Labour conference diary: Ainsworth listens to soldier's tale
Tuesday 29 September 2009
"As I sit here, my legs are aching," Stuart Trow said. "I've got a bullet in my buttock and that's not comfortable."
You can bet it was not. Listening to the disabled former SAS soldier on the conference fringe provided one of those rare moments when the real-life impact of the decisions politicians make penetrated the strange bubble in which party conferences take place.
He was speaking at a meeting hosted by The Sun about the Afghanistan war. Mr Trow was shot during a tour of duty in Helmand and had a leg amputated below the knee. He has overcome his injuries sufficiently to be able to set out next month to climb Kilimanjaro but a lifetime of pain lies ahead.
He was wounded in 2001, too soon to benefit from the improved compensation scheme introduced in 2002, and although he said he was grateful for his pension, he would like to see that scheme backdated.
His remarks were directed at the Defence Secretary, Bob Ainsworth, who has a reputation for being a poor communicator but on this occasion handled hard questions sensitively. However, he was in no position to give Mr Trow satisfaction. The Treasury is opposed in principle to backdating. Why, if it conceded that principle, it might have forgotten Falklands veterans who have suffered 27 years of pain and trauma stepping forward to ask if they can be compensated too.
*Alistair Darling's comment likening Labour to a football team that has started to "lose the will to live" is in danger of going down like Theresa May's description of the Tories as "the nasty party" – apt, true, and better left unsaid. Gordon Brown's people are furious. One cabinet minister remarked: "He could have got rid of Gordon a year go, if he wanted to, but he didn't do anything. Now he is transferring the blame for inactivity on to others."
*One person who certainly has not lost the will to live is Peter Mandelson, whose speech yesterday went down so well that David Miliband, among others, wondered aloud whether the Labour party has finally learned to love Peter Mandelson, as Tony Blair always hoped it might. Lord Mandelson declared himself bemused. "Odd, ain't it?" he said.
*David Miliband, meanwhile, would be grateful if delegates would stop congratulating him on his excellent speech. That was his kid brother, Ed. He speaks on Thursday. Eight people have made the mistake so far.
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