While not wishing to detract from Lt Col Ewen Southby-Tailyours world class letter to the Telegraph, he obviously hasn't read my recent post, 'Different Armies, Same Problem.' In summary, it is becoming more difficult, and expensive, to recruit men and women to the Armed Forces for a variety of reasons and most come from the same backgrounds that they always have. Moreover, the aspiration to have Armed Forces that reflect society is not new. Indeed the Prince of Wales many years ago let it be known that he would like to see more diversity in the Household Division where in-roads have since been made. Nonetheless, the Colonel's point is made and accepted. We do though, really need to see a broader representation of citizens serving, even in the Royal Marines.
“All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake up in the day to find it was vanity, but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible." T.E. Lawrence; Seven Pillars of Wisdom
This week has seen the Outrage Bus started up and driven off at speed so frequently that the engine is overheating and the clutch is knackered. No doubt the Sunday papers tomorrow morning will have more pain and upset to surprise us with and there will be more than a few Members of Parliament who have spent today dreading the call from a reporter asking, 'Can you confirm that in September of 2015 you.........?'
One of the items of outrage that seemed to put Tory MP's and the press instantly into a state of spontaneous combustion was the reshuffle following Sir Michael Fallon's resignation that catapulted Tory Chief Whip Gavin Williamson into the front line as Defence Secretary. "Too young,' 'too inexperienced,' 'not ex military,' 'caused the reshuffle himself,' were some of the typical reactions. One lady Tory MP was reported as describing him to a journalist as a 'self serving cxnt.' A lady MP who, by the way, ought to be dragged into a corner and read the riot act and told that if she ever speaks to a journalist about a colleague in such unprofessional and unbecoming terms again she'll be fired. Still, it is Parliament we're talking about, not a 'normal workplace.'
Looking at it from the cheap seats, I would point out to these Tory MP's, and the press, that Gavin Williamson, (who I hadn't heard of before this week), is three years older than was David Cameron when he became leader of their party, (only four years after becoming an MP), and is only one year younger than was David Cameron when he became our youngest Prime Minister since 1812. So, they can stick that in their pipe and smoke it.
Moreover, being given responsibility at a relatively young age is bread and butter to the Armed Forces. More important is the question of whether he is capable of running such a big and complex department. We won't know the answer to that for a wee while but one thing is for sure, Defence has not been given the attention and commitment that it needs by successive governments for years so Mr Williamson can hardly do a worse job than have his predecessors.
If then, Williamson can quickly grasp his complex brief and throw his talents and obvious political acumen behind his department it could be a career defining time for him and, given his sponsor is the PM, a positive for Defence. If though, he simply becomes a conduit for the Treasury and shrinks his department further then it will take years to restore the damage given many areas are already finely balanced on the line of viability. There is a new saying gaining currency amongst the lads, 'We don't do a show of force anymore, we do a show of face.' That has to change, immediately, before some bad people chance their arm and have a go.
For the time being, I'll mostly be ignoring the Westminster Bubble crowd in giving Mr Williamson time to succeed. I very much hope he does.
A magnificent game of rugby at Twickenham this afternoon saw the All Blacks beat the Barbarians 31-22. The all Southern Hemisphere game enhanced the reputation of the Ba Ba's and cemented that of the All Blacks who, after a very patchy first half, solidified their game with more structure and composure to come from behind and win comfortably. On one of the few occasions when the selectors of Man of the Match agreed with me they selected South African flanker Kwagga Smith. Immediately after the match South African social media was buzzing with 'why isn't Kwagga a Bok?' comments while Northern Hemisphere social media was buzzing with 'I hope that Kwagga bloke doesn't become a Bok,' comments. I don't know where he's come from but I think we'll be seeing a lot more of him. In his post match interview he sounded like he's just come straight off a farm somewhere in the back end of Natal. He reminded me, bizarrely enough, of another unrecognised hero from the past; remember this guy?
In a week when the frailties and weaknesses of some men have dominated news flow let us go into the weekend remembering a man from the other end of the spectrum where integrity, loyalty and goodness lie.
Former WO1 (GSM) Alan G 'Perry' Mason MVO MBE, Coldstream Guards died at the age of 70 on Tuesday. The word 'Legend,' has become diluted through chronic overuse but to some it genuinely applies. Garrison Sergeant Major 'Perry,' Mason is such a man.
