The Crisis In Afghanistan

This week we registered a new stage of crisis for the NATO occupation of Afghanistan.

The dismissal of General McChrystal by President Obama is not a case of personal animosity, or of military arrogance towards civilians, although these factors undoubtedly are present. At the heart of the incident is a conflict of policy.

Last year, at the time of Obama’s review of US strategy in Afghanistan, McChrystal suggested that there should be an immediate deployment of 40,000 of troops, and a further 40,000 after that. The assumption was that an extended occupation was necessary. This was in line with the views of Senator General John McCain, who had spoken of an occupation that could last a 100 years.

In response, Obama agreed a surge of 30,000 additional troops. But in a concession to domestic concerns, Obama stated that by July 2011 a process of withdrawal would commence.

In practice then, McChrystal has been carrying out a policy that he did not agree with. But the implementation of the Obama policy was by a plan jointly drawn up by McChrystal, and his replacement, General Petraeus.

In his West Point speech in December 2009, Obama outlined the 3 themes which made up the new US strategy: “…..a military effort to create the conditions for a transition; a civilian surge that re-enforces positive action; and an effective partnership with Pakistan”.

Six months on, all three elements seem to be failing. The military effort involved a combination of counter insurgency with the “Afghanisation” of security by a massive build up of the Afghan National Army (ANA) and the Afghan National Police (ANP).

The counter insurgency operation had its first big test in Operation Moshtarak where the aim was to inflict a defeat on the Taliban in the area around Marjah. Despite the deployment of 15,000 NATO troops and five brigades of Afghan forces, no effective engagement was achieved with the Taliban.

A spokesman for the Taliban said: “We have withdrawn tactically from some areas. We never flee”. TheTaliban claimed minimum causalities, despite the strength of the deployment against them.

Counter insurgency theory suggests that one solider is necessary for every 50 civilans in an area of operation. The area of operations in Marjah had a population of around 30,000. This operation involved a ratio of one solider for every two civillans, and was still ineffective.

McChrystal had notoriously claimed that after a military victory in Marjah, he had a replacement local government “in the box” which could be established to counter a return of the Taliban.

Three months after victory has been declared, the Taliban remains active in the area; McChrystal has characterised Marjah as “a bleeding ulcer”; and a stable local government remains “in the box”.

Nor has the process of the “Afghanisation” of security registered any success. The ANP is known to be corrupt and demoralised. McChrystal stated that only 25% had received any basic training.

However, the army was supposedly a more effective organisation. Yet on June 14th 2010, a Time Magazine report found:

“9 out of 10 Afghan enlisted recruits can’t read a rifle instruction manual or drive a car, according to NATO trainers. The officers corps is fractured by rivalries; Soviet-era veterans vs. the former mujahedin rebels who fought them in the 1980s, Tajiks vs. Uzbeks, Hazaras and Pashtuns. Commanders routinely steal their enlisted men’s salaries. Soldiers shake down civilians at road checkpoints and sell off their own American-supplied boots, blankets and guns at the bazaar – sometimes to the Taliban. Afghans, not surprisingly, run when they see the army coming.

Recruits tend to go AWOL after their first leave, while one-quarter of those who stay in service are blitzed on hashish or heroin according to an internal survey carried out by the Afghan National Army(ANA). One NATO major from Latvia stationed in the north, complained to a Time video team that when a battalion’s combat tour was extended, three Afghan officers shot themselves in the foot to get medevacked out.”

At the time when no military progress is being made, there can be no reinforcement via a “civilian surge”. There have been no increase in NGO or NATO reconstruction on the ground. One anecdote best illustrates this. All the tabloid and broad sheet newspapers in Britain, extensively covered the operation by the British Army to deliver a turbine to the Kajaki dam which would mean, we were told, the people of Kandahar receiving hydro electric power.

In its June 26th issue, months after the operation, the Economist reports: “Alas the turbine dispatched for this purpose, in an operation involving 5,000 British troops, still lays in the Kajaki dirt, the Taliban having made it impossible to truck in cement to install it”.

