Sam Coates heads to AfghanistanPosted on February 2, 2011
I’d like to echo ConservativeHome’s good luck wishes to Sam Coates as he prepares for his first tour in Afghanistan. As well as being brave in his country’s cause, Sam is one of the nicest, most principled people you could hope to meet – particularly in the political world. I’m very fortunate that he’s been an ally and a friend to me for some years now.
I should declare an interest, in that Sam and I once spent the night together – not in the (alleged) sense that would get Guido excited enough to do a spoof Christmas card, but in Parliament Square as part of a protest in support of the Burma Campaign UK. In seriousness, he’s proved to be one of the most doughty an able campaigners for freedom that the centre right can boast – and I join all those who are wishing him a safe tour and a welcome return.
Sam’s news is a good example of a broader trend whose impact on the politics of defence and the military is yet to fully emerge. Due to the long-running deployments in Afghanistan (and until recently Iraq) my generation is better acquainted with our peers going to war than any since the Korean War in the 1950s.
Stop someone in their 20s in the street and ask them if they know someone who has seen active service and you’ll find that the proportion who have is remarkably high. I can think of at least a dozen school and university contemporaries of mine who’ve done at least one tour, and there’s no reason why my experience should be untypical.
This, I suspect, is one reason why the issues of concerns over military equipment and the honouring of the Military Covenant have become so mainstream. Campaigns run by The Sun and others have undoubtedly played a part, but the practical experience of people you know and love going to fight in foreign lands sharpens the minds of even the most unpolitical people.
Ten years ago you’d have found there was a sizeable constituency who wanted decent funding and support for the Armed Forces on point of principle, allied to a relatively large but ageing constituency who had personal experience. The former group are still there, but the latter has grown hugely, particularly among the young. As on any political issue, the maxim of attracting young supporters and then keeping them for life will hold true, so this could change the landscape for a very long time.
And rightly so – it’s right and undeniable that the very least our nation should do for Sam Coates and his comrades is do our damnedest to kit them out properly, prepare them for danger to the best of our abilities and support them for as long as they may need it.