Historians will debate for decades to come what went wrong in Afghanistan, how it can be that after 20 years of investment of ‘Blood and Treasure’ by the West we are now abandoning the country to the Taliban from whom we liberated it; why it has all come as such a shock, and who is to blame for the short term chaos that we are now witnessing and the apparently bleak longer term future for the people of Afghanistan.

The retreat of the British from Kabul in 1842 which at the time was described as a ‘signal catastrophe’ was ignored by the British Empire in 1878, then by the Soviets in 1989 and now the Americans and British as we scuttle away from our responsibilities in that war-torn land. If you don’t study history, you may well be condemned to repeat it.

I argued at the time that we should have gone into Afghanistan straight after 9/11, destroyed Al-Qaeda, killed Usama Bin Laden and then withdrawn. That would have been a clean(er) military operation, very probably led by Special Forces and Paras, and would have been wholly justifiable under International law.

Instead of that, we allowed classic ‘mission creep.’ It became all about women’s rights and educating girls; it was about infrastructure such as the Kajaki Dam (which in the end was never completed); it was about destroying the poppy crop (and by that stroke the livelihoods of thousands of small farmers who were as a result ready recruits for the Taliban). Women’s rights are a disgrace in many parts of the world, but we do not invade those countries to try to make them better. Afghanistan is - and always has been - a loose amalgamation of territories governed by warlords. It’s a bit like Western Europe 1000 years ago; and the notion that we could (or should) establish a Guildford suitable style of democratic government was forlorn from the start.

Having said all of that on 167 occasions I stood with the people of (Royal) Wootton Bassett on their famous High Street to honour the return of a total of 345 coffins of men and women who had given their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. By strange coincidence I hope to get back from the Recall of the House on Wednesday in time to attend the little service in Lyneham on the tenth anniversary of the last ever ‘Repatriation.’

Those 345 young lives were not ‘wasted.’ We have had 20 years of relative peace in the West thanks to the destruction of AQ. Islamic fundamentalist terrorism has been – to a degree – suppressed, although whether the Taliban will once again become their willing hosts we will have to wait and see. Even Afghanistan itself has seen a level of prosperity and freedom, and relative peace which they would never have expected.

So we can be ashamed of much that is now happening in Afghanistan; we can takes as many steps as necessary to evacuate our own remaining people as well as those whose lives are at risk through having supported allied forces and governments over the last 20 years; but we must not go on from all of that to argue that it was all a waste of time. To do so is to dishonour those young men and women whose bodies were brought back through Royal Wootton Bassett. We can be proud of them and all they did while at the same time decrying what is without doubt a shameful end to it all.

North Wiltshire MP, James Gray, has congratulated Sammy's Kebabs Calne on being shortlisted for the prestigious British Kebab Awards.

Sammy's Kebabs Calne, in Sainsbury’s car park, has been shortlisted for the British Kebab Awards for Best Kebab Van. The van was announced as a finalist this week and the winners will be announced at a ceremony in London later this year.

Mr Gray has welcomed the news as showcasing local success in the kebab industry

“I am delighted that Sammy’s Kebabs has received such recognition by being shortlisted in the British Kebab Awards. There is some stiff competition in this category, and I am extremely proud that a local Wiltshire van has been chosen as a finalist. I wish Sammy all the very best of luck when the winners are announced later this year.”

I was an eleven year old boy wandering around the gardens of Schloss Mainau in Germany’s Lake Constanz at the moment of England’s triumphant 4-2 win over Germany on 30 July,1966. Being surrounded by rather glum Germans made my family a little nervous about too much cheering! My excellent Private Secretary, Jenny Fleischer was at Wembley last week to see her team once again being defeated by England, so she can sympathise with my predicament, almost embarrassment, of 55 years ago. Whatever happens on Sunday, England can be very proud of making it through to the final for the first ever time. Captain Bobby Moore holding high that famous cup presented by Her Majesty in Wembley is a moment we have savoured ever since.

Yet is it the cup that matters, or is it the football? Is winning more important than playing the game?