And the third theme, the greater involvement of the Pakistan Government, and military, has not led to the border becoming more secure. Despite intense pressure from the US, the Pakistan military has not launched a major offensive in North Waziristan.

But there are many signs of Pakistan assuming a greater influence, independently of the US Government. A spokesman for the Pakistani Army, Major General Athar Abbas said “The American time table for getting out makes it easier for Pakistan to play a more visible role”.

Indeed this assertiveness runs to the Pakistan Army outlining a policy which is decidedly out of line with US policy. A policy of negotiating peace with the insurgents is being actively pursued by the Pakistan Army.

In three trips to Kabul, Afghan officials have confirmed, that Pakistan Army General Kayani and General Pasha had offered to broker a peace deal involving the Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and the Haqqani fighting force. This is not what Obama had anticipated.

Can we expect a difference approach from Petraeus? Although he drew up the current plan with McChrystal, Petraeus is a position to move away from Obama’s compromise.

Of immediate concern must be that Petraeus may set aside McChrystal’s policy of “courageous restraint”. This placed limits upon NATO utilising night raids, bombing and pursuit into populated areas and villages.

Although the number of civilian causalities reached its highest point in 2009, this is down to the general increase in fighting. If Petraeus sets the policy aside, the first change that will be registered will be a further escalation in civilian causalities.

Petraeus has not ruled out an increase in troop numbers. McCain recently suggested a further 10,000 US troops may be necessary. All surge troops will be in Afghanistan by summer, amounting to 105,000 US troops and 48,000 from NATO allies. So additional troops will be on top of these numbers.

Petraeus is probably of the view that an extended occupation is necessary. When asked this week whether he supported the July 2011 drawdown date, he offered a “qualified yes”. Obviously he could not blatantly contradict Government policy, but the qualification did so implicitly.

Obama himself is moving away from his previous policy. On June 24th, when questioned about the deadline, he said: “we didn’t say we would be switching off the lights. We said we would begin a transition phrase that would allow the Afghan Government to take more and more responsibility”.

This wriggle away from the commitment runs counter to government policy. Vice President Jo Biden gave a recent interview where he said: “….in July of 2011 you are going to see a whole lot of people moving out. Bet on it”.

Obama and Petraeus had indicated that there would be a “strategic assessment” of policy in December 2010. In the meantime the crisis deepens. June 2010 was the deadliest month since the war began for NATO troops, 79 killed so far, in comparison to the previous record of 77 in August 2009.

There have also been serious set backs for Obama with the Afghan political process. The clearest expression of this is the weakened connection to the Afghan Government.

In April, within the space of a week, President Karzai met twice with President Ahmadinejad – of Iran – and once with representatives of the Chinese Government. This prompted an unscheduled flight by Obama to Kabul to meet Karzai. Iran and China are the two border states to Afghanistan that the US administration believes have no role in its future.

Karzai has also publicly claimed that the US tried to fix the presidential elections in 2009; claimed that the US fired rockets at his Peace Conference; said he might end up joining the Taliban; sacked the two most pro-US Ministers, intelligence Chief Amrullah Saleh and Interior Minister Hanif Atmar. These Ministers have been vocal in their public opposition to the Iranian and Pakistani Governments influence.

Karzai also lobbied Obama to retain McChrystal, presumably because he feared the loss of the “courageous restraint” policy.

In this growing assertiveness of Karzai and the Pakistan Government, we can see, albeit in a highly mediated manner, the strengthening of anti-imperialist forces in the region.

But if we are entering a new stage of crisis, there is no automatic resolution. The current issue of the Economist is titled “Losing Afghanistan”, this does not mean Afghanistan is yet lost for the occupiers. But it does mean that the anti-war movement must considerably step up its activity in Britain and the US.

There is the sense of growing disengagement internationally. The Netherlands Government are withdrawing their troops in August. The Canadian Government is committed to withdrawing combat troops by next summer. On Thursday 24th June, the acting President, and likely victor in Poland’s Presidential Election, Bronislaw Komorowski, asked the Polish Government to prepare for a Polish withdrawal by 2012. In all cases the US administration is seeking a reversal of policy.

