great democracies, is exporting not just phones and cars to the industrial world, but actually culture, innovation, science. it's an extraordinary success story, south korea. yes, but there will be people watching this, listening to this saying you can say that about dozens of countries.
of course you could. we don't intervene there, we don't invade there, we don't occupy, we don't keep our troops in harm's way, why afghanistan? because that's where 9/11 happened. you don't choose history. history chooses you. more people were killed from these islands in that single incident than any other terrorist incident. this was a moment when globalisation came to bite us and it came from there. and we had a choice, we didn't have to react, but we did, as nato, it is our only article five deployment, the only time we have done the musketeer all for one and one for all article five pledge, and we stood together and we did it. you're right, we didn't have to do it, but we were there and we weren't anywhere else. we now have to, you now have to deal with the fact that president biden, a democrat, argued against it and got his way, that the republicans
largely agree with him, even though they criticise the way he has done it. what does this mean for our relationship with the united states. i was struck by a phrase you used the other day describing america as a lion that wants to sleep quietly in its bed. what did you mean? i mean, america is one of the most extraordinary achievements of humanity. it has managed to harness, through ideals, ideas and innovations and cultures from people around the world into an extraordinary republic. and that has given it strength beyond anybody�*s imagining in cultural, military, economic terms. it is an extraordinary place. but... but, as you rightly say, as the song goes, from sea to shining sea, it has the extraordinary luxury
of having two great nations on either side and two neighbours who are, broadly speaking, extremely friendly. that is a luxury that allows some people to have the illusion that they can sleep quietly in their beds without thinking about others. does this mean that we have to relook at the whole of our foreign policy based on a close relationship with the united states, pretty much since world war ii, ever since churchill? it does mean we have to look again, but don't think we should delude ourselves or be defeatist that this is american isolationism, it is not isolationism, but it is certainly a moment where america, as you rightly say, under the last three presidents, and actually, had it not been for 9/11, probably the last four presidents, would have had a roughly similar trajectory of gradual withdrawal from the world. the fashion, the conventional wisdom is that politicians have messed it up and partly because there is such sympathy and empathy with soldiers
and former soldiers, people are not critical of the military, but is it reasonable to say that the british military lost in helmand, they lost it in southern iraq, they didn't succeed in libya, they didn't succeed in syria. in fact, there has not been a real british military success for an awfully long time? i mean, i will not tell you there were no military mistakes, there were plenty and, you know, i can start from the top and work down if you like. i have to be honest, i am guilty of plenty mistakes myself, which i have to live with. military mistakes? well, decisions i took which were wrong and mistakes have consequences. ones you live with, you revisit? ones i live with. i'm not one to dwell on the past but, yeah, i'm conscious of my errors. there are some people who say, look, it should have been obvious then and it was potentially obvious
before then that there was only a political solution here. effectively, a deal would have to be done one day with the taliban. you say this, nick. i keep hearing this line that there is no military solution. yeah, there is! the taliban have just proven it! what do you think they have just done? that is a military solution. they just invaded kabul. it is done. that is the military solution. what you are not willing to say is that there was another military solution, which was to support a very, very slow peace—building operation. what they are going to do is they are going to the reverse of what we did. they are going to say, "we will stay on as long as it takes to build an islamic emirate and we will use force, and we will use violence, to make sure you comply until it is so second nature we do not need to anymore." �*as long as it takes�* is an interesting word because in your speech in the house of commons, you talked again and
again about patience. is that, in the round, is that what you think is missing in western democracy, a willingness to do this for ten, 20, 30, a0 years? this is the south korea point, the germany point, the cyprus point, we have had troops on the ground in cyprus since the 60s, keeping that green line, that un operation, those two warring parties apart and peaceful. is that a forever war? no, it is not. it is a forever peace but peace takes time and investment and commitment, in the same way as you would not describe police on the streets as a forever riot. you would call it policing. you call it keeping the peace. that is what it is. and our troops were not doing that. they were supporting others. this was the first test of a phrase, and you on the select committee, raised eyebrows at it —
global britain. how is it looking now? i don't object to the phrase, ijust don't know what it means. there is nothing wrong with the phrase. fine. but what is behind it? what do you fear it means? well, i don't fear it means anything. ijust don't know what it means. you think it's vacuous? yeah, well, it could be. the first attempt at explaining it is the integrated review. it's a very good document. it brings together foreign, and military and security policy. in theory, but still not answers. and it mentions the education of women and girls as a priority, half a dozen times, mentions afghanistan twice, and the single biggest reversal of education of women and girls is the fall of afghanistan. global britain is not quite working. what about the foreign office as an institution? your frustration is evident in everything you've said since the fall of kabul. what is going wrong with the foreign office? that is a really big question
because it is quite clear that, you know, when you lift up the bonnet of the rolls—royce, i'm not quite sure what the engine is but it wasn't made in coventry. to use your analogy, they may be wearing red shirts but they are not your team. they're not manchester united any more. are they even in the premier league, the foreign office? i can list high commissioners and ambassadors and extraordinarily capable diplomats in king charles street who are genuinely world—class and fantastic but, you know, when you see secure documents, or rather personal information left in the embassy in kabul, when you see the senior civil servant remain on holiday at the moment of extraordinary foreign policy crisis, you wonder what matters to you.