I am delighted that Her Majesty has awarded the George Cross to the entire NHS. What a wonderful way to mark the collective effort of all million or so people who have fought so hard to save lives and cure people of this dreadful disease throughout the Pandemic. The NHS will be able to wear the badge with pride alongside Malta and the 20 living GC recipients (including North Wiltshire resident, Margaret Purves GC).

I am hosting a reception on the Terrace of the House of Commons in September to thank the members of the Order of St John for their magnificent service throughout the Pandemic. On great occasions I am proud to wear their eight-pointed Maltese Cross as a neck decoration by virtue of my role as a Commander of the Order. There are various interpretations of its origin and meaning; but one thing is for sure - today it symbolises unselfish service to others.

The Queen’s Birthday honours list a couple of weeks ago is similarly crammed with people who have given great service to their communities. So is it the honour or medal which counts, or the vast quantity of service which they symbolise?

As we near the end of Lockdown, my mailbag is evenly split between those who welcome it (or argue that if anything it is rather late); and those who fear the consequences and would rather keep us in Purdah until the disease has finally been conquered (ignoring the fact that it never will be). It is absolutely vital that whatever else happens, Parliament gets back to normal with no further delay. It’s been a hollowed-out apology for a House of Commons for too long, barely living up to the symbolism of the magnificent gold mace which sits on the table while the House is in Session. It may be a ‘worthless bauble’; but like the Charles 1 maces carried by the Old Corporation of Malmesbury, they are potent symbols of the authority and history of the institution.

Human activity, especially self-sacrifice, bravery, commitment to our fellow human beings are marked by these symbols. The World Cup, the George Cross, the Maltese Cross of St John, knighthoods, OBEs, maces - they themselves may be worthless baubles; but the human qualities which they mark live for ever.

So well done so far and God Speed for Sunday to Gareth Southgate and the magnificent England Team.

North Wiltshire MP, James Gray, has lent his support to the Campaign for Historic Counties this week. Britain’s Historic Counties date back almost 1,000 years, yet in the last 50, their continuing existence has been blurred and confused. The Local Government Act of 1888 introduced administrative counties, which gradually came into more use than the historic counties themselves.

Mr Gray stated

“The importance of historic counties should not be underestimated and give people a huge sense of local pride and identity. I was delighted to see the flag of Wiltshire with its iconic Bustard flying amongst the other county flags around Westminster Square this week. We in Wiltshire are very lucky that our county is still named and recognised, unlike those of Westmorland and Cumberland for example, which have been placed under local council areas.

The Campaign seeks to make clear what a county actually is: a geographical constant and unrelated to council areas, which will continue to function separately.”

North Wiltshire MP, James Gray, stood up to HM Government yesterday in the debate over the future of Burlington House, home of the Society of Antiquaries, Geological Society, Linnean Society and the Royal Astronomical Society.

Burlington House was built for the Societies, providing the foundation for success as a world-leading bodies. The central and easily accessible area, close to business and government, has been essential for the facilitation of expert debate and joint-working through the past 150 years. Together the Societies represent a unique, distinctive ‘cultural quarter’ where the common focus on public benefit means that together the Courtyard Societies are more than the sum of their parts.

In 2019, PwC completed an analysis on the contribution the Societies made to the “economic, scientific, social and cultural well-being of the UK through [their] range of activities and programmes”. The analysis concluded the total gross value of the four societies was £47,368,500 per annum.

Mr Gray spoke out in the Westminster Hall debate yesterday afternoon, stating that:

“…the Government have concluded that the building is a valuable asset that they own, and which they can therefore sell or otherwise maximise income from it. That is the wrong presumption. That building was not set up as a Government asset, which could be subsequently sold. It was set up to be the home of the learned societies.

“I would like to think that the Government will consider not bleeding the assets, which is what they are effectively trying to do, whether through rent or another way. We should not be bleeding the assets; they are cultural and historic assets and they should belong to and be preserved by the nation.

“We need a Government who will say, “This is an asset to our nation. This is an asset that we want to preserve. This is an asset that does more for our nation”.”