In Britain, the election of the Coalition Government has brought out more in the open some tension about the future of the intervention.

From the point of view of the Coalition, there is a hole of £36 billion in the defence budget in the next decade. This in itself is a prompt for examining an intervention in Afghanistan which is running at around £5 billion a year.

But the Conservatives have always had a more pragmatic and business like attitude to colonial wars. This comes from the hundreds of years of accumulated experience of colonialism which exists in the Tory party. Labour politicians are much more concerned about ridiculous issues like being seen as unpatriotic, or weak on defence.

Consequently, the last couple of months have seen the first signs of real disquiet in Government. At the end of May, The Independent on Sunday quoted “senior military sources” as saying that talks were underway with US Commanders on scaling down the British commitment to war.

On the 9th May, the Times published the conclusions of an investigation with senior military figures, politicians and civil servants on the move of British troops to the south of Afghanistan in 2006.

The report said that the MOD and Whitehall departments had grossly under-estimated the threat from the Taliban. Warnings of inadequate troop numbers had also been ignored.

The original move was to send 3,300 troops to Helmand for 3 years and at a cost of a billion pounds. John Reid famously said, from military opinion given, that they would be able to leave: “without a shot being fired”. Four years later there are 8,000 British troops in place, along side 20,000 US Marines, with hundreds of causalities.

This sense of disquiet exists amongst Tory MP’s. Last year, Adam Holloway MP, in a report, wrote of an “ill conceived mission” and that “attempts to impose a central Government…..are over ambitious and likely to fail”.

Recently, Patrick Mercer MP said that it is “unsustainable for this number of troops to be in Afghanistan and Pakistan for an indefinite period”. This is true of course, but also is an admission of British Special Forces operating inside Pakistan.

Julian Lewis MP a former Shadow Defence Secretary, has spoken of “…..pointless patrols creating target practice for the Taliban”.

It is clear this disquiet is having an impact upon the Coalition Government too. In early June, Cameron held a strategy review. He has since ruled out increasing the number of British troops – a statement of inflexibility which reeks of concern about the future.

Cameron has also indicated that withdrawal from next year may be possible, in line with Obama’s initial policy. Cameron stated that Britain “cannot be there in 5 years times”, further reinforcing the impression of disquiet about the future.

The most obvious expression of policy tension in the Government came on a trip to Kabul by Ministers. Liam Fox, the Defence Secretary said “we are not in Afghanistan for the sake of the education of a broken 13th century country. We are there to see our global interests are not threatened”.

This clearly came as news to Andrew Mitchell, the Development Secretary, who said at the same time “….providing basic education and health care facilities was crucial”.

The lack of coherence in the coalition Government is likely to become more pronounced as the crisis of the occupation becomes more apparent.

The Parliamentary Labour Party continues to lag behind the deepening crisis. Some on the right of the party, such as Eric Joyce MP and Denis MacShane MP, have realised how hopeless the intervention now is. But, of the potential leaders of the party, it is only Diane Abbott who has clearly called for withdrawal.

Yet the anti-war movement must be aware of how vital it is to increase its activity. Parliament is full of new MPs, many of whom can be placed under real pressure by organised lobbying.

In the coming weeks, facing a potential offensive in Kandahar, and perhaps a more aggressive pursuit of military goals, the anti-war movement is necessary now more than ever.

Support the Green Party and the Stop The War coalition.

Caroline Lucas’ Maiden Speech To Parliament

Mr Speaker,

I am most grateful to you for calling me during today’s debate.

The environment is a subject dear to my heart, as I’m sure you know, and I’ll return to it in a moment.

I think anyone would find their first speech in this chamber daunting, given its history and traditions, and the many momentous events it has witnessed.

But I have an additional responsibility, which is to speak not only as the new Member of Parliament for Brighton Pavilion, but also as the first representative of the Green Party to be elected to Westminster.

You have to go back several decades, to the election of the first Nationalist MPs in Scotland and Wales, to find the last maiden speech from a new national political party.

