PMQs: Nick tackles Gordon on Afghanistan

by Stephen Tall on May 21, 2008

International affairs dominated Prime Minister’s Questions today, with both Nick Clegg and David Cameron choosing to put their best statesmanlike foot forward. While the Tory leader led on the ongoing humanitarian disaster in Burma, Nick focused on that ‘forgotten’ theatre of war, Afghanistan, and attacked the ‘cold war’ priorities of defence spending.

Judge for yourselves how Nick did. You can watch the exchange on YouTube, or read the Hansard transcript.


Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): I should like to add my own expressions of sympathy and condolence to the family and friends of the British serviceman who tragically lost his life in Afghanistan. I am sure that the whole House agrees that a failure of our mission in Afghanistan would be catastrophic and would lead to an increase in terrorism, more hard drugs on the streets of our towns and cities, instability in the region and more suffering for the Afghans. Will the Prime Minister accept that perhaps more could be done to explain to the British people why success in Afghanistan is so vital and that we perhaps need to be more candid about how long we will have to stay there? Does the Prime Minister agree that stabilising and rebuilding Afghanistan could take 30 years and that Britain must be ready to make that commitment?

The Prime Minister: It will certainly take time. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that what we are doing in Afghanistan is the front line against the Taliban and their ever returning to power. It is a battle against al-Qaeda and those people who want to use Pakistan and Afghanistan to bring al-Qaeda back into power. It is also a fight to re-establish government in Afghanistan under President Karzai. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will agree with our strategy, which is to use military force, while also building up national and local government in Afghanistan and giving people a stake in the future by promoting the economic development of the country. The strategy that we announced for Afghanistan, backed up by 7,800 very brave troops there, is to move not only through military means but through civilian and local government reform and economic development that will bring hope to people in the country.

Mr. Clegg: I am grateful to the Prime Minister for that reply. That being the case, does he share my concern that much of our defence expenditure continues to be misallocated on cold war priorities? For example, we are committed to spending £6 billion on the Eurofighter but are failing to deliver enough of the right kinds of armoured vehicles to our troops on the ground in Afghanistan. Will the Prime Minister commit to undertaking the first strategic defence review in 10 years to ensure that our troops are properly equipped for the new kinds of conflict that they now face?

The Prime Minister: I think that the right hon. Gentleman will know that we have spent £6 billion on urgent operational requirements in addition to the ordinary defence budget for the work that is being done by our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. He will also know that when it comes to giving our fighting troops the equipment that they need, we have made major investments now and for the future including in tanks and helicopters for Afghanistan. Eurofighters are strike aircraft, and I think that the right hon. Gentleman will recognise that they are of use in the theatres of war in which we are operating. He will also welcome the announcement yesterday that the aircraft carrier order will go ahead, benefiting almost every shipyard in the UK.