Opinion: United anger against Afghanistan could prove disastrous for the Tories

Opinion: United anger against Afghanistan could prove disastrous for the Tories
Should the military disaster be fresh in the minds of the electorate come the next general election, it could serve to undo much of the ground Boris Johnson has made

It is blatantly obvious that the government’s bungled withdrawal from Afghanistan has upset MPs from across the House of Commons. Whilst this may seem to only reflect the frustration in Westminster, unifying polar opposites of the political spectrum could prove disastrous for the Tories at the polls.

The government has failed on two fronts. Firstly, the rapid pace of the withdrawal, which has allowed the Taliban to sweep to power while the Afghan military crumbled around it. Afghan forces were nowhere near close to being ready to deal with a full assault from the Taliban, particularly without the US and UK airstrikes that had been the only thing to keep them from entering Kabul much earlier.

This military disaster has unified left and right in asking, as a headline from the Daily Mail put it – what did they all die for? The outright anger at the fact that, after two decades, western forces had withdrawn at the very time when the Afghan military was unable to defend itself could form the basis of an electoral coalition against the Tories.

This would be particularly evident in the north of England, where polling has shown that confidence in our armed forces and the respect for our military is high. Around 35 per cent of those polled in London have a fair amount of confidence in UK armed forces, while this rises to around 50 per cent in the north. 

Should this be ripe in the minds of the electorate at the next general election, it could serve to undo much of the ground Boris Johnson has made, particularly in the former Labour heartlands in the northeast.

It would be especially dangerous for Boris Johnson in northern areas where the criticism usually levelled at Labour has been that the party isn’t proud of this country. If it is felt that 457 UK military personnel died in vain in Afghanistan, the electorate could begin to perceive the priorities of the two main parties very differently.

The second failure which has united the political extremities could be the seemingly imminent humanitarian disaster that is unfolding in Afghanistan. As a direct result of the Taliban’s twisted ideology, women and girls will be barred from education and working outside the home.

There are also reports that the Taliban are going door to door, actively searching for those Afghans who worked with western forces, whether that be as translators, journalists or guards at the UK embassy. Many of these people have been told they will not be eligible to seek sanctuary in the UK, which has been criticised by politicians from Iain Duncan Smith to Lisa Nandy as needlessly cruel.

Alongside this failure to stem the violation of many Afghans’ human rights, are the recent cuts to the international aid budget. There has been a 78 per cent reduction in direct aid to Afghanistan at the very time the UK government has decided to leave it to its own fate. The electoral impact in Tory heartlands in the south of England could be huge.

As we saw in the Chesham and Amersham by-election, those voters who overwhelmingly believe that the UK should be a force for good in the world and has an obligation to the world’s poorest gave the Tories a hammering. Alongside the tactical voting, it must be a worry for CCHQ that across the country, but especially in the south of England, support for UK aid spending has risen. The most recent poll since the cuts were announced show that more than half, 53 per cent, of those polled support actually increasing our aid budget.

The criticism of these cuts from Tory MPs who represent the blue heartlands of the home counties, including Theresa May, has been clear and should this view be amplified across the region, the “blue wall” may be about to turn a shade of yellow.

Many on both sides of the political divide feel that the UK shouldn’t be dragged into military interventions by the United States. But Boris Johnson will find it difficult to convince anyone that he hasn’t been bounced into a withdrawal by Joe Biden.

Just 1 per cent of Britons believe that the western allies “won” the war in Afghanistan. The humanitarian disaster and decision to simply cede Afghanistan back to the very terrorists we were trying to defeat in the first place may prove extremely costly for the Tories at the ballot box.

Tom Hinchcliffe is senior communications manager for Labour MP Fabian Hamilton

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