IT Projects – The Last Labour Government – The Failures – The Cost of Writes Off To The Taxpayer – We Must Not Get Stung Again


The last Labour government embarked on the introduction of many weird and wonderful IT systems all with the purpose of establishing centralised control of information about each and every person in the UK. Just about every scheme failed resulting in the writes off of about £100 million. Be assured Labour politicians are centralisers by nature and in the event the Party is elected to office in May 2015 many more daft projects and subsequent writes off will occur. The largesse of a Labour government can be effectively neutered by a large number of SNP MP’s who with influence on government will be able to ensure proper accountability so that developments are thought through and implemented efficiently.

waste of money

1. December 8 2003; Reid Announces £2.7 billion of NHS IT contracts

a. Health Secretary John Reid today announced the award of contracts, which he promised would lead to every NHS patient having their own individual electronic NHS Care Record by 2010. The pledge came on the day the Department of Health announced the award of three crucial contracts, worth a total of £2.7 billion, to deliver key components of the National Programme for IT (NPfIT) in England. He added: “Patient records will be available 24-hours a day, seven days a week to ensure that vital information about an individual’s health and care history can be available instantly to health professionals who have authorised access.”

b. Under the contract BT is to provide basic NHS Care Records by late 2004. The national record system is to be fully available by 2010. By then individual patients will be able to securely access their electronic records online. NHS IT director-general Richard Granger, said he anticipated patients should start to be able to access their records online long before 2010. “We anticipate that getting internet access to records will happen far before that… We’re still working out the detail but at the moment we predict Q4, 2004.”

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2. April 1 2005; NHS Connecting for Health (CFH) Agency (part of the UK Department of Health) formed Replacing the NHS Information Authority

a. Part of the Department of Health Informatics Directorate, with the role to maintain and develop the NHS national IT infrastructure. It adopted the responsibility of delivering the NHS National Programme for IT (NPfIT), an initiative by the Department of Health in England to move the National Health Service (NHS) in England towards a single, centrally-mandated electronic care record for patients and to connect 30,000 General practitioners to 300 hospitals, providing secure and audited access to these records by authorised health professionals.


3. September 4 2006; New inquiry into Troubled NHS IT upgrade – Auditors to launch yet another inquiry into the NHS IT upgrade project.

a. The National Audit Office only reported in June on the scheme to link 30,000 GPs with 300 hospitals in England. The programme, run by a government agency called Connecting for Health, has proved controversial, with a cost over-run of £4.1 billion. The original NAO report criticised delays in the project and said it was facing a challenging future, but was not as hard-hitting as expected.

b. Last month, the BBC revealed that a number of alterations had been made to the original draft after it was circulated to officials involved in the 10-year project. The NAO insisted the overall findings had not been changed amid criticism from opposition MPs. The project has also been dogged by criticisms from doctors, who say they were not consulted properly and that the new systems are a risk to patient confidentiality. These systems include an online booking system, a centralised medical records system for 50m patients, e-prescriptions and fast computer network links between NHS organisations. The NAO said the exact remit and timescale of the new investigation had not been decided yet. “When we published the report we said we may revisit it and that is what we are doing,” said a spokesperson.

c. MPs said the announcement was welcome after the controversy over the last report. Greg Clark, of the Public Accounts Committee, said: “We felt the original report raised more questions than it answered. “We will be following this with interest.”

d. A spokeswoman for Connecting for Health said the agency had always expected another inquiry and it would “co-operate fully”. Shadow Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, said: “Ministers are taking an utterly complacent view when the IT programme is running two years late and there are major question marks over the delivery of software and effective user involvement.”


4. September 29 2006; Little delay’ to NHS IT upgrade

a. The upgrading of NHS computers will not see “significant” delays despite a firm pulling out of most of its work on the project, the government has said. Accenture has handed over £1.9bn of its contracts to the US company Computer Sciences Corporation. It is the latest hitch for the £6.2bn Connecting for Health programme which saw delays following problems at another contractor, iSoft. But Health Minister Lord Warner denied the scheme had suffered a “huge blow”. Connecting for Health aims to link more than 30,000 GPs with nearly 300 hospitals by 2014. Lord Warner told BBC Radio 4’s World Tonight: “We cannot expect a 10-year programme on this scale… a massive civilian project, to actually never have any hiccups along the way.” But he stressed: “I don’t believe this will mean any significant delay. CSC have got a good track record…”I would expect there to be a smooth transfer of responsibilities.”

