Posts Tagged ‘defence’

Ten hard truths

14/08/2015, 06:02:56 PM

Following Tristram Hunt’s call for “a summer of hard truths” Labour Uncut is running a short series laying them out. As leadership ballot papers are despatched, here’s John Slinger with his top ten for a centre-left party that is serious about winning.

1. Elect someone capable of genuine leadership, who can speak to and for the whole country. Labour members and supporters should spurn the view that this selection process is primarily about them; it should be about the voters.

2. Appeal to people who voted Conservative and for other parties with policies which appeal beyond Labour’s declining ‘core vote’. A winning alliance elected us in 1997, 2001 and 2005. Only leadership as in point 1) can encourage a genuine conversation with all voters rather than ourselves.

3. End the constitutional link with the unions to show that Labour is above sectional interests. No party should hard-wire significant political influence for one section of society into its constitution. Unions should remain close friends, enabling relationships with other sectors to be nurtured.

4. Seek to become the party for workers and business by unashamedly building new bridges to both unions and business, the sector employing more than four in five UK workers.

5. Focus on ideas that work by following wherever evidence leads, rejecting ideology and ignoring protest group purism. That could mean a greater role for the state where markets should be more competitive or more involvement by the private sector in providing, but not owning, public services.

The party would condemn failure in public and private sectors, and encourage both sectors where they succeed. The cases of Mid Staffs, Hillsborough, Jimmy Savile and others show the dichotomy of ‘public sector good/private sector bad’ is false. Labour should incubate excellence wherever it is found.

6. Champion continued EU membership by emphasising its benefits for our economy and for our global influence. With the exception of a few leading politicians such as Pat McFadden, debate on EU membership has long lacked a positive, effective political voice, thereby offering the field to those who peddle the myth that Brexit is the panacea to complex global problems.

7. Stand up for strong defence and diplomacy because at a time of growing global instability Britain must be a confident member of Nato, a proud and trusted ally of the United States and willing to play a leading role in maintaining global security and enforcing the Responsibility to Protect doctrine where appropriate. This would help convince the public that it is a party of hard-nosed, principled government not pious protest. (more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

The future of our reserve forces is vital for national security

09/11/2012, 07:00:17 AM

by Jim Murphy

Yesterday, the government announced a public consultation on the future of reservists.  We support an enhanced role for reserve forces as we know they can make a bigger contribution to regular forces and our country’s ability to project force around the world to achieve national ambitions.

In recent years reservists have operated in the Balkans, Iraq, Afghanistan, and most recently Libya. 29 have lost their lives. We pay tribute to their courage, which is a pertinent sentiment in this week of all weeks, remembrance week.

Labour welcomes much of the content of today’s announcement as we recognise that reservists need to modernise.  We support considering a symbolic name change from “territorial army” to “army reserve”, for example, to reflect their contemporary composition.

This government has announced extreme cuts in regular forces. 30,000 will be made redundant, with 20,000 from the Army and 5,000 from both Navy and RAF. Reserve numbers will be doubled to compensate. Reserve numbers, however, are going up by 15,000, a figure far smaller than those being lost so there is a capability shortfall in manpower the government have yet to adequately explain.

Furthermore, we have already heard from the consultation’s co-author, Julian Brazier MP, that there is a backlog of applicants who cannot sign up because the bureaucracy in place is inadequate.

In light of this, does it really make sense to cut in regulars regardless of whether the target for reserves is met or not?  Given that it is this government’s policy to rely on reservists to meet their defence ambitions, wouldn’t it make more sense to make the cut in regulars contingent upon growth in reserves’ capability?


Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Tuesday’s defence debate shows this government needs to get a grip on the figures

28/06/2012, 04:17:13 PM

by Kevan Jones

Since taking office Ministers have repeatedly told the country that Defence cuts must be quick and deep due to a “£38 billion black hole” inheritance in the MoD budget. Yet there is another story. Public body after public body has questioned the validity of the £38bn figure.  This has, of course, now become folklore, but we must scrutinise the claim that underpins the legitimacy of all the government are doing.

The Defence select committee’s report into the SDSR stated that ‘without proper detailed figures’ the government’s claims about the extent of the black hole ‘cannot be verified’.