what is it that drives you? if you forgive me... politicians, most politicians, have not dedicated 30 years of their lives to a single institution, grown—up through it and taken on its values and orthodoxy and so to me what is more shocking is the senior official. can you imagine, can you imagine, in a battle, the general not coming back? it is unthinkable. it is completely unthinkable. in fact, voltaire made a joke about it, not sure if you remember it. remind me. he made a joke about admiral byng, in 1760, was it, who didn't show enough guts when fighting the french
and i think he was hanged at the port of mahon and the joke that voltaire said was: speaks french. "..to encourage the others". look, i mean... but if that criticism applies to the top civil servant of the foreign office, it surely applies to the foreign secretay as well? he stayed on his holiday, when your committee quizzed him about when he'd take his holiday and he refused to tell you! we were all on holiday in august. i'm sure you were. i was. and when this happened, you know, that was it, i was doing 20—hour days. there is a sense somehow that this is personal between you and dominic raab. you gave this very moving speech and it was heard in silence, there was applause after it, and when he wound up the debate it is traditional for ministers to praise the good speakers on their own side and there was not a word, you were not mentioned. many others were. i had texted him earlier and apologised i would not be there for the wind—ups so he knew i wasn't be there. i don't think it was personal. as you know nick, i've given a pretty hard time to three foreign secretaries now and i hope i am respectful
of the office and individuals. i think dominic raab is a highly intelligent man who has demonstrated some very good judgements on some areas and in other areas, it's myjob challenge him, and if there weren't that challenge function, it would not be good for democracy. you mentioned you had challenged previous foreign secretaries, not least borisjohnson, you clashed repeatedly when he was foreign secretary. and that is myjob! no, you once said something very interesting, i thought, which is humour doesn't translate in foreign policy. trust me, i've tried it, it doesn't. it just doesn't. do you mean literally? the words are not there because you are a speaker of how many languages? six orseven, i mean... i mean, itjust doesn't. trust me on this one! so, a borisjohnson gag that often gets a smile, let's be honest, from people who don't like him as well as people who do, may work in that way to reduce tension at home but does not abroad?
i don't think it's an extraordinary thing to say that boris has a remarkable ability to communicate in the united kingdom. it really is quite phenomenal. in a way, he is a political alchemist and he has a fantastic ability to carry a message across and get an image that sticks with people. but the reality is languages work differently, cultures work differently and it's really hard to translate a joke. you speak half a dozen languages, a former soldier who spent a lot of time abroad. there would be some who think, "why isn't he in government?" because goverments are a team and prime ministers need people around them who they work well with and politics is personal. you need to get on with the team who is around you. you could never serve borisjohnson because you fell out when he was foreign secretary? well, i don't think we did. we get on perfectly well when we see each other, and we text each other,
and we have been texting and working with each other over this crisis and i have to say, i'm not going to say that i think everything has gone brilliantly. you know i don't think that. i have to say that there are some really impressive moments of response and decision—making by the government that have resulted in a significantly better outcome that might have been the case many of us feared weeks ago. i'm not universally critical. i am critical on the areas where i am charged by parliament to run the challenge function. that is what i do. you looked just for a second there that you were going to say borisjohnson did a good job but you couldn't quite bring yourself to do it. look, i think... you don't think he's done a good job. you think he's messed it up, don't you? no, i think he's done a good job in some areas. the thing is, the problem i've got with those questions is in this role that i've got now is i am a conservative and i fundamentally believe in conservative values
and i champion those as best i can. but myjob is not to be a cheerleader for the government because then it compromises my ability to work cross—party in thejob i have as chairman. final question, you began by talking about this phone call you had and so many in recent weeks. the fear i imagine you have is that people are a bit weary of talking about afghanistan. they think it's over, regardless of what we think about what was right or wrong. do you have real hope that you can keep attention of the government and the people and of the civil service of the people you still want to help? the reality is afghanistan is over. we were defeated politically, not militarily, but we were defeated because we chose to walk away, so it is over. we are now into the second phase which is how do we protect as best we can those most vulnerable to revenge attacks because of their courage in standing by us in our hour of need. i don't think this government does weary of that and by the way this is something i'm very proud of this government for. it turned around immediately
and you could argue whether 20,000 is the right number or 30,000 is the right number but it didn't argued about the principal. it neversaid, "no, no i don't want foreigners." it immediately said, "yeah, we've got a responsibility here," and, by the way, i think the british people have demonstrated pretty clearly, certainly from my mailbox, the level of desire to support afghans who are in need. so i don't think it is going to be weary of in that sense but i do think, i'm afraid, it is over. tom tugendhat, chair on the foreign affairs committee in the house of commons, thank you forjoining me on political thinking. thanks, nick. i have a suspicion, not even tom tugendhat�*s family, his friends, his cheerleaders, are waiting to hear whether he has a job in borisjohnson�*s government. of course that, perhaps, makes him even more powerful
when he criticises them. he has got nothing that he wants from them and very little that he fears. thanks for watching. hello there. we've started to see some warmth and sunshine coming into southeastern parts of the uk and temperatures will contine to rise in the next few days. further north, scotland and northern ireland, still a lot of cloud as we head into the night and some outbreaks of rain trickling down into the far north of england but a much warmer night than it was last night in scotland. 111—15 overnight tonight. more mist and fog in the south—west of england and south wales. that will slowly burn off during the morning. still some pockets of light rain or drizzle left across southern scotland, northern ireland, northern england, maybe some sunshine in the north—east of scotland but it's really across much of england and wales that we'll see the sunshine developing. those temperatures continuing to rise. it will be a warmer day pretty much across the board on monday, but temperatures reaching 27
this is bbc news — the headlines at 6pm: former girls aloud singer sarah harding has died at the age of 39, after being diagnosed with breast cancer last year. she was a girl next door that had got it all. she was identifiable by the audience that were going to buy her records. that was the beauty of sarah. the head of one of prince charles�* charities temporarily steps down after claims he helped secure an honourfor a major donor. relatives of a female police officer in the ghor province of afghanistan have told the bbc that she has been killed by the taliban. killed by gun men believed tt the —— killed by gun men believed to be the taliban. plans to overhaul england's social care system are likely to be unveiled this week — amidst warnings that a rise