And perhaps a better comparison would be those first Socialist and Independent Labour MPs, over a century ago, whose arrival was seen as a sign of coming revolution.

When Keir Hardie made his maiden speech to this House, after winning the seat of West Ham South in 1892, there was an outcry.

Because instead of frock coat and top hat, he wore a tweed suit and deerstalker.  It’s hard to decide which of these choices would seem more inappropriate today.

But what Keir Hardie stood for now seems much more mainstream.

Progressive taxation, votes for women, free schooling, pensions and abolition of the House of Lords.

Though the last of these is an urgent task still before us, the rest are now seen as essential to our society.

What was once radical, even revolutionary, becomes understood, accepted and even cherished.

In speaking today, I am helped by an admirable tradition – that in your first speech to this House, you should refer to your constituency and to your predecessor.

David Lepper, who stood down at this election after thirteen years service as Member for Brighton Pavilion, was an enormously hard-working and highly-respected Member whose qualities transcend any differences of Party.  I am delighted to have this chance to thank him for his work on behalf of the people of Brighton.

It is also a great pleasure to speak about Brighton itself. It is, I am sure, well-known to many Members, if only from Party conferences.

My own Party has not yet grown to a size to justify the use of the Brighton Centre, although I hope that will change before long.

But I can say to honourable members who are not familiar with it,  that it is one of the UK’s premier conference venues; and there are proposals to invest in it further to help ensure that Brighton retains its status as the UK’s leading conference and tourism resort.

There are also the attractions of the shops and cafes of the Lanes and North Laine, the Pier and of course the Royal Pavilion itself, which gives its name to the constituency.

And beyond the immediate boundaries of the constituency and the city, there is the quietly beautiful countryside of the South Downs and the Sussex Weald.

Brighton has always had a tradition of independence – of doing things differently.   It has an entrepreneurial spirit, making the best of things whatever the circumstances, and enjoying being ahead of the curve.

We see this in the numbers of small businesses and freelancers within the constituency, and in the way in which diversity is not just tolerated, or respected, but positively welcomed and valued.

You have to work quite hard to be a “local character” in Brighton.

We do not have a single dominant employer in Brighton. As well as tourism and hospitality, we have two universities, whose students make an important cultural, as well as financial, contribution to the city.

There are also a large number of charities, campaigning groups and institutes based there, some local, others with a national or international reach, such as the Institute of Development Studies, all of which I will work to support in my time in this place.

I would like also to pay tribute to those wonderful Brighton organisations that work with women. In particular I’d like to mention Rise, who do amazing work with women who have been victims of domestic abuse.

Many of my constituents are employed in the public and voluntary sectors. They include doctors and teachers, nurses and police officers, and others from professions that do not always have the same level of attention or support from the media, or indeed from politicians.

But whatever the role – social workers, planning officers, highway engineers or border agency staff – we depend upon them.

I’m sure that members on all sides would agree that all those who work for the State should be respected and their contribution valued. In a time of cuts, with offhand comments about bureaucrats and pencil-pushers, that becomes yet more important.

There is also a Brighton that is perhaps less familiar to honourable members. The very popularity of the City puts pressure on transport and housing and on the quality of life.

Though there is prosperity, it is not shared equally. People are proud of Brighton, but they believe that it can be a better and fairer place to live and work.

I pledge to everything I can in this place to help achieve that, with a particular focus on creating more affordable, more sustainable housing.

Brighton was once the seat of the economist Henry Fawcett who, despite his blindness, was elected there in 1865. Shortly afterwards he married Millicent Garrett, later the leader of the suffragists, a movement he himself had supported and encouraged.

So he lent his name to the Fawcett Society, which is still campaigning for greater women’s representation in politics.

The task of ensuring that Parliament better reflects the people that it represents remains work in progress – and as the first woman elected in Brighton Pavilion, this is work that I will do all that I can do advance.

I said when I began that I found this occasion daunting.

