Foster under fire in Battle of the Atlantic

TOUGH week for Worcester's MP, who has found himself floundering under fire in the south Atlantic.

Tuesday saw Mike Foster given his first public battering since becoming a Minister in the Department for International Development (DfID).

The row centred 5,000 miles away on the tiny Atlantic island of St Helena, one of the world’s most remote places.

Grabbed by our cavalier colonialists in the 17th century, St Helena remains a British territory, a tiny, tropical version of the Falkland Islands.

Amazingly, however, despite being many hundreds of miles from anywhere, the island still has no airport. Its only contact with the outside world is an ageing mail boat that calls by every few weeks. When it breaks down, vital supplies do not get through.

The islanders have been crying out for their distant Government to build them an airport for decades, but somehow our chaps in Westminster have never quite come up with the cash.

The Government finally gave in after a 2005 study stated an airport could actually save them millions of pounds in subsidies by bringing tourists to the island and making it self-sufficient.

Contracts were tendered, builders dispatched... but with work about to begin, DfID suddenly announced on Monday it was “pausing” for further “consultation” due to the “global economic climate”.

MPs are absolutely furious - and Mr Foster was wheeled out to defend the indefensible.

His Labour colleague Meg Munn led the attack.

“DFID has once again decided not to make a decision,” she fumed. “No doubt the minister will try to put a positive gloss on that, but...DFID's history on this project is shameful.

“It has used delaying tactics and done anything it can to avoid settling the issue of St Helena's links with the outside world - links that could mean life or death for any one of the thousands of British citizens on the island.”

Lib Dem Bob Russell said the U-turn was ”inexcusable... a betrayal”.

Yikes. Mr Foster hasn't attracted this much controversy since he suggested ripping foxes apart wasn't the most civilised activity for a Sunday afternoon.

Sounding suspiciously like, well, Gordon Brown, our Mike spoke at length about the “changed economic climate” and the “exceptional times”, but insisted his Government was “not turning its back on the people of St Helena”.

The listening MPs sounded far from convinced.

Good job there's not many swing voters out there in the south Atlantic, eh?

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