On the left, Company Commander Dan Jarvis. On the right, Lieutenant Colonel Tom Tugendhat, who has written this remarkable letter to Jeremy Corbyn published by the Sun about Seumas Milne’s slur that British soldiers in Afghanistan were “occupiers“:
I am writing today with regards to reported comments made by the Labour Party’s Director of Strategy and Communication, Seumas Milne. The Sun newspaper reported this morning that Mr Milne had dismissed well-founded and valid concerns about equipment shortages as a ‘red herring’, instead suggesting that British soldiers themselves were to blame for dying in Afghanistan ‘because they are occupiers in another Muslim country where they’re not wanted’.
Not only are these remarks ignorant and ill-informed, they are deeply disrespectful to those who served in Afghanistan at the time and to the friends and families of those who lost their lives in the conflict. Furthermore, and perhaps most absurdly, they recognise the authority of the Taliban, violent extremists who murdered thousands across the country, as more valid than the lawful government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, the UN recognised, democratically elected government of the Afghan people. More sadly still, it ignores the courage of our allies in the Afghan Armed Forces alongside whom we served and in support of whom too many died.
This is not an isolated incident. Not only has Mr Milne suggested 9/11 was America’s fault and appeared to support armed resistance against British troops in Iraq, he is also on record claiming that the murder of Lee Rigby, an innocent man murdered on a London street, wasn’t “terrorism in the normal sense” because Mr Rigby was a member of the Armed Forces. By extension, am I to understand that this means that Mr Milne believes that I and other former servicemen and women on both sides of the House are also valid targets because of our records of military service?
You have spoken eloquently about wanting to see a ‘kinder politics’ and I welcome this. It would make our county a more inclusive democracy. This is your opportunity to lead by example. As the leader of the Labour Party and Her Majesty’s Opposition, I urge you to consider the implication of having people on your team whose views support violent extremists rather than democrats. Our history is littered with despots whom British soldiers, sailors and airmen have fought against to secure the liberties we enjoy today, it seems sad that such anti-democratic elements should find voice in one of our important national political parties. I know that many on all sides of the House wish it were not so.
I hope you will take this opportunity to condemn Mr Milne’s remarks. To stay silent would be wrong and may be seen as endorsing the views of those who choose violence instead of political debate. Neither we, nor the Afghan servicemen I was proud to serve alongside, were occupiers. We were both doing what I know you would support – serving the lawful wishes of the democratically elected governments of the countries we each served. To forget that would be an insult to the memories of our brave serviceman and women and to treat democracy as an inconvenience when it is, in truth, the sole legitimate source of power.
I would appreciate a response at your earliest convenience indicating what steps you intend to take.
Thomas Tugendhat MBE MP
What does Jarvis, who served with Tugendhat in Afghanistan, think about the comments of his party’s Director of Communications?