There I was, thinking that those mendacious, self serving reptiles that made up New Labour constituted about the worst government we could ever have imagined, when up pops Dr Liam Fox, Minister for Defence. Now some passing observers might think Dr Liam Fox to be a weapons grade twit..... I don't, he's much, much worse than that. He's stupid, incompetent and short sighted. Bigging himself up with talk of aggressive defence cuts, which suit his political moment does no one any favours. Not the country that has entrusted it's defence to this coalition nor the Armed Forces themselves who depend on good political husbandry.
His recent contention that the country can't afford Armed Forces of the current size is simply a made up on the spot excuse for the bloodletting that is to follow. The percentage of GDP spent on defence is around 2.4%, much less than the 4.4% spent in 1988. In fact, we spend less expressed in this way than at any time since the thirties. It's not that the country can't afford the current modest defence spend; it's simply that it either doesn't care to match previous spend or Westminster doesn't want to. Jedibeeftrix discusses just this point with more lucidity and thought than we're accustomed to hearing from Westminster, here.
Fox's recent statement about Challenger main battle tanks beggars belief,
"What do the Challenger tanks in Germany and the costs of maintaining them and the personnel required to to train for them, what does that contribute to what’s happening in Afghanistan."
As Think Defence readily highlight, the only reason Challenger isn't in Afghanistan is because the MOD won't fund them, despite other Armies having had success with armour. Moreover, soldiers from armoured regiments in Germany are constantly rotating through Afghanistan, as the most recent casualty lists demonstrate. On a more simple level, the residents of Wiltshire and Dorset may have something to say when the tanks come home - 60 tons of Challenger rolling through your village shaking the houses to bits isn't part of the picture postcard country thing that most people aspire to. Better to leave them in Germany where the infrastructure exists to transport these things to and from training areas.
Rumours being promulgated by the coalition into the media of a 25% manpower cut to the Army are no doubt a primitive ploy to make us relieved when a cut of 10-15% is announced. Of all the short sighted thinking abounding in the defence debate, any cut to current modest manning levels wins hands down, the "Neville Chamberlain, Peace in Our Time," award for gross negligence and stupidity. Reducing the standing Army to between 75,000 and 90,000 just won't cut it and will place an unsustainable burden on the men and women, (and their families), especially given our politicians readiness to commit forces to operations which they're not prepared to pay for.
Just to give you some perspective, at the very height of the Troubles in 1972, we had 32,000 men in Ulster alone. Oh and by the way, that little lot is simmering away nicely once again.
Just when I thought the disjointed and blurred thinking couldn't get any worse up pops the Boy Osborne with his latest lurch into fantasyland with his contention that the cost of Trident must be absorbed by the defence budget.
No, not true you idle idiot. Trident is a political instrument. Trident keeps the PM at the world top table and is the UK Governments ultimate deterrent. It can only be deployed and fired by the Prime Minister and has no tactical value to the Army, Navy or Air Force whatsoever. In short, anything to do with Trident is above the pay grade of anyone in uniform so mostly, don't suggest for a moment that the services have any input or responsibility for the decision making process. Given the choice between, infantry battalions, ships and aircraft or Trident, the decision for the service chiefs would be a very straight forward one. Unfortunately, telling Slick Dave that he is no longer part of the Global Big Boys Club probably won't go down too well but then Boy Osborne knows that. He doesn't stop there though in his newly discovered desire to trash and embarrass those that stand for everything he will never be. Back over to the sharped eyed team at Think Defence who highlight the spend on, "urgently needed contraceptive supplies to Uganda." This is all very reminiscent of Brown and his contempt for the services, but which comes no where near my contempt for both the current chancellor and his predecessor.
What is becoming crystal clear is that there is nothing strategic about this review at all. This is an exercise in slashing the defence spend in a slap dash and ill thought out way, which is scarily reminiscent of the last cuts inflicted on the Army by the last Conservative administration. Then, they happily eviscerated Army medical services amongst other things, just shortly before we embarked on 15 years of operations.
Meanwhile, our men are still being sent to the meat grinder that is Helmund, even though no politician has yet succeeded in articulating why we're there or what our strategy is. I follow events quite closely and I can't figure it out so I quite understand why the man in the street is becoming disenchanted with the endless stream of coffins returning. At a rough guess we can probably expect at least a further 50-70 this year and many more life changing injuries, which is obviously not the ideal backdrop to telling these men and their families that after everything that's happened, their regiments may be chopped and "by the way, we might make you redundant too."
What is also clear is the pernicious and unashamed use of spin in this and everything else the government is doing. The approach appears to be, give them good news like sorting out the wheelie bins and getting police uniforms on the streets whilst we knife up the guys who can't speak up. I note their latest wheeze is to offer local referendums on council budget overspend; I bet they won't offer a referendum on defence cuts though.
Well, I didn't vote for this and I very much doubt that many conservative supporters did. To use an American phrase, Cameron, Osborne and Fox "are going way off the reservation." The things they are currently suggesting are not only diametrically opposed to everything they said and suggested in opposition but will have only one net result and that will be more casualties through under manning and under funding. Everything that has impacted the services ability to conduct operations efficiently in Iraq and Afghanistan will become manifestly more acute. Forget the "Strategic review," hype. This will be all about tooling up for a last go at Afghanistan before we inevitably leave. The result will be more dead, an Army which will be incorrectly equipped and formatted for whatever the next operation might be and a Navy which in all likelihood will cease to be viable.
I simply can't adequately express my contempt for these people. If they go ahead I'll find a way of hitting back and that will be where it hurts them; time to look at the UKIP manifesto. Could be the next big thing in Haslemere. Bastards.