b. Accenture had responsibility for the roll-out in the North East and East of England but is making big losses on the work and faced fines for late delivery. However, the firm will keep responsibility for other parts of the NHS programme.

c. The Conservatives have called for the project to be reconsidered. Shadow health minister Stephen O’Brien said Accenture’s withdrawal poses “embarrassing questions” for Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt. “With Accenture – the most experienced of the primary contractors saying they are going to cut their losses – that seriously undermines confidence in the whole programme,” he said.

d. Last week, the magazine Computer Weekly reported there had been 110 major technical glitches to the project in last four months. Connecting for Health said the performance compared “favourably” with the IT provisions of other large-scale organisations.


5. November 12 2006; Health service IT boss ‘failed computer studies’- His Mum reveals all

a. The expert in charge of the government’s ailing £12bn computer modernisation programme for the NHS might expect to face criticism from IT experts, disgruntled doctors and even political opponents. But this weekend, it was his own mother who revealed he failed his university computer studies course.

b. Richard Granger, the tough 42-year-old management consultant who runs the government’s Connecting for Health project, initially failed his computer studies course at Bristol University – and took a year off as a result. He was only allowed to resit the exam after she appealed on his behalf, and he went on to gain a 2:2 in geology.

c. His mother, Mary Granger, spoke to The Observer about her surprise at her son’s role in the ambitious initiative that was supposed to transform the NHS’s computers and allow patient records to be kept electronically. She hasn’t spoken to her son for 10 years after a family row, but she is now campaigning to save the local hospital in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, which is losing some services to another local trust, and believes the computer modernisation plans are a gross waste of money. ‘I can’t believe that my son is running the IT modernisation programme for the whole of the NHS,’ she said.


6. January 27 2009 Public Accounts Committee Investigation – Project over-run £9.7 billion

a. The National Health Service (NHS) needs modern Information Technology (IT) to help it to provide high quality services to patients. The National Programme for IT in the NHS (“the Programme” or NPfIT) was set up to provide such services, using centrally managed procurement to provide impetus to the uptake of IT and to secure economies of scale. It constitutes the largest single IT investment in the UK to date, with expenditure on the Programme revised upwards to £12.4 billion over ten years to 2013–14. In summary, we draw four overall conclusions:

i. The piloting and deployment of the shared electronic patient clinical record is already running two years behind schedule. In the meantime the Department has been deploying patient administration systems to help Trusts urgently requiring new systems, but these systems are not a substitute for the vision of a shared electronic patient clinical record and no firm plans have been published for deploying software to achieve this vision.

ii. The suppliers to the Programme are clearly struggling to deliver, and one of the largest, Accenture, has now withdrawn. The Department is unlikely to complete the Programme anywhere near its original schedule.

iii. The Department has much still to do to win hearts and minds in the NHS, especially among clinicians. It needs to show that it can deliver on its promises, supply solutions that are fit for purpose, learn from its mistakes, respond constructively to feedback from users in the NHS, and win the respect of a highly skilled and independently minded workforce.

iv. Four years after the start of the Programme, there is still much uncertainty about the costs of the Programme for the local NHS and the value of the benefits it should achieve.


7. September 22 2011; £12bn NHS computer system is scrapped… and it’s all YOUR money that Labour poured down the drain

a. Ministers are to axe Labour’s disastrous £12billion NHS computer scheme. The Coalition will today announce it is putting a halt to years of scandalous waste of taxpayers’ money on a system that never worked. It will cut its losses and ‘urgently’ dismantle the National Programme for IT – a monument to Whitehall folly during Labour’s 13 years in power. The biggest civilian IT project of its kind in the world, it has already squandered at least £12.7billion. Some estimates put the cost far higher. Analysts say the sum would have paid the salaries of more than 60,000 nurses for a decade.

b. The decision to accelerate the dismantling of the scheme has been made by Health Secretary Andrew Lansley and Francis Maude, the Minister for the Cabinet Office. It follows new advice produced by the Major Projects Authority, set up by the Coalition to review Labour’s big financial commitments to see if they provide value for money. The authority said the IT scheme, set up in 2002, is not fit to provide services to the NHS – which as part of austerity measures has to make savings of £20billion by 2014/15. It concluded: ‘There can be no confidence that the programme has delivered or can be delivered as originally conceived.’ The report, seen by the Mail, recommends the Government should ‘dismember the programme and reconstitute it under new management and organisation arrangements’. The NHS computer scheme will go down as one of the most egregious examples of Labour’s incompetence and waste

c. Earlier this year, the powerful Commons public accounts committee slammed Labour’s NHS IT programme as ‘unworkable’. Its report said that despite the huge cost, it had ‘proved beyond the capacity of the Department to deliver, and the Department is no longer delivering a universal system’. And in May, the National Audit Office criticised the project for being poor value for money, patchy and long overdue.

