The situation in Afghanistan is heartbreaking. Kunduz seemingly over-run on Sunday; Afghan Special Operations Forces operating all over the country as they try to shore up the Afghan National Police and Afghan National Army, while some of their commanders simply turn-coat and join the Taliban, as the police chief in Lashkah Gah did last week.
It is depressing, of course it is. But what was worse was the complete abandonment of those who crossed the threshold for a better Afghanistan and worked for UK Forces, knowing it would place them at significant risk when we were gone.
The Home Secretary and the Defence Secretary wrote a very foolish letter this week in response to well understood and totally legitimate concerns from over 40 leaders in defence of the abandonment of this cohort. But since then, the Defence Secretary has applied himself to understand the problems, and made policy changes that will undoubtedly save lives. There is still more to do to make sure the Afghan Resettlement and Assistance Programme (ARAP) does what we need it to do, but it is in a significantly better place than it was seven days ago.
But it belies an ongoing problem in this country when it comes to looking after the people who actually get their hands dirty and often sacrifice everything in the pursuit of political aims dictated from Whitehall.
I’ve asked the last three UK prime ministers face-to-face why this is. David Cameron understood my anger, but got swept away by Brexit. I think Theresa May just thought I was weird. Whilst Boris Johnson talks a good game, he can’t seem to ignore those around him who still believe looking after people is not worth the political capital.
But they all agreed on the same thing: bombs, bullets, hostage rescues and photographs on aircraft carriers are “good” politically. The detail of looking after people? Well by then we’re more obsessed with the next ridiculous culture war or something else that polls better with the heartlands. Broken people? The consequences which face our brave men and women; those things certainly don’t poll well. And besides, we keep telling them how much we appreciate them, isn’t that enough?
Instead of talking about how proud we are of this cohort who spilled blood for us, what if we asked them: what does it actually feel like to be a serviceman or woman in the UK today? What does it feel like to be an elderly veteran of the Northern Ireland campaign and have the police turn up at your house at 6am and take you for questioning over something that happened nearly fifty years ago? What does it feel like to be someone who crossed the threshold to serve UK Forces as an interpreter at great risk to you and your family, and then receive a standardised rejection letter from the Afghan Resettlement Programme that gets your name wrong?
I think it’s about empathy; an empathy that is missing. I know my methods are brutal and I call out colleagues and ministers openly. I am aware of the kamikaze effect this has had on the long and fulfilling career I planned in politics. But if we do that we can achieve what we all went into politics to do in the first place – improve the lives of those who really need us.
I’m proud of our collective efforts this last week, but there is much further to go when it comes to looking after those who spill blood on the orders of politicians, who are still far too disinterested in the human consequences of some of their ridiculous decisions.
Johnny Mercer MP is a former Minister for Defence, People and Veterans and former captain in the Army