Alan Mason enlisted into the Coldstream Guards at the Middlesborough Recruiting Office on the 8th May 1962 at the age of 15 as a Junior Guardsman. In his 40 year career as a Coldstream Guardsman he saw service in Aden, Malta, Cyprus, Zimbabwe, Northern Ireland, BAOR, Hong Kong and as an instructor at the Guards Depot at Pirbright and at Sandhurst. It is though, as Garrison Sergeant Major of London District for 15 years that he is more widely known.
In 1987 he took over from GSM Alex Dumon, (I once had a 5 min hairdryer of an interview without coffee from Black Alec but thats another story). GSM Mason was awarded the MBE in The Queen's Birthday Honours List in 1991 and awarded the MVO in Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother's 100th Birthday Honours List in August 2000. In his final three years he took charge of the Queen's Golden Jubilee, the Queen Mother's 100th Birthday and, sadly, her Lying in State and funeral.
He retired in 2002, marking his retirement with a lone march past Her Majesty The Queen, (which was sprung on him only minutes before).
There will be many Coldstreamers drinking to his memory this weekend. I'm not a Coldstreamer but I might join them in a dram all the same.
In 2015 when Malcolm Rifkind resigned I wrote, 'The galloping sense of self entitlement of some MP's so often seems to bury any of duty and honour that once they might have harboured.' We thought Parliament had touched the lowest possible ebb in the 2010 expenses scandal but no, here we are again.
So, Michael Fallon has decided to take rather than dodge the allegations bullet, probably before more rise to the surface. For the Armed Forces, with a mini Defence spending review in progress, this is somewhat unhelpful. In an interview with the BBC's Laura Kuennsberg he said that his behaviour had in the past fallen short of those expected in our Armed Forces. He is right then to resign.
Where he is wrong is in his belief of what was acceptable, 'ten or fifteen years ago.' Here's a newsflash for Fallon and any other miscreants. Ten or fifteen years ago creepy behaviour in the workplace met with zero tolerance. In a bank for example, an allegation would have been met with probable suspension pending an HR investigation. HR would then proceed to unpick the suspects life starting with a trawl through thousands of emails and any other electronic communication, reviewing hundreds of hours of recorded telephone calls and close examination of all expenses. HR would also interview colleagues to establish if there was a pattern of nefarious conduct. In short, the only people behind the curve here are those in the Westminster bubble.
Of course, many people meet, date and go on to marry work colleagues and such liaisons are perfectly acceptable. What is outrageous is when individuals abuse positions of power and influence to boost their inflated ego's.
Amongst the WhatsApp groups and spreadsheets circulating I have no doubt there will be some innocent's named. What really bothers me though, and this goes to the beating heart of our Parliament, is that bad behaviour was tolerated throughout. It is no secret that the whips have for generations, used their 'little black books,' to keep order with recalcitrant MP's. That is blackmail by any other name. Also, it puts the whip's in the 'enabler,' category of offenders. Indeed, how many 'enablers,' are there in Westminster among the MP's, administrators and journalists who have looked the other way? Actually, just as most did with the expenses scandal.
It is not just a few names on spreadsheets that need a swift kick up the backside; the whole place needs a good wash-down.
We learn today that the antediluvian and bombastic Dereck 'Red Robbo,' Robinson has finally popped his clogs at the age of 90. Responsible for pouring kerozene onto a badly impaired British car industry in the 1970's, by either organising or being involved with over 500 strikes at the British Leyland factory at Longbridge, the fully paid member of the Communist Party was eventually seen off by Sir Michael Edwardes, the combative South African CEO of BL and then he and his like were thoroughly excoriated by Mrs T leaving industry to breathe and prosper.
Who then would have thought all those years ago, that we would ever see a global customer satisfaction graphic like the one above. If Corbyn gets in, we might not see one again for another 37 years.
The older I get the less resilient I am with regard to horror movies. I've never been very robust when it comes to volunteering to have the bejeesus scared out of me. I mean, I cried when Bambi slipped on the ice. At sixteen I joined some other friends and managed to get into the Excorcist. Oh my goodness me, never ever again I should have gone straight into therapy if such a thing existed in the Highlands at that time. Perhaps that's why I joined the Army; safest place on the planet surrounded by hundreds of heavily armed Glaswegians.
Anyway, it's Halloween. Enjoy the movie.....(it's not gory btw). Still, I think I'll keep a light on tonight.
The American Conservative web site recently published an interesting piece by Dennis Laich and Lawerence Wilkerson called ‘The Deep Unfairness of America All-Volunteer Force. As you may have guessed from the title, the article suggests that the ‘volunteer’ force is far from egalitarian given powerful recruitment resource is focused on potential recruits from what they describe as ‘receptive,’ circumstances. ‘Poor,’ would have done fella’s.