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2015 General Election

Lest We Forget – Blair’s Legacy – One Month Of War – Our Young Men Die – For What? – Remember Very Recent Past When You Vote For Your Children’s Future In 2015


September 2 2006; Nimrod Crashes – British Servicemen killed in Afghanistan 14

Twelve RAF personnel, a Royal Marine and an Army soldier were on board the RAF Nimrod MR2 which came down in the southern province of Kandahar. The reconnaissance plane, based at RAF Kinloss in Scotland, belonged to the Nato-led force battling the Taleban. Officials said the incident appeared to be an accident. The 12 RAF personnel on board the were all based at Kinloss and from the Moray area, a spokesman from the base said. All next of kin have been informed.

Nato forces say the plane was supporting the Nato mission in the area. The pilot is believed to have radioed ground staff about a technical fault shortly before the aircraft came down. The crash brings the death toll of UK forces personnel in Afghanistan to 36 since the start of operations in November 2001. The crash is thought to be the biggest single loss of British troops in Iraq or Afghanistan since military operations began there in 2001.

Those who died were: Flight Lt Steven Johnson, Flt Lt Leigh Anthony Mitchelmore, Flt Lt Gareth Rodney Nicholas, Flt Lt Allan James Squires, Flt Lt Steven Swarbrick, Flt Sgt Gary Wayne Andrews, Flt Sgt Stephen Beattie, Flt Sgt Gerard Martin Bell and Flt Sgt Adrian Davies. Also named were Sergeant Benjamin James Knight, Sgt John Joseph Langton and Sgt Gary Paul Quilliam. The soldier who died was Lance Corporal Oliver Simon Dicketts from the Parachute Regiment and Royal Marine Joseph David Windall.

The crew reported a fire shortly before the crash and the Mail says the crash highlights concerns “over the poor standards of British military equipment”, quoting the RAF describing the plane as “old”. The Guardian says the fleet was due to be replaced more than five years ago.

Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Glenn Torpy said a routine air-to-air refuelling had taken place just before a mayday call was received. Indications are a technical problem was linked to a blaze, he told Channel 4. “We have definitely got an early report that the pilot reported a technical problem connected with fire,” he said. The Nimrod was said to have completed routine mid-air refuelling at 20,000 ft (6,000 m). “It was obviously carrying out a surveillance operation over Afghanistan and all the indications from the circumstances, from the information that we have at the moment, are that it was technical malfunction,” the air chief marshal said.

Angus Robertson, the SNP MP for Moray, said: “This is tragic news for the families and friends of the service personnel at RAF Kinloss. “It brings home the terrible danger that our service personnel face and that they perform their duties with selflessness. “Our thoughts go out to everybody connected with the victims and RAF Kinloss at this time.”


September 4 2006; British soldiers killed in Iraq attack 4

Two British soldiers, Gunner Samuela Vanua and Gunner Stephen Wright of the 12 Regiment Royal Artillery died from injuries suffered in Monday’s explosion near the town of Ad Dayr, north of Basra in southern Iraq. Their patrol was targeted by a roadside bomb and small arms fire near the town of Ad Dayr at about 1300 local time. Another two soldiers were injured – one seriously – and have been taken to the Shaibah Logistics Base by helicopter for emergency medical treatment. The deaths bring the total number of UK soldiers killed in operations in Iraq since the 2003 conflict to 117.


September 4 2006; British soldier among Kabul bomb dead 4

A British soldier has been killed and a further three injured in a suspected suicide bombing on a Nato convoy in Kabul. The latest fatality brings the death toll of UK forces personnel in Afghanistan to 37 since the start of operations in November 2001.


