Ottaway is Mole's backbencher of the year for Afghan alert

Dec 19, 2011
The Mole

Tory grandee Richard Ottaway took a a big risk to sound the warning bell on Afghanistan

THIS has been the year of the backbencher at Westminster and the Mole's Award for Backbencher of the Year goes to Richard Ottaway, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, for his devastating report on the Government's failures of policy in Afghanistan.
Ottaway, a Tory grandee and former bag carrier to Michael Heseltine, may have kissed goodbye to ministerial office because of his age, but he still took a considerable political risk with his committee's outspoken report earlier this year calling for David Cameron and William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, to do more to persuade the US to talk to the Taliban.
Ten years on, the war in Afghanistan seems endless and Cameron's promise to remove all British forces from a combat role by 2015 – the year of the general election – seems increasingly unlikely to be met.
Ottaway warned that the aggressive attacks inside Pakistan by the US – pumped up after the killing of Osama bin Laden – were undermining the search for a political settlement, and destabilising the Pakistan government.
As a former chairman of the Security and Intelligence Committee, he was also able with some authority to slap down Government claims that the war in Afghanistan is reducing the threat of terrorist attack on the streets of Britain.
Hague brushed Ottaway's criticism aside. But that didn't detract from the fact the Foreign Affairs Select Committee report on Afghanistan is the most compelling piece of work from the backbenches this year.
Tom Watson, the Labour MP and blogger, and Tory 'chick-lit' MP Louise Mensch, share the runners-up award for their tenacious pursuit of the truth in the hacking scandal as members of the Culture Committee. Watson slightly overstepped the mark by accusing James Murdoch of being like a Mafia boss, but the long arm of the law may yet collar some of the executives at News International in the New Year.
A special award for political timing goes to Labour backbencher Jon Cryer, who introduced his own bill for statutory controls on the Whitehall lobbying industry just as the Bureau for Investigative Journalism produced its undercover film of a former Tory MP, now a lobbyist for Bell Pottinger, bragging about his closeness to Tory ministers.
The Government will publish early in January a consultation paper on measures to enforce more openness about lobbyists, with a statutory register and penalties for abuse. Cameron accurately predicted that lobbying would be the next big scandal and - if he's serious - the PM should take the easy way out and adopt Cryer's bill.
The wooden spoon for trouble-maker of the year must go to Mark Pritchard, one of the leading Tory eurosceptic rebels who formed the 81 group to stir up trouble over Europe.
The show of defiance by the group of 81 Tory MPs in voting against the Government led directly to Cameron using the veto at Brussels.

Ironically, the use of the veto has also led to Cameron ending the year on a high, as he is feted as the new Margaret Thatcher by his own side. Let's hope Afghanistan and all its dangers don't bring him crashing down to earth.

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