Perhaps the most difficult task is to say a few words about the latest radical move that the people of Brighton have made – that is, to elect the first Green MP to Parliament.

It has been a long journey.

The Green Party traces its origins back to 1973, and the issues highlighted in its first Manifesto for a Sustainable Society – including security of energy supply, tackling pollution, raising standards of welfare and striving for steady state economics – are even more urgent today.

If our message had been heeded nearly 40 years ago, I like to think we would be much closer to the genuinely sustainable economy that we so urgently need,  than we currently are today.

We fielded fifty candidates in the 1979 general election as the Ecology Party, and began to win seats on local councils. Representation in the European Parliament and the London Assembly followed.

Now, after nearly four decades of the kind of work on doorsteps and in council chambers which I am sure honourable members are all too familiar, we have more candidates and more members, and now our first MP.

A long journey.

Too long, I would say.

Politics needs to renew itself, and allow new ideas and visions to emerge.

Otherwise debate is the poorer, and more and more people will feel that they are not represented.

So I hope that if, and when, other new political movements arise, they will not be excluded by the system of voting. Reform here, as in other areas, is long-overdue.

The chance must not be squandered.   Most crucially, the people themselves must be given a choice about the way their representatives are elected.

And in my view, that means more than a referendum on the Alternative Vote – it means the choice of a genuinely proportional electoral system.

Both before the election and afterwards, I have been asked the question: what can a single MP hope to achieve? I may not be alone in facing that question.

And since arriving in this place, and thinking about the contribution other members have made over the years, I am sure that the answer is clear, that a single MP can achieve a great deal.

A single MP can contribute to debates, to legislation, to scrutiny. Work that is valuable, if not always appreciated on the outside.

A single MP can speak up for their constituents.

A single MP can challenge the executive.  I am pleased that the government is to bring forward legislation to revoke a number of restrictions on people’s freedoms and liberties, such as identity cards.

But many restrictions remain. For example, control orders are to stay in force. Who is to speak for those affected and for the principle that people should not be held without charge, even if it is their own homes?

House arrest is something we deplore in other countries. I hope through debate we can conclude that it has no place here either.

A single MP can raise issues that cannot be aired elsewhere.

Last year Honourable Members from all sides of the House helped to shine a light on the actions of the international commodities trading group Trafigura, and the shipping of hazardous waste to the Ivory Coast.

There was particular concern that the media in this country were being prevented from reporting the issues fully and fairly.

This remains the case, for new legal actions concerning Trafigura have been launched in the Dutch courts, and are being reported widely in other countries, but not here.

Finally, I would like to touch on the subject of today’s debate.

I have worked on the causes and consequences of climate change for most of my working life, first with Oxfam – for the effects of climate change are already affecting millions of people in poorer countries around the world – and then for ten years in the European Parliament.

But if we are to overcome this threat, then it is we in this chamber who must take the lead.

We must act so that the United Kingdom can meet its own responsibilities to cut the emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases that are changing our climate, and encourage and support other countries to do the same.

This House has signed up to the 10:10 Campaign – 10% emissions reductions in 2010.  That’s very good news.  But the truth is that we need 10% emission cuts every year, year on year, until we reach a zero carbon economy.

And time is running short.  If we are to avoid irreversible climate change, then it is this Parliament that must meet this historic task.

That gives us an extraordinary responsibility – and an extraordinary opportunity.

Because the good news is that the action that we need to tackle the climate crisis is action which can improve the quality of life for all of us – better, more affordable public transport, better insulated homes, the end of fuel poverty, stronger local communities and economies, and many more jobs.

I look forward to working with Members from all sides of the House on advancing these issues.

Caroline Lucas' Maiden Speech To Parliament

Mr Speaker,

I am most grateful to you for calling me during today’s debate.

The environment is a subject dear to my heart, as I’m sure you know, and I’ll return to it in a moment.

I think anyone would find their first speech in this chamber daunting, given its history and traditions, and the many momentous events it has witnessed.

But I have an additional responsibility, which is to speak not only as the new Member of Parliament for Brighton Pavilion, but also as the first representative of the Green Party to be elected to Westminster.