September 4 2006; Kabul suicide bomber kills British soldier 2

A British soldier has been killed and another very seriously injured in a suicide bomb attack on a Nato convoy in the capital. An Afghan interior ministry spokesman told Reuters news agency the suicide bomber had rammed his car into the convoy.


September 4 2006; Army ‘just’ coping, says general

The new head of the British Army warned that his soldiers can only “just” cope with the demands placed on them by ministers. General Sir Richard Dannatt, who took over from Sir Mike Jackson last week, said: “We are running hot, certainly running hot. “Can we cope? I pause. I say ‘just’.”

Foreign Office Minister Kim Howells said he did not think that the British Army was overstretched but other Nato countries should be doing more. He added: “There has got to be an effort right across Nato and not just concentrated on a certain number of countries like the UK and Canada.

Shadow Defence Minister Gerald Howarth, said the Tories had predicted that British troops would “get sucked into a very much more fierce counter insurgency operation”. However, Parliament was assured by John Reid, the then defence secretary, that this would not be the case, Mr Howarth told BBC Radio 4’s World at One.

Col Tim Collins, who commanded the First Battalion of the Royal Irish Regiment in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, said the British troops needed more resources. “We have to ensure our troops have sufficient fire power and numbers to ensure the best chance that our servicemen will achieve their mission, and with the lowest cost in lives. Cutting corners and saving money, the basest of all motives, may well cost lives and could spell disaster for the UK. “It’s a very dangerous environment, nothing like what was conceived when the force package was put together.”

Senior Conservative MP Sir Peter Tapsell told the BBC that British forces were involved in a battle which could not be won. The former soldier said: “Of course they’re overstretched and they’re doing a wonderful job in the circumstances but it really is childish nonsense to think that just adding a few thousand more troops from Nato countries or from anywhere else is going to do the trick. “We couldn’t do the job if we had a hundred thousand men there.”


September 6 2006; British soldiers killed by Afghan mine 7

Two British soldiers have been killed and four others “very seriously injured” by a landmine in Afghanistan, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has said. They were part of a Nato-led security patrol which had strayed into an unmarked minefield. A seventh soldier received minor injuries in the incident in Helmand province, southern Afghanistan. The MoD said the injured were being treated at a military medical facility at the main British base in Helmand, Camp Bastion, and that it was too soon to establish exactly how the incident happened. A statement from the headquarters of the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) in Kabul confirmed seven soldiers were injured. “There was no contact with insurgents during the incident,” it said. “An extraction operation was successfully undertaken and the injured evacuated to an Isaf medical facility. “Sadly one soldier has since died of his wounds.” Later report stated Corporal Mark William Wright, 27, from Edinburgh, of the Parachute Regiment, died attempting to save the life of an injured paratrooper.

September 25 2006; MoD dismisses Chinook death claim Follow up to previous report

The Ministry of Defence has dismissed claims a UK soldier died in Afghanistan because the helicopter rescuing him accidentally set off landmines. A report in the Sun newspaper said that the Chinook sent to help Corporal Mark Wright and his colleagues caused the explosions because of downdraft. However, an MoD spokesman said there was no evidence for the claims. Cpl Wright, 27, from Edinburgh, of the Parachute Regiment, died on 6 September in the Helmand province. An MoD spokesman said: “It is regrettable when soldiers take their view of an incident – especially one involving a death – to the media rather than their own chain of command.” The corporal died after a patrol strayed into an unmarked minefield. He was attempting to save the life of an injured paratrooper when he was killed in the incident in which five soldiers were injured, with three of them losing their legs. They had all been part of a Nato-led security patrol. It has been alleged that Cpl Wright specifically asked that a Chinook should not be sent and that the helicopter eventually left empty.


September 9 2006; British soldier dies two days after shooting 1

The death of Lee Darren Thornton, 22, from Blackpool, who died on Thursday, was said to have “numbed” colleagues. The gunner served in 58 Battery, 12 Regiment Royal Artillery – the same unit that lost two soldiers on Monday.


September 10 2006; Ex-army officer blasts Afghan campaign

Captain Leo Docherty was so unhappy with operations in Helmand province he quit the British Army last month. The campaign was “a textbook case of how to screw up a counter-insurgency” the ex-aide de camp to the commander of the UK taskforce told the Sunday Times. He also criticised a lack of equipment and tactics which he said had turned Afghans against British forces. “Having a big old fight is pointless and just making things worse, Now the ground has been lost and all we’re doing in places like Sangin is surviving” the former Scots Guardsman was quoted as saying.

