Afghan attitudes dominate defence committee campaign

Britain's Afghan deployments are big issue for defence committee race
Britain's Afghan deployments are big issue for defence committee race

By Rebecca Burns and Alex Stevenson

The race to be chair of the Commons' defence committee is being overshadowed by the candidates' attitude to Afghanistan.

Four candidates are standing for the post as all the select committee chairs go up for election next Wednesday.

Former soldier and Tory MP Patrick Mercer told he believed a "complete rethink" was needed for Britain's military strategy in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

He said the UK needs to start "fighting a war of the present and future rather than the past".

Mr Mercer said he was the best man for the job because "unlike other candidates I have served and know the people involved in the military operations personally"/

The contest, which requires candidates to canvass support from all parties in the run up to elections next Wednesday, has prompted inter-party competition and cross-party cooperation.

"The Labour party are receptive but it is quite foreign. It is not unpleasant, but unusual having to approach members of other parties for support" Mr Mercer said.

The Newark MP added: "It is time for the Ministry of Defence to fight a war of the present and future rather than the past."

Second candidate and former chair James Arbuthnot said he will "provide a degree of continuity in the new government, with cross-party support".

Mr Arbuthnot would have remained the chair of the defence committee if the elections had not been introduced. But he insisted he welcomed the process, commenting: "The select committee elections have forced an initial mix-up of parliament without intending to, which in the long run will strengthen the parliament."

Douglas Carswell and Julian Lewis have also put themselves forward for election with the required backing of 15 Conservative nominees.

Mr Carswell, MP for Clacton, has no professional background in defence but said: "It is urgent that we start to hold the government to account properly.

"Lives are needlessly being lost in southern Afghanistan because of the spending choices being made.

"I will use my independent mindedness and strength of character to hold the Conservatives to account".

Mr Carswell, who has been campaigning for elected select committees for the past three-and-a-half years, said: "It will put a bit of backbone into a supine, spineless House of Commons and begin to get it off of its knees."

Julian Lewis, shadow defence minister until the election, was one of the Tory MPs who missed out on a ministerial role because of the need to incorporate Liberal Democrat MPs into the government. He is not thought to be a frontrunner in the contest.

The number of committee chairmanships for each party is proportional to the party's strength in the Commons. The chair is elected via a cross-party alternative vote election next Wednesday.


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