The National Audit Office has correctly concluded that ‘the size of the gap is highly sensitive to the budget growth… If the Defence budget remained constant in real terms…the gap would now be £6 billion over the ten years. If…there was no increase in the defence budget in cash terms over the same ten year period, the gap would rise to £36 billion’. Cursory scrutiny shows that the defence budget is rising in cash terms. Ministers have said they will make public statements on this but are yet to produce any detail of how this figure has been arrived at.

Within months of this government coming into power the former secretary of state, Liam Fox, had claimed that he had balanced the budget. Now we’ve had Philip Hammond say exactly the same thing. If the ‘black hole’ is as large as they have alleged, how have two secretaries of state been able to claim twice separately that the imbalance has been rectified?

In a defence debate in the House of Commons on Tuesday not a single government minister or MP could explain how the “black hole” figure was reached.


Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

The latest round of Army cuts confirms that the Conservative Party, like News International, use the military for their own ends

26/07/2011, 08:00:01 AM

by Matt Cavanagh

David Cameron’s Downing Street machine may have endured its biggest crisis so far over phone hacking, but at least its media strategy is working well in one area: defence cuts. As with October’s Strategic Defence and Security Review, bad news in defence is only cleared for release when there is enough other bad news to bury it. The SDSR announced the biggest defence cuts for 20 years, including cutting 7,000 soldiers, but with the spending review setting out even bigger cuts elsewhere the next day, the defence settlement didn’t make a single front page, and broadcast coverage was similarly muted. Likewise last week, when Defence Secretary Liam Fox announced that 10,000 more soldiers would be cut, even Telegraph readers had to turn past ten pages of hacking coverage before they saw it.

How much attention an announcement gets will always depend on what other news is around, and it would have been hard for any story to compete with the hacking scandal. But it is a shame for defence, because the Government’s treatment has been both dishonest and shambolic, and deserves greater scrutiny.

Fox’s dishonesty on Army numbers goes back many years. In opposition he repeatedly lied that Labour had ‘cut the Army by 10,000’: in fact, numbers remained fairly stable, and the Army was bigger in 2010 than 1997. He also promised that a Conservative government would give the Army ‘three new battalions’, a promise which Cameron endorsed in his Conference speech in 2007 at the end of another hard summer in Afghanistan and Iraq – a predictable move from a party which has long seen defence as an issue to be milked for maximum political effect. Some in the Army may be wishing they had paid less attention to these speeches and more attention to history. The bean-counters in the Ministry of Defence and the Treasury have always wanted to cut the Army – it is so much easier than dealing with the bigger problems in the defence budget – and generally it has been Conservative ministers who give them the go-ahead, perhaps because they think they can get away with it. In the 1990s, they cut the Army by 35,000, alongside deep cuts in the defence budget and reductions in military capability. The script has changed – then it was the ‘peace dividend’ after the Cold War, now it is the deficit – but from the Army’s point of view, they could be forgiven for thinking history is repeating itself.

Even now, with the Government’s real agenda for the Army exposed, ministers are still not being honest. In early July, Labour’s Dan Jarvis, a former Parachute Regiment major, confronted Fox at the despatch box and asked him whether he had any plans for further cuts to the Army. Fox replied that ‘nothing has changed since the SDSR’. This was two weeks before he announced further cuts of 10,000 soldiers. When he did finally announce the cuts, he attempted to preserve some semblance of consistency with the SDSR by claiming that none of this would happen before 2015, and that when it did, it would be offset by more generous funding. That was contradicted yesterday by a leaked letter in the Telegraph from the head of the Army, suggesting that 5,000 more soldiers will indeed be cut before 2015, biting deep into the combat units which have been serving in Afghanistan.

We should not deny that there is a funding crisis in the MOD – even if its true nature tends to be obscured by the ministerial rhetoric rather than illuminated by it. There is also a case to be made for a smaller Army. In the continuing absence of an existential threat of the kind we faced in the Cold War, and with the nation losing its appetite for manpower-intensive counter-insurgency, ministers could have come out and argued for a redistribution of resources away from a standing army and towards new threats and new capabilities – like cyber security, or drones and other surveillance. But they haven’t had the courage, or strategic vision, to do so. Fox did try to use the Reserves Review to put a strategic spin on last week’s cuts, arguing that overall ‘deployability’, across regular and reserve forces, is the key – with a reformed and more deployable T.A. offsetting cuts to regular soldiers. Leaving aside the hypocrisy of Fox objecting to Labour questions about overall numbers (“they talk about total numbers all the time”, he complains, “but they do not talk about deployability”) given his own approach in opposition, this is an dangerous tack for a Defence Secretary who has announced a radical cut of one-third in, precisely, deployability. (This was tucked away on p19 of the SDSR document, glossed over by Fox and Cameron in their statements at the time: the admission that in future, in a one-off operation like the invasion of Iraq, we will be able to deploy 30,000, rather than 45,000; and that in an enduring operation like Afghanistan, we will be able to deploy 6,500 rather than 10,000.) (more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Tories dragged kicking and screaming to put military covenant in law