He added: “All those people whose homes have been destroyed and sons killed are going to turn against the British. “It’s a pretty clear equation – if people are losing homes and poppy fields, they will go and fight. I certainly would.” Capt Docherty described the campaign as “grotesquely clumsy” and said the British were no different to US forces by bombing and strafing villages. He said when troops took the town of Sangin they did not have night-vision goggles and were so short of vehicles they had to borrow a pick-up truck. The British threw away the opportunity to win over locals by failing to carry out development work because of a lack of support, Capt Docherty added.


September 19 2006; Defence Secretary says Taleban fight ‘hard but winnable’

UK troops have been involved in heavy fighting with the Taleban after taking over from a US-led coalition in southern Afghanistan in July. This month 19 servicemen have lost their lives, including 14 who died when an RAF Nimrod reconnaissance aircraft crashed.

The threat posed by the Taleban in Afghanistan has been under-estimated, the UK defence secretary has admitted. Des Browne said the fight had been “even harder than we expected” but insisted Nato was pursuing a “noble cause” and its mission would succeed. Addressing the Royal United Services Institute, he urged other Nato members to respond to a call for 2,500 extra troops for Afghanistan. “Nato nations must decide whether to back their investment, re-affirm their original intent and send a clear signal that Nato as an alliance is strong and determined to see the task through,” Mr Browne said.”


September 22 2006; British Army Army Major calls RAF support ‘useless’

The RAF are “utterly, utterly useless” in protecting troops on the ground in Afghanistan, a major with the main UK battle group says in a leaked e-mail. Major James Loden of 3 Para, based in the north of the southern province of Helmand, said more troops and helicopters were desperately needed. He said “plenty of tears” had followed Harrier incident when pilot ‘couldn’t identify the target’, fired two phosphorous rockets just missing our own compound so that we thought they were incoming RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades], and then strafed our perimeter missing the enemy by 200 metres.

The head of the British Army, General Sir Richard Dannatt, hit back, saying the RAF had performed “exceptionally”. “Irresponsible comments, based on a snapshot, are regrettable,” he added in a statement. The Ministry of Defence had earlier confirmed the e-mail was genuine. The “tears” Maj Loden refers to were “not tears of exhaustion or frustration”, a spokesman said. UK military deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq. Interactive presentation.


September 23 2006; Dead soldier’s emotional letter

The fiancee of a soldier killed in Iraq has released an emotional letter which he wrote with instructions for it to be opened only in the event of his death. Lee Darren Thornton, 22, from Blackpool, serving with, 58 Battery, 12 Regiment Royal Artillery, died two days after being hit on patrol in Basra on 5 September. In a letter to Helen O’Pray, 21, Gunner Thornton tells the “love of his life” she had “shown me what love is and what it feels like to be loved”.

The couple had planned to marry in August 2008. The letter, which the soldier had left with his fiancée in April with instructions she was only to open it should he die, says: “I know God put me and you on this earth to find each other, fall in love and show the rest of the world what true love really is. “I know this is going to sound sad but every night I spent away I had a photo of you on my headboard. “Each night I would go to bed, kiss my fingers then touch your face. I put the photo over my bed so you could look over me as I slept.”

I miss him dearly and this letter just shows how much I meant to him. “Well now it is my turn to look over you as you sleep and keep you safe in your dreams.” It tells how she was the “love of my life, girl of my dreams”, “my soul mate” and “my whole world” without whom “I am nothing”. It says she had “shown me what love is and what it feels like to be loved”. Miss O’Pray, a student, from Marton, Lancashire, told how she felt reading the letter. “There are no words to describe how I felt when I read the letter for the first time,” she said. “I loved him so much. He was kind, generous and everything you would want in a man.

Miss O’Pray told the Times newspaper she decided to make the letter’s contents public ahead of the service. He was the 118th member of the British armed forces to die while serving in Iraq since the conflict began in March 2003.