The piece also quotes from an Economist article from 2015 which suggested that the All Volunteer Force is becoming more expensive and challenging to sustain while growing ever more distant from the people for whom it fights and indeed, those who send it to war. To make the point of the challenging recruitment environment they say, 'the recent recruitment by the Army of 62,000 men and women, its target for fiscal year 2016. To arrive at that objective, the Army needed 9,000 recruiting staff (equivalent to three combat brigades) working full-time. If one does the math, that equates to each of these recruiters gaining one-point-something recruits every two months—an utterly astounding statistic. Additionally, the Army had to resort to taking a small percentage of recruits in Mental Category IV—the lowest category and one that, post-Vietnam, the Army made a silent promise never to resort to again."
You can guess where they are going with their argument. That in the case of the United States, a population of 300m souls ‘lay claim to rights, liberties and security that not one of them is obliged to protect and defend.” In emphasising that only 1% feels the obligation, ‘bleeding and dying for the other 99%,’ they note that most recruits come from the less well to do areas of the Mid-West and Southern states. One slightly surprising statistic is that while 40% of recruits come from just seven states of the Old South, more recruits come from Alabama alone, with a population of 4.8m, than come from the combined metropolitan areas of New York, Chicago and Los Angeles with a total population of 25m. They go on to discuss in the article the increased dependancy on the National Guard for overseas deployments in recent years. They conclude by suggesting that the inherent bias in where the ‘1%,’ are recruited from, and by implication their socio economic class, and the lack of involvement by the families of corporate America, the Ivy League universities and the elite in general may make war more possible rather than less.
Both authors speak with some authority given they are both retired senior officers and come with experience in Washington and in education. My immediate comment would be, ‘was it ever thus?’ It would be silly to suggest that the military has ever found recruitment easy, except perhaps in time of national emergency, and areas suffering economic hardship will always yield more recruits than those which do not. Moreover, I would guess the tradition of military service remains strong in some southern states where perhaps in the metropolitan areas with greater immigration, prosperity and looser family ties it clearly is not.
The article though has resonance for us here in the UK where the Army is in a perpetual state of under recruitment even after it has been slashed and burned in size by successive governments, (which is probably a contributory reason for under recruitment). I suspect that the geographical breadth of recruitment in the UK is better than is the case in the US simply because we are a smaller country and despite the best efforts of the aforementioned ‘successive governments,’ to homogenise the Infantry, local links although weakened still remain. Remarkably, and I suspect this is deeply political, the Ministry of Defence does not record where recruits come from which I find odd. Except that is unless they are from overseas and this was a surprise. A total of 11,120 servicemen from 77 different countries out of a regular strength of 147,280 for all three services were born outside the UK. That is 7.55% of our fighting strength. One of the bizarre aspects to this is that while we have 200 servicemen born in in Malawi, 130 from Cameroon, 50 from Thailand, 50 from the Philippines we only have 1320 who were born in Nepal and we could recruit as many Gurkha’s as we need. Not that there is anything unusual about recruiting from overseas of course, we have been doing it for centuries. Also, the underrepresentation of those born in Eastern Europe who now represent a sizeable percentage of our population is surprising.
There are no easy answers to recruitment either quantitively or qualitatively to ensure that the military represents the society which it is charged to defend. In the UK, the erosion of confidence in Westminster's actions rather than words in securing fair and reasonable pay, conditions and security of tenure for servicemen absolutely has not helped. Nor has relative economic prosperity, the Independence referendum in Scotland and constant tinkering and interference with structure and tradition which gradually has moved the military further and further away from their home communities. David Cameron’s decision just before he left office for the leafy environs of Oxfordshire to allow women to serve in the Infantry demonstrate how far removed from military reality the residents of No 10 actually are and the little regard they have for informed advice.
Is a form of conscription the answer? Probably not given it would throw up more problems than it would solve although anecdotally, my ex military friends are more reflective and thoughtful on the subject than would have been the case thirty years ago when everyone was against the idea. There are more imaginative and constructive initiatives that the MOD could take, some of which I have put forward here in the past but at the end of day, the prospect of joining an organisation in structural decline is not the most attractive incentive for young people. Our forces remain understrength and underfunded to fulfill not just whatever the ego’s of their political masters dream up for them next but the actual threat which the country and our allies face. The worst part of the Defence debate however is that not only can the Government not decide what it wants from the Armed Forces, and the heads of the Services appear to be just as confused about what they want their individual Services to be, but there is precious little national debate, or for that matter interest, in the subject. We have of course been here before both in the years leading up to 1914 and quelle surprise! in the 1930’s and again in 1981/2 with John Nott's planned defence cuts before the Falklands War. Let’s hope things work out rather better this time round.