19/05/2011, 04:00:14 PM

by Gemma Doyle

In the weekend’s media, David Cameron outlined his government’s plan to enshrine the military covenant in law. After earlier back-tracking on his pledge – made aboard HMS Ark Royal last summer – the prime minister has now been dragged kicking and screaming by Labour, working alongside the Royal British Legion, to keep his promise to our brave armed forces. We welcome this step to define and strengthen the contract between the state, the people and our armed forces, which we campaigned for. But the Tory-led government still has a long way to go to rebuild the trust of the armed forces community it has lost since taking office a year ago.

Our servicemen and women do dangerous and difficult work in conflict zones all over the globe. It places great strain on loved ones when their husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters spend many months away from home.

The most important thing we should do is ensure that our armed forces are not disadvantaged because of their service. Whether it be the housing they are eligible for, the employment opportunities open to their spouses, or the standard of their children’s education, opportunities should not be closed off to them because they have signed up to serve their country.

In recognition of this, the last Labour government delivered the first cross-government approach to forces’ welfare, which was widely welcomed by the service community. The service personnel command paper set out improved access to housing schemes and healthcare, free access to further and higher education for many service leavers, and extended travel concessions for veterans.

For a year in office the Tory-led government has seemed determined to abandon that approach.

It gave me no pleasure to hear the chairman of the forces pension society, Sir John Moore-Bick say “I have never seen a government erode the morale of the armed forces so quickly”. Yet it is not hard to understand why he did.

Before becoming secretary of state for defence last year, Liam Fox declared that the military covenant was “shattered”. He pledged that a Conservative government would rebuild it.

But the reality is that under the Tory-led government, spending is being cut faster and deeper than for a generation, and no recognition has been given to the unique nature of service life.

Thousands of servicemen and women will be made redundant, many more will see cuts to their allowances, and all will be hit disproportionately hard compared to other workers by plans to downgrade public sector pension rises. These are just some of many actions taken by the government in the last twelve months, which have completely undermined the military covenant.

This week, Liam Fox confirmed to Parliament that the principles of the military covenant will be enshrined in law. That is a positive step forward.

The covenant between the nation and our services says that the UK’s commitment to its armed forces is made in recognition that a career in the forces differs from all others. It recognises that service personnel agree to sacrifice certain civil liberties and follow orders, including placing themselves in harm’s way in the defence of others. In return, the state and the nation shall help and support people who give that service. Writing the covenant into law is a symbolic gesture of our commitment to our servicemen and women. But it is much more than that – it’s a vital measure to ensure that government and public bodies are forced to meet their responsibilities to our armed forces.

Unfortunately, while welcome, the government’s action is belated. It has come only as a consequence of fear of a defeat in Parliament and in the face of huge anger from forces families, after David Cameron reneged on his HMS Ark Royal pledge. After making that pledge, his government refused to include proposals to write the covenant in law through the armed forces bill, and he ordered his MPs to vote against Labour amendments which would have done so.

Nonetheless, it is welcome that the principles of the rights that our forces heroes can expect in return for their service will now be protected by law. But this announcement does not change all that has gone before. The Tory-led government needs to review wholesale its approach to the armed forces, which has led to a meltdown in morale. And the military community will rightly ask why it has taken twelve months of discussion and a double u-turn from the government to have the decency to honour their promise.

Looking to the future, Labour’s shadow defence team, led by Jim Murphy, is conducting a full review of our policy. In this process, I am reviewing our approach to the welfare of service personnel, forces families and veterans, and to strengthening the military covenant.

This review will be guided by meeting the needs of the armed forces community. The outcomes will be determined only after detailed consultation with forces charities, families, and our soldiers, sailors and airmen themselves. It will not be a rushed, cost-cutting exercise like the government’s strategic defence and security review.