September 23 2006; Thousands at city’s anti-war demo

Thousands of anti-war protesters have gathered in Manchester for what organisers said was “one of the biggest mobilisations outside London”. Demonstrators were protesting against government policies in the Middle East and nuclear weapons, on the eve of the Labour Party conference in the city. The theme was “Time To Go” – a call to get troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Police estimated 20,000 people took part. Stop The War Coalition had said it expected about 100,000. One of the organisers, Yasmin Ataullah of the British Muslim Initiative, told the BBC they put the figures of demonstrators at 40,000 or higher. “This is one of the biggest mobilisations outside London and I think there are tens of thousands here – 40 or 50,000 at least,” she said. The march began in Albert Square outside the city’s town hall, before heading down Lower Mosley Street, Deansgate, Market Street, Cross Street and back to Albert Square for a rally.

Some protesters lay down in the road as part of a “die-in” to symbolise the number of casualties in Iraq. Andrew Murray, chairman of the Stop The War Coalition, which helped organise the event, said: “The tens of thousands of people marching through Manchester represent the opinion of the majority of people in this country.” They held up banners which read “time to go” and “bring troops home”. Supt John O’Hare, public order commander at Greater Manchester Police, said: “We estimate that up to 20,000 protestors came to Manchester to take part in the ‘Stop the War’ march. “On behalf of GMP I would like to extend my thanks to the organisers and those who took part in today’s protest, for co-operating with us and behaving peacefully and lawfully.”


September 28 2006; One mother’s son

Every time Lesley Frost hears of casualties among UK soldiers, her heart freezes as her thoughts turn to her son Jay, a British Army officer, posted to Afghanistan. When I heard Jay was going to Afghanistan, my initial reaction was absolute panic. Although he hadn’t lived at home for the previous five years, the thought of him going so far away filled me with apprehension. He has always visited regularly and I suppose I’ve known he was just a few hours away if I needed him. He was home in Devon on leave for the week before he flew out. Most of this time was spent sorting out his kit and catching up with family and friends, but we also spent a lot of time talking about Afghanistan. We discussed the situation there, how he felt about going, how I felt about him going. We even had the dreaded conversation about what to do if the worst happened. This increased my anxiety but Jay remained calm, positive and at times excited. Above all, he was proud. Proud to be chosen to do the job he was going to do and proud to be serving his country.

Saying goodbye was the hardest part. I drove him to the airbase to catch a 6am flight. I stayed in the car while he took his kit inside. It was April, it was dark, it was cold and raining. As I watched all the other lads arriving, dressed in khaki camouflage uniforms and carrying huge amounts of kit, the enormity of what was happening hit me. Some were laughing and joking, some were sombre. I felt so proud as I watched them preparing to leave their families and serve their country. I knew they were about to experience conditions and circumstances the majority of us back home can never imagine. This triggered the tears I swore I would keep under control.


Keeping in touch has been easier than I expected. His letters sometimes take up to three weeks to get here, and sometimes two or three arrive at once. He’s tried to make telephone contact once a week. Two weeks was the longest we went without hearing from him, but for us, the expression “no news is good news” really does apply. For the first few months we also got regular e-mails. These came to be eagerly anticipated by family and work colleagues. They were entertaining and newsy, complete with pictures and descriptions of his surroundings and experiences. True to form, they were filled with great wit and compassion.

News of the first British soldier to be killed in Afghanistan during my son’s tour came as a huge shock. He was home on compassionate leave at the time, and the thought of him going back into what I began to appreciate was a war zone made my blood run cold. The nagging doubt never goes until the name is confirmed – then it’s relief first, guilt, then grief again for those affected this time Every time I hear news that a British soldier has been killed, everything freezes, just for a minute. My heart begins to race, my legs take on a life of their own – or just fail completely – and a cold hollow feeling grows in the pit of my stomach. It seems like this goes on forever but I’m sure in reality, it’s just a moment or two. The logic clicks back in and I start thinking rationally again. Even when you’re pretty sure it’s not your son, the nagging doubt never goes until the name is confirmed. That’s when the next roller-coaster of emotion begins. Relief first, followed by guilt, followed by anger and then grief again. Grief for the soldier and for the relatives who are affected this time. I have mixed feelings about the news coverage of Afghanistan – too little is known about the situation, and we hear little about why British troops are there in the first place.


September 29 2006; UK majority ‘oppose Afghan fight’

Most people in the UK oppose British military operations in Afghanistan, a survey conducted for the BBC suggests. Only 31% support the decision to deploy 5,000 troops to fight the Taleban, while 53% of the population are against the move, according to the ICM poll.

