12 November, 2006

Harriet Harman: foot in mouth disease.

Harriet Harman, the Constitutional Affairs minister, has been sounding off about foreign policy and defence matters. On GMTV this morning, she laid into the US military for refusing to send witnesses to the inquests for British soldiers killed in Iraq. The Guardian reports:

...she said she was seeking a meeting with senior Washington officials in a bid to persuade them to meet families' wishes by providing servicemen and experts to give evidence.

"We have got an expectation that they should come, so that the bereaved relatives of the deceased servicemen can actually ask questions of what happened," she said in an interview for GMTV's Sunday programme. "When they don't come that's not acceptable and we are prepared to say that's not acceptable."

She is taking action after the coroner investigating British deaths in war zones expressed his frustration that American witnesses are not made available.
The coroner in question would be Andrew Walker, of Terry Lloyd inquest notoriety, the Deputy Coroner at Oxford.

There is little to say about the inquests that has not been said before: unfortunate tragedies happen in war and nothing is gained by seeking scapegoats. There is also little to be said about Harman, except that she personifies the dismal quality of too many ministers in Blair's government.

The significant issue raised by the story is why is Harman intruding into territory which is normally the preserve of the Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence? Do the current holders of those traditionally major offices - Margaret Beckett, foreign secretary, and Des Browne, defence minister - really exert so little influence within the government that they cannot prevent a relatively junior Cabinet figure trampling all over their turf and creating who knows what problems for their departments to deal with? Unfortunately, that appears to be the case.

Harman is undoubtedly electioneering, playing to the Labour left's anti-American sentiment in the hope of becoming the next deputy leader of the party. It is just another example of how this government is sinking into disarray, as ministers give less attention to their departmental business and spend more time and effort positioning themselves for the post-Blair era.

Related link: BBC

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