The morning news team at KWGN in Denver are a game bunch. None more so than anchor Natalie Tysdal who joined the boys in testing themselves with a particular piece of sporting lunacy on the schedule with something called the One Chip Challenge which involves eating just one Carolina Reaper Madness chip. Apparently, the Carolina Reaper is the worlds hottest pepper. It was never going to end well was it? Good effort though Nats and well played for having a bash. It may be your Bridget Jones news moment but hey, at least you've gone global and have a whole new fan base.
Fats Domino died today, (kind of weird to reflect on the fact that he lived for more than twice as long as did Elvis). Moments when the Greats pass on are not moments of sadness. Rather, they are an opportunity to reflect and celebrate lives lived and at 89, the big Creole Louisiana man certainty did that. They will be arguing for decades about his contribution to music and if indeed, he was the original 'Granddaddy of Rock & Roll.' For sure, his early transition from Boogie Woogie to Rock & Roll with his early 1949 single "The Fat Man,' is considered to be a landmark record in the evolution of music but as he himself said, '"Everybody started callin' my music rock and roll, but it wasn't anything but the same rhythm and blues I'd been playin' down in New Orleans."
My only contribution to the debate is that it would be rare for a guest to come for dinner and not to hear at least one Fat's track on my eclectic playlists. My favourite Fats track, which is a wee bit maudlin but I like it nonetheless, may be found here but the clip above of Fats playing with the incomparable Jools Holland in 1988, and who himself has done so much for live music, tells us much about the mans genial and warm hearted character.
For no better reason than they both came up in my iTunes library search I find I actually have much more Fats Waller than Fats Domino....... Fats Waller died 74 years ago. What does that say?
The #metoo campaign has been a sobering one to observe over the past week or two. While hardly a shock and surprise that it was sparked by the outrageous behaviour of Weinstein, another product of an endless 100 year old line of pernicious reptiles from Hollywood, the ripples that have reverberated throughout the lives of many women from all walks of live have perhaps been more startling.
Even your correspondent considered publishing an account of his own moment of victimhood but my 'editor,' advises me that it would be ill-judged and completely inappropriate. I mostly won't then, be recounting the occasion when I was befriended, beguiled and bewitched by an older divorced woman. This formative experience would be better suited to a French black and white film about teenage rites of passage and hardly counts given I was a willing and enthusiastic, if clumsy and completely inept, participant. In retrospect, I think my 'Mrs Robinson,' was just playing with me as would a cat a mouse. It was the only time I've ever been picked up in a bar which at sixteen, I anyway had no business being in. In fact, it is the only time I've been picked up full stop. It would never happen these days of course; people simply don't talk to strangers, preferring to introduce themselves digitally which I can't help thinking removes much of the spontaneity of romance.
To the matter in hand, and putting aside the rank hypocrisy of Hollywood which has displayed fawning support over the years for other pests from 'I did not have sex with that woman,' to Mr Polanski, may I draw your attention to the excellent short film above, LAPS, which highlights how even the most ordinary situations can become menacing and sinister for woman. Made by Charlotte Wells without dialogue and with excellent cinematography and editing, it won prizes at the Sundance and SXSW film festivals. Well worth five minutes of your time.
One of the strands of life that I find especially enjoyable at the moment is quietly observing the number of ‘Mums’ who are dropping their Tesco’s shopping bags and saying, ‘I’ve been a good wife, a good mother, a good employee.... now….. it’s me time,’ and are going off and doing interesting and challenging things. Some are doing courses in this that or the next thing, some are becoming magistrates, some councillors, some are starting businesses, some seek adventure or find confirmation or afformation of their being through sport or coaching. Some do so simply by helping others. I think it is kind of cool. This wave of enthusiasm for rediscovering their joie de vivre does no doubt, leave some husbands sitting at the bottom of the garden wondering whats happened to shake, rattle and roll their little world. I think it's joyful..... kind of reaffirms the very good decision making we made in choosing these girls all those years ago!
And in that warm spirit of enthusiasm I get to welcome Mrs Flashbang home having just completed her Dead to Red Sea Charity Bike Ride and big thanks to friends and family who have supported her! (How bad is it by the way that I seem to have broken the spin dryer?). Well done hon!