Nato is extending its mission to cover the whole of the insurgency-hit nation. Meanwhile Defence Secretary Des Browne has rebuffed reports that commanders wanted soldiers withdrawn from Iraq to bolster the UK presence in Afghanistan. “My view, and military commanders share this view, is that we have a vital job to do in Iraq. We have a responsibility to the Iraqi people. “There is no division between us and military commanders about what we are doing at the moment,” Mr Browne told BBC Radio 4’s The World at One.

Currently Britain has nearly 5,000 troops in Afghanistan – including 3,600 in the violent Helmand province – with a further 900 on the way. A separate development will see the 12,000 US troops involved in Operation Enduring Freedom – a mission in Afghanistan which is separate to the Nato deployment – coming under Nato control. The decision will give the alliance a total of 32,000 soldiers.

Asked why British troops were fighting in Afghanistan, 63% said it was to help the Afghan government fight the Taleban. Some 71% believed it was part of the international fight against al-Qaeda, while 46% thought they were focusing on cutting the supply of drugs from the country. Mr Browne said he believed support for British military operations would increase “as we begin to see the results and improvements” of spreading the Nato force to all areas of Afghanistan.


September 29 2006; Mistakes made in Iraq, says Straw

Former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has described the current situation in Iraq as “dire”. Mr Straw, who held the job at the time the UK decided to take part in the 2003 war, said there were things he regretted about the campaign. Speaking on BBC One’s Question Time, he said “I think many mistakes were made after the military action – there is no question about it – by the United States administration. Why? Because they failed to follow the lead of Secretary (of State, Colin) Powell. “The State Department had put in a huge amount of effort to ensure there was a proper civilian administration put in straight away afterwards.”

Mr Straw, now Leader of the House of Commons, said some people would see the Iraq war as “Tony’s folly” but that was not a view he believed would stand “in time” about Prime Minister Tony Blair’s role. He said that while he felt the current situation in Iraq was “not satisfactory” he had expressed such a view before leaving the post. “I certainly said there were mistakes made,” he told Question Time. Mr Straw added that there were people in the US administration in 2003 who wanted to invade Iraq “in any event” but he did not believe President George W Bush was one of them. “The thing that people forget in this situation is the successful efforts Tony Blair made, which I played a part, to shift the American administration from that position to one where we took it to the United Nations,” he said.


September 30 2006; West ‘will fail’ without Pakistan

Pakistan’s president has warned the West would be “brought to its knees” without his country’s co-operation in the so-called war on terror. “If we were not with you, you won’t manage anything,” said President Pervez Musharraf in a BBC Radio 4 interview. He said the Taleban, not al-Qaeda, was now the focus of the struggle against militancy in the region. “The greatest danger today is if the Taleban movement gets converted into a people’s movement,” he warned.

Earlier this week Tony Blair assured Gen Musharraf a leaked paper condemning Pakistan’s intelligence service did not reflect his government’s view. In the leaked report, a naval commander at the Ministry of Defence (MoD) claimed Pakistan’s intelligence service, ISI, had indirectly helped the Taleban and al-Qaeda. In the BBC interview Mr Musharraf rejected these claims and said ISI’s support was vital.

He also claims the US and Britain had a historic debt to pay as Pakistan had helped “win the Cold War” for the West. He argued that the West’s strategy in Afghanistan towards the end of the Cold War helped to create the conditions which led to al-Qaeda’s rise. President Musharraf said mujahideen fighters went into the area from all over the world and the West armed and trained the Taleban. He said Pakistan was then left “high and dry”. His comments develop arguments he has made over the past few days at meetings with US President George W Bush and Tony Blair and a speech given in Oxford.

Gen Musharraf said the Pakistani government’s aim in the country’s tribal border areas was to “wean the people away” from supporting the Taleban, pointing out that while al-Qaeda was mainly comprised of “foreigners”, the Taleban’s support was more locally based. He denied the suggestion that the tribal elders with whom the government has forged a recent agreement are a front for the Taleban. He said the tribal elders were the “only way” to establish support from the local population: “The army cannot get them on our side”.

Of the leaked MoD paper, British defence officials claimed it was written by a junior official, was unfinished and had not been seen by anyone who actually makes government policy. After two hours of talks on Thursday Downing Street said Gen Musharraf had accepted Mr Blair’s reassurances.