You have to go back several decades, to the election of the first Nationalist MPs in Scotland and Wales, to find the last maiden speech from a new national political party.

And perhaps a better comparison would be those first Socialist and Independent Labour MPs, over a century ago, whose arrival was seen as a sign of coming revolution.

When Keir Hardie made his maiden speech to this House, after winning the seat of West Ham South in 1892, there was an outcry.

Because instead of frock coat and top hat, he wore a tweed suit and deerstalker.  It’s hard to decide which of these choices would seem more inappropriate today.

But what Keir Hardie stood for now seems much more mainstream.

Progressive taxation, votes for women, free schooling, pensions and abolition of the House of Lords.

Though the last of these is an urgent task still before us, the rest are now seen as essential to our society.

What was once radical, even revolutionary, becomes understood, accepted and even cherished.

In speaking today, I am helped by an admirable tradition – that in your first speech to this House, you should refer to your constituency and to your predecessor.

David Lepper, who stood down at this election after thirteen years service as Member for Brighton Pavilion, was an enormously hard-working and highly-respected Member whose qualities transcend any differences of Party.  I am delighted to have this chance to thank him for his work on behalf of the people of Brighton.

It is also a great pleasure to speak about Brighton itself. It is, I am sure, well-known to many Members, if only from Party conferences.

My own Party has not yet grown to a size to justify the use of the Brighton Centre, although I hope that will change before long.

But I can say to honourable members who are not familiar with it,  that it is one of the UK’s premier conference venues; and there are proposals to invest in it further to help ensure that Brighton retains its status as the UK’s leading conference and tourism resort.

There are also the attractions of the shops and cafes of the Lanes and North Laine, the Pier and of course the Royal Pavilion itself, which gives its name to the constituency.

And beyond the immediate boundaries of the constituency and the city, there is the quietly beautiful countryside of the South Downs and the Sussex Weald.

Brighton has always had a tradition of independence – of doing things differently.   It has an entrepreneurial spirit, making the best of things whatever the circumstances, and enjoying being ahead of the curve.

We see this in the numbers of small businesses and freelancers within the constituency, and in the way in which diversity is not just tolerated, or respected, but positively welcomed and valued.

You have to work quite hard to be a “local character” in Brighton.

We do not have a single dominant employer in Brighton. As well as tourism and hospitality, we have two universities, whose students make an important cultural, as well as financial, contribution to the city.

There are also a large number of charities, campaigning groups and institutes based there, some local, others with a national or international reach, such as the Institute of Development Studies, all of which I will work to support in my time in this place.

I would like also to pay tribute to those wonderful Brighton organisations that work with women. In particular I’d like to mention Rise, who do amazing work with women who have been victims of domestic abuse.

Many of my constituents are employed in the public and voluntary sectors. They include doctors and teachers, nurses and police officers, and others from professions that do not always have the same level of attention or support from the media, or indeed from politicians.

But whatever the role – social workers, planning officers, highway engineers or border agency staff – we depend upon them.

I’m sure that members on all sides would agree that all those who work for the State should be respected and their contribution valued. In a time of cuts, with offhand comments about bureaucrats and pencil-pushers, that becomes yet more important.

There is also a Brighton that is perhaps less familiar to honourable members. The very popularity of the City puts pressure on transport and housing and on the quality of life.

Though there is prosperity, it is not shared equally. People are proud of Brighton, but they believe that it can be a better and fairer place to live and work.

I pledge to everything I can in this place to help achieve that, with a particular focus on creating more affordable, more sustainable housing.

Brighton was once the seat of the economist Henry Fawcett who, despite his blindness, was elected there in 1865. Shortly afterwards he married Millicent Garrett, later the leader of the suffragists, a movement he himself had supported and encouraged.

So he lent his name to the Fawcett Society, which is still campaigning for greater women’s representation in politics.

The task of ensuring that Parliament better reflects the people that it represents remains work in progress – and as the first woman elected in Brighton Pavilion, this is work that I will do all that I can do advance.

