Why Dan Jarvis’ election can help Labour serve our communities

by Jim Murphy

The election of Dan Jarvis to Barnsley Central is great news for Labour and for Dan personally. Dan is a good friend and an exceptional man. He will bring something new to Parliament and will be an asset in our ranks.

It’s excellent news for another reason. I have said before that I believe Labour would be strengthened by having more former armed forces personnel in our party, as councillors and in Parliament. Dan, who served for 15 years in the parachute regiment, was an army major and saw action in Afghanistan, will bring insight few others can to defence and security policy.

At this historic moment, when recent dramatic events in North Africa and the Middle East are rapidly reshaping the security landscape, Labour must be central to the debate on future defence policy. There is a major challenge now for the UK on how we best position ourselves to help shape events around our values and priorities – democracy, freedom, human rights. It is not enough for Labour to point out that the government response has been lacking (shockingly so). We must ourselves grapple with challenging global defence issues if we are to be a credible and serious alternative government, not just an effective opposition.

I wanted to be shadow defence secretary because I believe defence should be natural Labour territory. A start must be to tackle the ill-informed old orthodoxy that the Tories are the party of the forces and Labour is the party of the NHS. In truth, we must be credible on both, especially when Tories are no longer credible on either.

Defence is about equipping our nation with the ability to promote what we believe in. As I set out in a speech to RUSI yesterday, a dangerous consequence of the unpopularity and difficulties of the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts is a state of ambivalence on global and defence affairs, in which we are less prepared to act upon the responsibilities we have beyond our borders. In today’s world, however, the prosperity, security, liberty and civil liberties of those at home cannot be separated from events overseas.

Defence debates too often centre on unimaginable sums and immense machinery, but defence is actually in many cases the lifeblood of communities. The industry employs 300,000 people in manufacturing jobs in the UK and generates over £35 billion per year to the UK economy. It has high-skill, advanced manufacturing sectors, such as ship building, of the sort that Labour must promote if we are to rebalance and build a sustainable economy.

The Tories have had a tough introduction to defence governance. They now know that in government you can’t declare your support for the armed forces in warm words only, you have to demonstrate it through your actions. Their actions have ensured that the last month has been extremely difficult for the whole forces community.

The decision to permanently link forces’ pensions and benefits to a lower rate of inflation will cost a 28 year old double amputee corporal £587,000 by the age of 70.  Warrant officers with years of experience were sacked by email. The government has broken David Cameron’s pledge to enshrine the military covenant in law. The revelation that some of those taking on the Taleban in Afghanistan today will be sacked when they return home, despite Liam Fox saying they would be secure, has come at the same time as we have learnt that £1bn further cuts are due this month.

Our forces deserve better. The ultimate act of solidarity with society at large is to join the armed forces – it should be a Labour mission to ensure society honours its moral contract with our military.

The Lib Dems have bet the farm on the Tories’ economic policy and an electoral strategy which is a dead end. In Labour-leaning seats they are seen as Tories and in Tory seats they have lost all sense of identity. There will be increasing coalition- buyers’ remorse amongst Liberal MPs. But unpopularity – the one thing the coalition undoubtedly gives them – is the reason they cannot afford to leave.

The election of Dan Jarvis is not important because I want to advocate a policy position. It is important because it represents the type of party I want us to be – open, inclusive, drawing on the expertise that we all know lies beyond our movement. Labour is best equipped to shape and drive policy-making if we have people with experience in the fields we care about at the forefront of our party.

Defence is one of the issues I believe we should lead, and I know Dan’s talents and insights will help. This election cannot be totemic, rather it must be the start of a process that sees more party members, councillors, PPCs and hopefully MPs come from those who have served in our forces and who want to continue their public service out of uniform, but with a Labour rosette.

Jim Murphy is the Labour MP for East Renfrewshire and shadow secretary of state for defence.

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5 Responses to “Why Dan Jarvis’ election can help Labour serve our communities”

  1. Tacitus says:

    Of course it is good news that Dan JarVis won in Barnsley – but it isn’t that good news. The polls were incredibly low and although the percentage of Labour vote went up, the Tory vote and Lib Dem vote crumbled – a factor that may not be repeated if a General Election were called today.

    Whilst rejoicing in Jarvis’ victory we cannot afford to be complacent. The Tory and Lib Dem bandwagon will soon gear up to attack every aspect of Labour policy. We had better be ready for a very rough fight.

  2. Henrik says:

    I wish Major Dan all the best – and you as well, Jim, one of the few folk in the comrades’ ranks who actually ‘gets’ defence. As one who spent 25 years in uniform, myself, though, I have real, substantive doubts about the party’s approach to defence – which swings between two end points, one being the urge to send troops abroad to fight wars which either have nothing to do with the national interest or poorly-defined and constantly-changing political objectives, the other being a sort of ‘maiden aunt’ generalised fluffy-bunny “oh, isn’t it all awful and aren’t soldiers terrible people and why can’t we all just live in peace” unrealistic wittering.

    I’m actually personally surprised that any ex-Regular soldier, especially one with the wealth of operational and command experience Major Harris has, would even consider aligning himself with the Labour party, but I suppose that’s a matter for him and him alone to resolve. As you say, though, the injection of some real-world military experience not gained in the Royal Army Educational Corps onto the Opposition benches can only be a good thing.

  3. Henrik says:

    Darn. Apologies to Dan *Jarvis* for assigning him the wrong surname above. A senior moment at age 54, there’s no justice.

  4. Edward Carlsson Browne says:

    Yes, it’s great we won a by-election in a safe seat. But why exactly does the title have almost no connection to the following text?

  5. Grinnypig says:

    Dan look after the communities! What will you do to keep the social balance between all of the wards within barnsley? As a born and bred 50 year old member of our village, we have had no support from the local council, metro council or anyone else!, town centre got the metrodome! Athersley got their sports centre so did goldthorpe, kendry, kingstone! I doubt if your party will be satisfied until each community looks after itself, but that seems to be what we Do all the time! Our young people cannot put up with too much boredom ! Staunch labour but your party is letting us down!

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