Strayside Sunday is our monthly political opinion column. It is written by Paul Baverstock, former Director of Communications for the Conservative Party.
Nigel Adams made local news this week. Wonders never cease.
It seems that the Member of Parliament for Selby and Ainsty, enjoyed a very good European Championships this summer. Thanks to the generosity of Paddy Power and Betfair he was present at England’s Round of 16 victory over Germany. He enjoyed a semi-final jolly, paid for by Entain, whose betting brands include Coral, Ladbrokes, PartyPoker, and Sportingbet, to watch Gareth Southgate’s men vanquish the Danes. And, unlike those who breached Wembley’s defences and got into the final against Italy without a ticket, Mr. Adams attended legitimately, with a ticket paid for by Heineken, the booze brand that refreshes the parts other beers cannot reach.
Mr. Adams followed procedure and registered properly the 6 grand’s worth of hospitality he received in the Register of Member’s interests. So, what, if anything, is noteworthy about this story? Heineken is based in Tadcaster, in Mr. Adams constituency and, as such, you can make the case that a local business and significant employer has every right to entertain its local MP and that it is sensible for the MP in question to maintain strong relationships with important local economic players. However, in my view, public servants accepting hospitality from gambling companies can never be right.
The think-tank the Institute for Public Policy Research estimates that “problem gambling” costs the taxpayer £1.2b a year; for mental health services, for police intervention and even through homelessness. Gambling addiction is fast approaching epidemic status; fuelled by aggressive advertising campaigns (none more so than the wall-to-wall adverts that envelop football television coverage); by the gambling industry’s exceptional digital innovation; and by the prevalence of smartphones that bring accumulators, spreads and each-way bets into the palm of our hand (thereby absolving us of the social shame we once knew of flicking a fag butt and ducking swiftly and furtively into the betting shop). Whatever you think about the morality and desirability of gambling in a civilised society, and whether you think that gambling should be free of advertising constraints or handcuffed by them, I hope we can all agree that a public servant accepting free tickets to England football matches sends all the wrong signals. As an ex-communication professional, I used to tell my clients that one’s reputation is defined, at least in large part, by the company you keep. Mr. Adams is all a flutter and enjoyed the football this summer at the expense of his credibility.
And credibility is in draught-like supply among western governments this week. On Thursday, 2 suicide bombers from Isis-K killed 70 Afghans and 13 US soldiers at the gates of Kabul Airport. These following days of chaotic scenes as almost 100,000 people have been evacuated from the country, largely under the stewardship of the US and UK military, as Joe Biden’s (and therefore the) 31st August deadline for concluding the operation fast approaches.
Aircraft holds crammed with terrified and exhausted men, women and children fleeing Taliban 2.0; crowds trampling countrymen and women underfoot in the crush to get anywhere near, let alone through the airport gates, desperate young men of promise falling from the undercarriage of planes flying to freedom and dead bodies strewn along a thronging open sewer. For those of a sensitive disposition it is best to look away now. But to do so is tacit acceptance of our own responsibility. We did this. More accurately those we elected to lead us did. Thank you, Messers Bush and Blair; $2 trillion spent over 20 years in Afghanistan, on infrastructure, on civic society and capability building, on training and equipping Afghan police and military. Yet once it became clear that the west was throwing in the towel (and setting a public date to do so) this lot, in the face of a well organised and ideologically driven enemy, collapsed in less than a month. Viewed on these merits our involvement in Afghanistan has been a colossal failure. Almost 500 British servicemen and women paid the ultimate price to deliver it.
It’s important however that we remember the organising principle for our involvement in Afghanistan and the climate in which the decision was taken for it. In the aftermath of 9/11, we chose to rid the world of the awful threats posed to all our welfare by the existence of Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden. Al Qaeda has been quashed and Bin Laden was killed. Job done. Whether or not the new Taliban regime will now enable and see the rise of a radical replacement for these nefarious forces remains to be seen; but it already looks likely. It seems probable too that this will lead to the threat of further terrorist attacks on the west. And so the tragic cycle continues.
What matters now is how we treat the Afghan refugees we created, now arriving on our shores. Our challenge is to reconcile the high-minded morality we might proclaim (by providing safe haven to those for whom life under the Taliban would be intolerable) with our selfish desire not to have refugees living next door. These people are coming here precisely because they are now too educated and too liberal for their own incoming regime. We should embrace them; it’s the least we can do. If we marginalise them, if we build barriers to their economic success, if we ghettoise them or allow cultural insularity, we will yet again be gambling on our future.
That’s my Strayside Sunday.
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