Saturday 21 August 2021
The TV coverage from Afghanistan this week redefines the concept of ‘heartbreaking’ news, as the Taliban sweep back into power, following the decision, catalysed by US President Joe Biden, to withdraw troops from this volatile area of Central Asia. The chaos, the desperation, the scale of human tragedy play out on our screens so tangibly that I, for one, struggle to even compute how to start thinking about it all. The Foreign Office staff in Kabul, sound resolute, if strained and verging upon panic, about their mission in what seem to be the most impossible of situations and I am left in awe of their strength and leadership. But then comes the story we can all relate to, and it knocks away all my hope and trust in humanity in one devastating blow; Dominic Raab … and the phone call…
As reported widely in the national media, Raab our Foreign Secretary, holidaying in Crete as the Afghan capital falls, is advised to make a call, to expedite safe passage for the local interpreters, who have worked with the British Army over the last 2 decades. But this call is not made. And there is it. A simple narrative but one that defies belief and lands like the cruellest of stun grenades in our living room as we gather to hear the latest news bulletin.
Initially there is the shock that, at the height of a such a tense and dangerous crisis for many British citizens and vulnerable collaborators, the head of the Foreign Office is actually still on holiday at all, as opposed to being back at his desk at the centre of strategic decision making and emergency talks. Then come the waves of utter disgust and anger that whilst the highest standards of public leadership were clearly beyond him, so were the very least, the most minimal; a simple phone call for heaven sake!And not just any call. Not a diplomatic nicety. Not a general update. No; this call was about saving lives.
‘Doesn’t everyone deserve a holiday?‘ some of his supporters have argued, and Raab himself has commented that after a ‘gruelling two years‘, he deserved the break.
And no-one would deny him this. Indeed it is undoubtedly true that the rapid recent rise in remote working and technological advances much before this, that have often caused society to reflect upon the impact of blurring the lines between work and home and with this, work time and holiday time. In 2015, the charity Mind, in their article ‘A quarter of staff have been pestered by their boss while on holiday‘, reported worrying concerns about the proportions of people contacted by bosses during ‘vacations’ and out of working hours.
But even they, in tune with all legal advice on this issue, accept that there are times when it is both reasonable and necessary for an employee to be called. Further that this likelihood will increase with seniority. And there can be few amongst us who would not see the catastrophe developing in Afghanistan and the urgency to protect human life as a totally legitimate reason to summon any of us, let alone the privileged and powerful Foreign Secretary, from a sun-lounger on the beach.
Mr Raab has also said that ‘in retrospect‘, he wouldn’t have gone on holiday if he knew the ‘scale of the Taliban takeover‘, and has claimed that “Everyone was caught off-guard by the pace …of the Taliban takeover.” Equally many, in rushing to his defence, have claimed that the phone call would not have made any difference. But, for me, all of this skirts the issue. He chose not to interrupt his vacation to make the call. I said it was a simple narrative and I have a simple point to make. Human lives were at stake and this man did not care enough to try and save them.
What sort of person makes that decision? What sort of person do we have sitting one of the highest, most privileged roles in the cabinet? I feel as if the shutters have well and truly been lifted from my eyes and I am terrified of what I see. No care, no compassion, not a shred of human decency from the centre of our national government. Can this really be true? If so, for the British nation these are sad, dark and worrying times indeed ….