The Sketch: These backbench Tories are exposing a rankling in the ranks

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The Independent Online

Flashes of reality are coming out of Parliament. There's Nick Clegg's line on benefits – that they're not meant "to recompense" people for being poor. How wonderfully clear and confrontational that is. He's repeating something he said in opposition but what a wallop it carries from the Government front bench.

And the select committees chaired by Tories are causing more problems for the Government than they solve. The ranks are rankling, you see.

For example, Andrew Tyrie is pressing the Treasury to release its private view of how the cuts are going to affect certain sections of society more than others. That's deeply unhelpful.

Also, in the Public Administration committee, Bernard Jenkin is revealing an astonishing absence in the heart of government. He's calling it a search for "a grand strategy" and he ain't found nothing yet.

I'm as sceptical of grand strategies as the next man. But God knows, there are questions that will bear on our future. How do we equip western workers to deal with globalisation? How British do we want Wahhabi immigrants to be, and how do we go about making them so? How do we cope with a 10-million strong underclass in the fourth and fifth generation of state dependency, without recompensing them for their predicament?

What Bernard Jenkin's committee is pointing out is that there is no structure in government that considers questions like these. There is no plan. And very often there isn't the knowledge either. For instance, he hauled in one of the Army's big old Royal Marines to give us a reason for our recent failure in Afghanistan. It wasn't just that there was no grand strategy... "We didn't realise we were moving from a Northern Alliance area to a Pashtun area," he said.

That's like the Afghans invading Europe and attacking Burnley to kill Turkish people. The Royal Marine also said the initial response to 9/11 (bombing Afghanistan) was "non-discretionary" – that it wasn't a matter of "deriving lessons from Elphinstone's retreat".

But Elphinstone's retreat (in which a retreating British garrison was massacred) is the single most important strategic fact for anyone wanting to invade that wonderful country. You can get in easily enough – but how do you get out? We have no honest answer to that.

So Jenkin and his committee is into a rich seam and it'll be worth watching future episodes.

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