I said when I began that I found this occasion daunting.

Perhaps the most difficult task is to say a few words about the latest radical move that the people of Brighton have made – that is, to elect the first Green MP to Parliament.

It has been a long journey.

The Green Party traces its origins back to 1973, and the issues highlighted in its first Manifesto for a Sustainable Society – including security of energy supply, tackling pollution, raising standards of welfare and striving for steady state economics – are even more urgent today.

If our message had been heeded nearly 40 years ago, I like to think we would be much closer to the genuinely sustainable economy that we so urgently need,  than we currently are today.

We fielded fifty candidates in the 1979 general election as the Ecology Party, and began to win seats on local councils. Representation in the European Parliament and the London Assembly followed.

Now, after nearly four decades of the kind of work on doorsteps and in council chambers which I am sure honourable members are all too familiar, we have more candidates and more members, and now our first MP.

A long journey.

Too long, I would say.

Politics needs to renew itself, and allow new ideas and visions to emerge.

Otherwise debate is the poorer, and more and more people will feel that they are not represented.

So I hope that if, and when, other new political movements arise, they will not be excluded by the system of voting. Reform here, as in other areas, is long-overdue.

The chance must not be squandered.   Most crucially, the people themselves must be given a choice about the way their representatives are elected.

And in my view, that means more than a referendum on the Alternative Vote – it means the choice of a genuinely proportional electoral system.

Both before the election and afterwards, I have been asked the question: what can a single MP hope to achieve? I may not be alone in facing that question.

And since arriving in this place, and thinking about the contribution other members have made over the years, I am sure that the answer is clear, that a single MP can achieve a great deal.

A single MP can contribute to debates, to legislation, to scrutiny. Work that is valuable, if not always appreciated on the outside.

A single MP can speak up for their constituents.

A single MP can challenge the executive.  I am pleased that the government is to bring forward legislation to revoke a number of restrictions on people’s freedoms and liberties, such as identity cards.

But many restrictions remain. For example, control orders are to stay in force. Who is to speak for those affected and for the principle that people should not be held without charge, even if it is their own homes?

House arrest is something we deplore in other countries. I hope through debate we can conclude that it has no place here either.

A single MP can raise issues that cannot be aired elsewhere.

Last year Honourable Members from all sides of the House helped to shine a light on the actions of the international commodities trading group Trafigura, and the shipping of hazardous waste to the Ivory Coast.

There was particular concern that the media in this country were being prevented from reporting the issues fully and fairly.

This remains the case, for new legal actions concerning Trafigura have been launched in the Dutch courts, and are being reported widely in other countries, but not here.

Finally, I would like to touch on the subject of today’s debate.

I have worked on the causes and consequences of climate change for most of my working life, first with Oxfam – for the effects of climate change are already affecting millions of people in poorer countries around the world – and then for ten years in the European Parliament.

But if we are to overcome this threat, then it is we in this chamber who must take the lead.

We must act so that the United Kingdom can meet its own responsibilities to cut the emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases that are changing our climate, and encourage and support other countries to do the same.

This House has signed up to the 10:10 Campaign – 10% emissions reductions in 2010.  That’s very good news.  But the truth is that we need 10% emission cuts every year, year on year, until we reach a zero carbon economy.

And time is running short.  If we are to avoid irreversible climate change, then it is this Parliament that must meet this historic task.

That gives us an extraordinary responsibility – and an extraordinary opportunity.

Because the good news is that the action that we need to tackle the climate crisis is action which can improve the quality of life for all of us – better, more affordable public transport, better insulated homes, the end of fuel poverty, stronger local communities and economies, and many more jobs.

I look forward to working with Members from all sides of the House on advancing these issues.

Peter Allen On Afghanistan

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yRft2EoW9XA

I do not doubt the commitment and heroism of our active service troops. It is their leadership that needs to be questioned. They are being ordered into battle to prop up a corrupt regime in Afghanistan and are fighting to protect corrupt global economic interests and not peace, freedom and democracy.

