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Will Raab be “on it” on Wednesday?

By Paul Kelly
31 August 2021

By Paul Kelly

The old proverb that “Success has many fathers but failure is an orphan” is probably very familiar to Dominic Raab right now as he contemplates his forthcoming appearance before the Foreign Affairs Committee tomorrow afternoon.

For many people watching the miserable story of the US and its allies exit from Afghanistan, the unfolding images on our TV screens have been in turn distressing, shaming and very difficult to watch as the poor and the defenceless have their hopes and lives torn up by the indifferent global political machine.

Against this background, the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs has had a bruising couple of weeks and his Cretan holiday, that he had to cut short, must seem like a lifetime away. The problem is that Raab is one of those “marmite” political characters’ that divides opinion, even amongst his own backbenchers and there will be many who will be experiencing a little bit of schadenfreude as the blame game starts after the Afghan debacle.

Perhaps chief of his tormentors is the man who is sometimes regarded as wanting to be his replacement, Tom Tugendhat. The aforementioned Tugendhat sprang to public prominence with his recent speech in the House of Commons, that many commentators agree is one of the best to be delivered in recent decades. The former soldier turned  Conservative MP, who served with distinction in the Afghan front line, was excoriating about what he saw as the abject failure of his own Government to plan and act accordingly in the teeth of a crisis with massive ramifications. Although, it should be said, he reserved his most vituperative comments for President Biden. Pointedly Raab did not refer to this speech in his summing up of the debate whilst referencing the inputs of others, in what some saw as a calculated insult.  All this matters for Wednesday, at 1400, because Tugendhat is the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee and it well attested that the two men do not like each other. To add further spice to an already volatile mix, Raab has a reputation for having a sharp tongue that sits uneasily with his role of head of the diplomatic corps.

It could be argued that this is all a bit of a sideshow in global terms. Biden has made it very clear that he is playing to a domestic audience with his decision to withdraw and the timing of it. He is not interested in external criticism, no matter how evocatively it is delivered and the recent polling on the issue in the US would appear to substantiate his view, if not exactly the approach he took to crisis management. This once again calls into doubt the nature of the “Special Relationship” with regard to the UK and just how much it really matters to US officials, who seem to have kept their Whitehall counterparts firmly in the dark about the details of any plans.

In fact it is this apparent absence of planning on the Afghan situation and the evident human cost of this that is beginning to hang heavily around the neck of the Government. Although the opposition can take very little credit for this as the Conservative’s own backbenchers seem to be doing the hard yards asking for phone records regarding discussions or otherwise with counterparts in Afghanistan and Pakistan and detailed answers on why it is taking so long to process applications for immigration. They have been supported in this by eminent others such as General Lord Richard Dannet, former Head of the British Army, who stated ‘ We should have done better and we could have done better. It absolutely behoves us to find out why the Government did not spark up faster.’

However, Raab it appears has no time for this former soldier, which might seem to be a recurring theme. He is quoted as saying ‘Anyone toddling off to the Sunday Times…. giving buck passing briefings either about me or the FCDO is not credible and deeply irresponsible’.

So, if you are at a loose end tomorrow afternoon it might be worth getting onto the FAC website to see whether Dominic Raab does indeed “spark up” when the bell rings. The betting is fairly good that he will.