Labour campaigned for and welcomes the move to put the military covenant on a legal footing. But in spite of this, since taking office, the Tory-led government’s actions have undermined the relationship between the state and our armed forces. We want to rebuild this relationship and strengthen the covenant. Our armed forces deserve nothing less for the sacrifices they are prepared to make on our behalf.

Gemma Doyle is Labour MP for West Dunbartonshire and a shadow defence minister.

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Labour’s defence policy review: responsibilities beyond our borders

30/03/2011, 01:00:24 PM

by Jim Murphy

Yesterday the shadow defence team launched Labour’s defence policy review with five specific areas of work. Dramatic events around the world and the deployment of UK armed forces make this an important time for debate on defence policy.

For the country, it is a moment to decide on the nature of our involvement in causes beyond our borders in our national interest or for humanitarian ends. For the Conservatives, following the exposure of a weak, narrow foreign policy and a rushed, widely criticised defence review, it is a moment to reflect on whether they remain the natural home of the forces. For the Left it is a moment to decide whether we are bound by the legacies of Iraq or whether we can learn the right lessons and now help shape defence policy around our values.

We all know that the security landscape is fast changing with a myriad of fresh and well-established challenges. The most immediate is Libya. The UK government was right to take the action it did. As internationalists we had both the responsibility and the opportunity to help enforce international law and save innocents from slaughter and have therefore backed the UN decision. But in doing so we will keep asking the questions the country wants answered. (more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Why Dan Jarvis’ election can help Labour serve our communities

04/03/2011, 12:00:01 PM

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. (more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Shadow cabinet: Kev Jones wants your vote (and the defence portfolio)

05/10/2010, 02:01:36 PM


Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

The new leader should carry out their own strategic defence review, says Eric Joyce MP

18/08/2010, 09:00:58 AM

Labour is dangerously becalmed on defence and foreign affairs. So many issues afire in the media, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, trident, defence on wikileaks, and amazingly the government’s strategic defence review are going wholly unremarked upon by the opposition.

Our leadership race has so far failed to test the candidates on defence and foreign affairs, while shadow ministers have in their hands the outgoing baggage of policies followed through in government.  Yet the root of our problems is not the need for a rest or a simple change of personnel. It is political stasis borne of fear and ignorance of defence.

Governments generally stand or fall on the perceived strength of their economic management, but it’s a pre-requisite for any putative party of government that it is trusted on defence. Labour orthodoxy has it that the electoral disaster of early 1980s was heavily contributed to by our courting of CND (of which Tony Blair was once a member), which was a long way off the broader public opinion during the cold war.  It’s been an article of faith since then that we must at least neutralise defence as a problem by adopting a conservative approach to all defence-related issues.  Our strict, pro-nuclear line has been the primary symbol of that.

During Tony Blair’s premiership, George Robertson’s strategic defence review, followed by UK interventions in the Balkans and Sierra Leone, helped to solidify public confidence in Labour.  That we were now ‘sound’ on defence tucked away what would otherwise have been some lingering establishment doubts about the whole novel enterprise of an enduring Labour government. 

Fast-forward to today.  Electorally, Iraq damaged Labour badly; mainly amongst our own natural supporters sceptical of our deep and seemingly unquestioning subordination to the US defense department.   The British establishment pretty much stayed on board. Over the last half-dozen years, Labour’s leadership has sought to bridge a chasm between the instincts of our political supporters and those of the establishment.

But for at least a year, something very new has been afoot, and it is paradigm-busting.  Mainstream Labour opinion and received establishment instincts on trident, Afghanistan and many of the key defence and foreign affairs issues of the day are converging,  perhaps for the first time since 1945.


Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Trident must be part of the Strategic Defence Review, argues Des Browne

26/07/2010, 03:15:56 PM

The Coalition government is embarked upon a ‘strategic’ security and defence review but Trident renewal has apparently been decided in advance and excluded from it. In taking this stance the government claims to be doing no more than agreeing with and continuing the policy of the previous Labour administration. But this isn’t good enough. As the Secretary of State for Defence responsible for committing Labour to the renewal of Trident in 2007, I know how much the world has changed since we made our original renewal decision.

In recent years we have endured and are now dealing with the consequences of the worst financial crisis since the 1930s. Treasury statements to the effect that the full cost of Trident will now have to be met out of the core defence budget rather than from a Treasury reserve set aside for Trident as a ‘national strategic asset’ have enormous implications for the rest of our defence capability. There is no way of examining the necessary trade-offs between nuclear and conventional capability in this defence review if Trident is left out of the process.


Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon