Where Words Fail
There was a whiff of a bygone era to Vince Cable’s letter. The idea that a government minister would draft a few strongly worded pars giving what-for to his chief, rather than use any new-fangled electronic device, seemed peculiar. That his main complaint was that there was a lack of any bally good idea for a way forward only compounded the feeling. As it turns out, it’s normal procedure in Westminster to communicate this way.
The subtext of the letter was where the interest lay. This was about Cable trying to show how he could, fearlessly, land a punch. He was undermining all government fiscal policy, while the leak allowed him to remain separate from it, the lone voice pointing at the emperor’s new clothes. It appeared, briefly, like something might happen, that he might make government address the big idea, the plan ahead. It looked like a juicy row.
And then a catastrophic bomb exploded in Afghanistan. Its force was enough to make the very air flap and six soldiers were left dead. Immediately questions arose about why we’re still there. Immediately, the politicking of the coalition felt grubby.
How could this still happen in Afghanistan, a decade on from the invasion? Wasn't the surge supposed to have helped; wasn't ground being made with the Taliban?
The cathedrals and churches of Britain are full of memorials to men who died in another Afghani invasion a century and a half ago. The Russian army couldn’t succeed with 100,000 men. And I heard one commentator this week evoke the memory of Alexander the Great to illustrate the intractable nature of problems there. It all looks futile.
But moving out immediately doesn’t make sense. Camp Bastion, for instance, is said to be the size of a small town with an airstrip as busy as Stansted. And to abandon the people to the winds and warlords now seems cruel and wrong.
However, the same narrative is played out again and again. Boys are sent to places they do not know and they end up dead. Half a world away, their mothers mourn and try to make sense of it all. No letters from politicians can fix that.