Over 260 British soldiers have been killed and uncounted thousands of Afghan civilians. A war that started as “Operation Enduring Freedom” has clearly failed. Foreign Secretary David Miliband himself has admitted that the strategy of a “war on terror” was wrong. Meanwhile the opium trade continues unchecked and a corrupt government appears to do little but line its own pockets.

As Green Party leader Caroline Lucas reminds us:

“Wilful amnesia in foreign policy has prevented us learning from past mistakes; attempts to impose a western model of democracy on a failing state, with ill-informed notions about the culture, geography or history of the place and it’s people, are bound to end badly. Worse still, attempting to do so through the barrel of a gun and via million–dollar bribes to corrupt warlords and criminals can only result in a failure of devastating proportions.”

The best support we can give to our soldiers is to bring them home. The best education we can give to our children is to help them understand our less-than-glorious imperial history, rather than take them out of lessons to cheer a military parade designed to shore up support for a failed adventure, undertaken by a bungling and crumbling government.

Peter Allen
Green Party Candidate
High Peak

Green Party Position on Afghanistan

The Green Party position on Afghanistan is quite clear: we are against the power of the military-industrial complex, and we  always doubt that violence and wars are a useful tool of policy, when all considerations are taken into account. We were against the invasion of Afghanistan, and if it were up to us, we would withdraw our troops immediately and unconditionally. However, given the real-politik of the present position, we can only advise Government on the best way to extricate themselves from the position in which they have foolishly placed our troops.

We accept that the government is not going to perform an immediate and unconditional withdrawal. Their plan, insofar as such may exist, is to train up the Afghan army, and to build up the competence of the Afghan government institutions until they can take over the security of the country.  The latest wheeze is to try to bribe moderate Taliban to stop fighting.

Our opponents will argue that immediate withdrawal will lead to the collapse of the Afghan state, effectively handing it back to the Taliban, with all that means in terms of religious freedom, human rights, the position of women, flying kites, stoning, amputations &c. There is also the point that the lives of all those British soldiers would have been sacrificed in vain.

Our counter to this is that, given the present situation, the best way to achieve success, both in terms of getting our troops out with honour and to stabilise the Afghan state with some semblance of democracy, is to buy the opium and use it to relieve the agony of 6,000,000 people who die in Africa each year with untreated terminal pain. Most here will have experienced a friend or relative die of cancer in the UK, aided by morphine. Just imagine what that process would be like without any painkillers.

The advantage of the Opium Purchase policy is:

1. Win hearts and minds of the farmers
2. Pull the financial rug out from under the Taliban
3. Greatly reduce the damage done to our society by illicit morphine
4. Relieve the suffering of terminal cancer in Africa
5. Reduce corruption in Afghanistan
6. Enable our troops to come home with honour.

This policy is endorsed not just by the Green Party of England & Wales, The European Greens, the Afghan Red Crescent, the Italian Red Cross, the European Parliament, the International Council on Security and Development, but most recently a serving US army officer, which shows that it is gaining ground.

The central objection to this argument, presented by the Foreign Office to Caroline Lucas  in correspondence, is that the mechanisms to buy and process the opium are not in place. This begs the question of why we do not use a fraction of the money being spent on the military effort to put them in place? That is what government is for, and it is what a Green Party government would do.

Thousands March For Palestine

Manchester Greens were among thousands of protestors on the streets of the city today, calling for an end to the bombardment of the Palestine people by the Israeli military, and a lifting of the siege of Gaza.

Turnout on the march was impressive, particularly given the short notice and the fact that there was a national demomnstration in London at the same time.

At a rally in Albert Square a broad range of speakers condemned the Israeli assault which has killed well over 400 men, women and children in Gaza over the past week with the tacit support of the US Government and its western allies.
Amongst those on the platform in Manchester was lead European Election candidate for the Green Party, Peter Cranie.

Peter said ‘You will never achieve peace by overwhelming military force; you will never achieve peace by the crushing of a civilian population.  We call for world leaders like Barack Obama and Gordon Brown to work for peace and for justice for the Palestinian people.’