Simon Carr: The Sketch

Eat this column after you've read it
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The Independent Online

Because I don't want to give aid and comfort to al-Qa'ida; or to undermine the morale of our troops in Afghanistan, or betray the most obvious secret of the highest political command - I must ask you not to pass this on. Eat this column after you've read it.

If, however, it comes to a showdown between the Taliban and the government front bench - bet on the Taliban. The Secretary of State for Defence wouldn't face the Commons to answer questions on the five recent deaths of British soldiers, and one of his deputies presented himself as a useless, football-faced tub of guts lacking the knowledge, experience or ability to answer any question unless prompted by Jack Straw (babysitting him). Definitely bet on the Taliban.

Tom Watson said: "I want to make it clear. And plain. Our objectives in Afghanistan weren't unfocused."

Not un-what? The objectives are so unfocused they include everything. There is nothing the objectives don't include. They want to train local warlords to write Home Inspection Packs. Our troops are over there to create a stable economy, how about that? They're tasked with building a nation and creating a stable economy (using the lessons we've learnt so well in Iraq). Yes, we're there, defying two or three hundred years of experience, to supervise the transition from a poppy economy to growing aubergines. Our most fearsome allies will defeat the Taliban: General Market Gardener and General Tesco.

Do we have enough resources? Enough economists, lawyers, agronomists and sketch writers? Or, more pertinently, perhaps, enough soldiers, helicopters and attack jets? The ministerial blob spoke from his brief: "Commanders have not asked for extra infantry and air cover." I wonder what that means?

Chris Mullin and Paul Flynn made their point. It's a point that bears repeating, but they need to kick it along somehow, it has large potential. Mullin asked why we didn't buy the poppy crop from these farmers in order to turn it into diamorphine (and here comes the kicker) as we buy poppy crops in India and Turkey. "I know there are difficulties," Mullin said, "but they are surmountable." And the problem it solves is enormous.

"I'll make sure his views are taken seriously," Tom Watson said. It was the only moment of humour in the whole afternoon.

Leg and Reg is in the Lords. In its new clauses, the Act says: "The minister is under a duty to be reasonable." If a minister wants to make an Order he is "not to take into account irrelevant considerations". He is prohibited from acting "in bad faith", and he is obliged "to reach a rational decision". These are the sorts of things we have to put on the face of the Bill these days. No wonder ministers hate the Act now. If they are to have their hands tied like this they'll never be able to invade Iraq again.

sketch@simoncarr.co.uk

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