Committee Corridor: Tom Tugendhat on Ukraine, Afghanistan and failures of leadership
Conservative MP, former soldier and foreign affairs specialist Tom Tugendhat is the host of a new podcast about Commons committees. He talks to Sienna Rodgers about the war in Ukraine, Afghanistan and failures of leadership
As chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, and a former journalist who enjoys cross-party work, Tom Tugendhat is well-placed to host the new “Committee Corridor” podcast. Bringing together MPs of all stripes, it offers an insider’s look at the work of select committees.
To begin each episode, Tugendhat interviews an outside expert who can provide insights into a subject such as the dangers to democracy in Taiwan; next, he discusses it with committee colleagues. The podcast was Tugendhat’s idea, so the first six episodes are focused on international affairs.
We’re not supplying small arms, body armour, night vision goggles, helmets in enough numbers to stop thousands of Ukrainian soldiers dying
“I don’t work for the Prime Minister, I don’t work for the Conservative Party, I work for the people who sent me here. So it’s my job to report back. We do that through reports, but not everybody has time to read a report, and podcasts are a quicker, easier summary,” the Conservative MP tells The House.
Tugendhat hopes the project will dispel the idea that Prime Minister’s Questions is representative of what MPs do day-to-day. “The reality is that’s not how Parliament conducts 90-whatever per cent of its business.” He enjoys the “quirky,” “chatty” nature of the podcast and wants to continue hosting once it moves on from its foreign affairs theme.
Where does his interest in foreign affairs come from? “I was lucky enough to travel in the Middle East when I was younger, and to work in Lebanon for a few years. To pick up Arabic and then to be a soldier in the Middle East brought it home,” he says.
“There are very few jobs in the world where you really do meet something of everyone from across the whole country. Soldiering is one of them. You meet people from the north of Scotland to the west of Cornwall, working together in the same unit; you meet people who’ve had enormously privileged backgrounds, and you meet people who’ve had extraordinarily difficult upbringings.
“Through that, the funny thing about foreign affairs is it begins to become very clear that it’s not about foreigners – it’s about us.” He contends that international alliances will have a bigger impact on prosperity at home than domestic tax rate changes.
The first episode of the podcast is devoted to the Ukraine war. Is the UK doing enough? “No,” he replies firmly. “We’re not supplying small arms, body armour, night vision goggles, helmets in enough numbers to stop thousands of Ukrainian soldiers dying in infantry combat in southern Ukraine.”
While Boris Johnson is widely praised for his response to the invasion, there are concerns Russian dirty money has been allowed to flow through London. “This is something that I’ve been calling out for ages. It is absolutely a betrayal of our values and betrayal of our national interest to accept to be the corrupt heart of a murderous regime,” Tugendhat says.
“I’m afraid we know what [Vladimir] Putin does. He steals off the Russian people and murders them, washes his money through other jurisdictions… then uses some of that money to murder people in the UK.”
The second episode is on Afghanistan. Amid criticism of the UK’s resettlement scheme, the number of Afghans crossing the Channel in small boats has increased. “There is a small group of us who are still getting people out,” Tugendhat reveals. He describes this “underground” movement as being run by “a bunch of now fat and old army officers” including himself.
Tugendhat is an outspoken critic of Johnson and challenged Dominic Raab over his handling of the UK’s 2021 withdrawal from Afghanistan, which the Foreign Affairs Committee called a “disaster” and “failure of leadership”. Yet there have been few, if any, consequences for those in charge. What does that say? “It says there are a lot of people who should be looking hard in the mirror and asking themselves why they’re here,” Tugendhat replies. Would he be doing a better job? “I’m doing the job I’m doing,” he says cautiously.
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