Sunday review on Tuesday: Pragmatic Radicalism’s defence “top of the policies”

by Amanda Ramsay

Affecting party policy should be more about ideas and innovation than shabby promises to open-up the Downing street policy unit for £250,000. This is what Pragmatic Radicalism offers Labour members and last night it hosted the first event of Labour’s defence policy review with Labour Friends of the Forces.

Chairing was shadow secretary of state for defence, Jim Murphy MP, with speakers having just two minutes to present ideas as complex as the reform of NATO and UN Security Council to the complete overhaul of the territorial army. Two minutes of questions from the floor for each person was then followed by a vote at the end.

Security and resilience issues in a globalised and highly networked world were tackled by the winner, Dan Fox, UCL honorary research associate at the Institute for Security & Resilience Studies, with “cyber reserves: strength through expertise.”

Fox, a serving JNCO in the Territorial Army, outlined the need to have a dedicated cyber Reserve supported by cyber apprenticeships, co-ordinated by the ministry of defence and with greater collaboration between FE colleges and ICT practitioners. Fox presented the common sense but intriguing notion of “white hatting” hackers, to turn their expertise and skills to do good.

Speaking to Labour Uncut last night, Fox said: “No party has a monopoly on caring about and promoting the best policies for our armed forces. Pragmatic Radicalism’s defence ‘top of the policies’ evening showed that we in Labour have the ideas, experience and commitment to ensure our national security, and support our servicemen and women.”

In times of austerity, the challenges of security don’t go away and the government faces difficult choices to keep us safe. Carrier strike capability was covered by two speakers, including myself.

With the government expected to make an announcement next month on its choice of aircraft for the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers, commissioning a naval version of the Typhoon aircraft could see a forecasted 6-8,000 jobs in the UK as well as approximately 3-5 times that number, in the supply chain.

Critically, a naval Typhoon could be delivered within five years. Other options could take three times that long and leave our carriers without aircraft. Typhoons would cost around £900m to develop and around £5m per aircraft more than the standard Typhoon. BAE Systems have offered to pay the development costs up front.

During the last Labour government, Lord Drayson, then procurement minister, commissioned a study to test whether the Typhoon could be used as a carrier-borne aircraft. I was asked about modifications needed and though this study is classified, it is understood to demonstrate how Typhoon could operate from a carrier with minimal alterations to its undercarriage and the fitting of an arrestor hook.

Importantly, the aircraft has such a short take-off and landing capability that the only modifications to the carrier would be for a “ski jump” take-off ramp and arrestor wires to be fitted.

Ian Waddell, Unite’s National Officer for Aerospace and Shipbuilding, spoke to Uncut today about the critical role of defence in these straitened times,

“The UK has a world class defence industry but we risk fatally undermining it by pursuing a policy of buying defence equipment ‘off the shelf’. When finances are tight it is even more important that public money is spent strategically and procuring essential equipment could also be used to support our home grown defence industry,”

He added,

“For instance, the whole debate over which version of the American F-35 plane to buy for our carriers completely ignores the fact that we could build a naval version of the Typhoon here and support tens of thousands of UK jobs.”

As the chair of the evening, Murphy congratulated Pragmatic Radicalism’s’ “fresh approach” in offering members, from activists to shadow cabinet, MPs and experts within the movement on industrial, economic and social policy, the chance to meet informally and discuss new ideas or revive old ones.

His parliamentary colleague Jeremy Corbyn MP, vice-chair of Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) came second in the ballot with a proposal to scrap Trident.

Speaking to Uncut today, Murphy said: “There were some good new ideas put forward, which we’ll consider as part of Labour’s defence review which concludes next year. This sort of engagement is just what the Labour Party needs.”

Pragmatic Radicalism offers innovative approaches to such challenges. Dubbed “policy in the pub”, these popular, informative, yet informal events take place around the UK to explore current thinking and produce new solutions.

Amanda Ramsay is a former Labour councillor and cabinet member

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