Letter from Westminster

Politics at Westminster has been a rather febrile business since the New Year but all the political sound and fury was put into some sort of perspective last week when the news hit our televisions and radios of the earthquake that had hit Haiti.

Gordon Brown started Prime Minster’s Questions by referring to it this week and what followed was a rather subdued affair. Human tragedy on this scale is something that even the House of Commons in its present state would struggle to make the subject of partisan politics.

You would have had to have a heart of stone not to be moved by the stories that have emerged from that island since. Time and again I have just stopped whatever I was doing to watch slack-jawed the latest report.

This week the Today Programme carried one of the most moving news reports that I have heard for a long time on a radio programme. It came from a hospital where a mother was interviewed beside the bed of her youngest and only surviving child. Her three other children had been killed in the quake and, said the doctor, this one too would die unless he could get proper treatment for the injuries to his legs. It did not need any pictures to bring home the heartbreak of that poor woman.

An earthquake is, of course, a natural disaster. Nothing could be done to stop it. The fact that Haiti is one of the poorest nations in the western world is something that is also disastrous, but this time it is a disaster that is man-made.

Even before this happened Haiti was a country that had enormous prob­lems and internal strife. The infrastructure was teetering and now it has collapsed both physically and metaphorically. It is a country that is going to need our help long after the current mess has been cleaned up.

Meanwhile back in London the Chilcot Inquiry has been continuing its work looking at the run-up to the war in Iraq, its conduct and its aftermath. It is compelling stuff offering, as it does, an insight into the workings of government at the time. It would appear that there is now something of a changing position as to the reasons for going to war. I hope, however, that the inquiry will be able to move on eventually from the reasons for war to what happened once it had started. We know that there were no weapons of mass destruction and I do not know many people who still believe that the government really believed there were any when they sent in the troops.

There still remain big unexplored questions about what we did with our troops once we had sent them in – the equipment we gave them and what we expected of them. A total of 178 British troops lost their lives in Iraq. For their families the loss is as much a disaster as the losses of families in Haiti. There are lessons to be learned from them both.

Alistair Carmichael MP


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