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Paul on Politics: Kent MP Tom Tugendhat's 'face of thunder' over Afghanistan talks


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With Afghanistan very much hitting the headlines this week, our political editor gives his thoughts on the tense foreign affairs committee meeting.

Political editor, Paul Francis gives us a run down on what happened.

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For a man who holds one of the top jobs in government, Dominic Raab appeared to have some surprisingly large gaps in his knowledge when he faced MPs to answer questions about Afghanistan this week.

He seemed to have adopted the dictum that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

Maybe he missed the summer catch-up classes on how the geopolitical landscape was changing - quite likely, given reports that he was sunning himself on a beach in Crete when things began unravelling in Afghanistan.

What he knew and when he knew it dominated a rather testy meeting of the foreign affairs select committee this week.

It was chaired by the former army veteran Tom Tugendhat, Tonbridge and Malling MP, who when he wasn’t bearing the expression of a deeply disappointed parent forced to reprimand a recalcitrant child, had a face like thunder.

Former army veteran Tom Tugendhat, Tonbridge and Malling MP, chaired a foreign affairs select committee. Picture: Parliament TV
Former army veteran Tom Tugendhat, Tonbridge and Malling MP, chaired a foreign affairs select committee. Picture: Parliament TV

He produced a briefing note apparently showing the government had received intelligence suggesting things might go pear-shaped rather sooner than expected.

Raab asked where the report had come from - a question he soon realised was not one he should have asked, as the answer was that it was one produced by his own department.

He gamely tried to shrug it off and carried on but in a way which gave the impression that he was being sucked into a knowledge-free vortex, hurtling through the space out of control.

Not since MPs gave the hapless transport secretary Chris Grayling a grilling over squandering taxpayers’ cash on booking ferries ahead of Brexit has a minister seemed quite so discomfited.

After a lengthy session of the foreign affairs select committee, Raab hopped on a plane to Qatar to see what he could do about the remaining Britons stranded in Afghanistan.

Dominic Raab was grilled by politicians
Dominic Raab was grilled by politicians

He - like them - probably wished he had done so rather sooner but hindsight is a wonderful thing.

Elsewhere, as pupils returned to schools this week, many will have done so having participated in a range of activities put on during the summer holiday as part of Kent County Council’s catch-up programme.

The “Re-connect” initiative was designed to help children recover some of the ground they lost during the various Covid lockdowns.

Precisely how many took advantage of the scheme is not yet known but the company contracted by the authority to provide additional activities has disclosed some details on numbers.

The National Invicta Academy says on its Facebook page that over five weeks, 12,600 children enjoyed 82,500 lessons and 3.7million minutes of learning.

The situation in Afghanistan has been hitting headlines again this week
The situation in Afghanistan has been hitting headlines again this week

Quantifying success in terms of minutes seems slightly odd and not terribly useful. Divide the number of lessons by the number of children and it works out at 6.7 lessons for each - just over one class a week per child.

How many children who took part were from socially disadvantaged backgrounds, for example? What ages were they and where did they live and what schools did they attend?

Given the priority KCC - rightly - has given to the need to stem the impact of Covid on the achievements and progress of pupils, let’s hope some rather more forensic analysis is carried out.

And finally, Jeremy Corbyn may be yesterday’s man but he still attracts a loyal following and there are signs that party activists are rallying round to ensure his left-wing agenda informs party policy.

Things could become a bit bloody as conference season looms, with various left-wing groups pledging to reverse the suspension of the former leader from the parliamentary party.

Keir Starmer has taken a robust approach when it comes to a crackdown on factions who are pursuing a left-wing agenda, leading to criticism that he is carrying out a Stalinist purge.

One of the conditions for those who want to remain in the party is to prove they are not members of a number of groups party chiefs have banned.

Large numbers of members have received letters from Labour saying that unless they can prove they do not support a banned group they will be automatically expelled from the party - without a hearing.

The obvious question is while it’s relatively easy to show someone is a member, how do you prove you are not a member?

Head to our politics page for expert analysis and all the latest news from your politicians and councils.

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