Good morning. The flags have been lowered, the soldiers are coming home. The UK’s main base, Camp Bastion is being closed down and British withdrawal from Afghanistan is almost complete. “Quietly, the long war ends” is our take. In Helmand, Holly Watt witnesses the coming down of the flags of the US, the UK and Nato. It all feels too familiar to Tom Newton Dunn, who recalls a similar journey to Basra in 2009. “Then, as now, platitudes spilled forth from top brass and politicians,” he writes in today’s Sun: “We leave Afghanistan in the same way, prematurely, with a decision that has everything to do with politicians’ electoral cycles and almost nothing to do with the war on the ground.”
“It’s hard to remember,” James Kirkup notes, “but before Britain’s Iraqi adventure went so far off course, interventionist foreign policy was effectively the political norm.” Now, “Out At Last”, the Mirror’s splash, probably best typifies the war fatigue that has come to dominate politics in the West. But if it’s the Mirror that highlights the mood it’s the Mail that captures the fear: “Not A Trace Left Behind” is the headline. The memorial to the British dead – 453 in all – at Camp Bastion will be taken down is the inspiration, but the wider concern is that for all the money spent and the lives lost, Afghanistan will fall back into the Taliban’s hands and it will have all been for nothing. The Times weighs up the success and failures: life expectancy up from 50 in 2000 to over 60 today, the first democratic transfer of power in that nation’s history, but a threefold increase in the Opium Trade and a country joint-last with North Korea and Somalia in Transparency International’s corruption index.
In his column today, Con Coughlin fears that this will be the last hurrah for the British Army. A combination of war fatigue and fiscal retrenchment – neither the Government or the Opposition has committed yet to maintaining the 2% of GDP target that comes with Nato membership after the election – means that Britain increasingly lacks the ability, much less the inclination, to act on the world stage. Good, says John Prescott in the Mirror: “being the world’s policeman carries a heavy price and does not justify the heavy loss of lives”.
But as we’ve seen in Syria, inaction is also a decision with bloody consequences; and, as a result of our decision to stay out of that country we find ourselves back in Iraq five years after we said “never again”. Could we end up embarking on a fifth Afghanistan war sooner rather than later? As Tom puts it in the Sun: “I deeply wish I could say we’re not facing another déjà vu on disaster. But I can’t.”
ALAS, POOR JOHANN
“Labour Plunges Into Civil War” is the Scots Mail’s splash. Johann Lamont has resigned as leader of Scottish Labour and she’s kicked off a bitter war of words between the Scottish party and its cross-border cousins. Ms Lamont’s parting shot – that Ed Miliband treated Scottish Labour like “a branch office” is having reverberations. Two former Labour First Ministers, Jack, now Lord, McConnell and Henry McLeish, are demanding that Mr Miliband give up all control over the Scottish party, blaming his “foolish” intervention in the 2011 Holyrood election campaign and his “continual mistakes” as leader for Scottish Labour’s travails. (Ben Riley-Smith has the story.)
As one usually anti-Miliband insider noted to me last night: “It’s the typical ‘victim mentality’ from Scottish Labour. It’s not as if the problems there started in 2010.” The real problem is that Gordon Brown’s popularity north of the border papered over the cracks at the last general election; and with Ed Miliband no better liked in Scotland than in England, it’s up to Scottish Labour to win the day in 2015 in its own right. Oh dear.
“Migrants row leaves Tories in disarray” is the Guardian’s splash. Michael Fallon’s remarks on yesterday’s Murnaghan that some British towns are “swamped” with immigrants while other parts are “under siege” contrasted with Liz Truss conceded on the BBC that migrant workers are essential to the UK agricultural industry. The word “swamped” is also felt to have an unhappy history. “I’d never use ‘swamped’ in this context,” said Ukip’s deputy chairman, Suzanne Evans. Downing Street clarified the remarks, saying that he should have said “under pressure”. But not everyone feels that the remarks were poorly chosen, with Stewart Jackson, MP for Peterborough, tweeting: “Fallon absolutely right to use the word “swamped” about “some” immigration hotspots despite what teenage spin doctors at No 10 might say.”
HAIL TO THEE, JIM MURPHY?
Can Jim Murphy, still on a high from his referendum heroics, turn Scottish Labour around? That the Labour left is already stepping up its anti-Murphy campaign – Owen Jones gives him both barrels in today’s Guardian – shows that he won’t be able to take the leadership without a fight. Much hinges on what Anas Sarwar, the current deputy decides. It’s no longer sustainable for Mr Sarwar to remain as deputy and stay in the Commons, as it only underlines the “B-Team” problem that so damages Scottish Labour. But he could choose to give up his N0.2 slot and remain in Westminster, which would allow a unity ticket balancing Scottish Labour’s many wings (left/right, east/west and Catholic/Protestant are the big dividing lines) to emerge. Or he could decide to stand as a candidate in his own right. Meanwhile, the attempts to draft Gordon Brown as a candidate are on in earnest, although the man himself is still dubious about the move. Nominations close on November 4th with the winner announced in December.
YOU KHAN’T SAY THAT
Nigel Farage’s party has been accused of exploiting the misery of Rotherham sex abuse victims in the South Yorkshire PPC by-election after unveiling a poster featuring a young woman and the message: “1,400 reason why you should not trust Labour again”. One victim, now 25, tells the Indy: “People shouldn’t be making such comments and using it to get themselves into high positions. That’s very disrespectful to us victims.” Elsewhere, Naushabah Khan, Labour’s Medway-born candidate in Rochester and Strood, has said that the tone adopted by Ukip and its supporters can be “quite upsetting”, Laura Pitel reports in the Times. “When you say: we blame immigration for this, this and this’, that feels really uncomfortable,” Ms Khan says. South Yorkshire voters go to the polls on Thursday.
THE AMERICANS ARE COMING
David Axelrod – Ed Miliband’s six-figure American hire – has visited the United Kingdom just once since being brought in to repackage Ed Miliband as a potential Prime Minister, and it’s beginning to cause friction within the Opposition. “You cannot spend 300,000 pounds on a press release,” one insider tells Seb Payne, who’s written about the rise and rise of the American political advisor in today’s Washington Post.
Theresa May and Michael Gove are working full stretch to persuade Tory rebels to come around to the European Arrest Warrant, with a dossier of the criminals who would still be at large in the United Kingdom without it. Leaving it could turn Britain into a “honeypot” for criminals, Theresa May says, while former immigration minister Damian Green warns that it would be “really dangerous” to leave the EAW. Liberal and Labour support should be enough to pass the measure but a Tory revolt of over 100 would seriously embarrass the PM.
FRUITCAKES 1 LOONIES 0
Yet more noses out of joint thanks to Nigel Farage. Tom Rowley finds that the Monster Raving Loony Party are low on money and morale, and it’s all Ukip’s fault, apparently. “They’re stealing our thunder,” ‘Mad’ Mike Young says, “They’re coming up with crazy things.”