It’s been a busy few weeks in the world of UK defence with a couple of think tank reports, the usual cast of senior officers saying we are at breaking point, a Labour Party defence re-launch, news of Royal Navy redundancies, the mythical projects of concern list going live and Liam Fox getting punchy on the eve of the Conservative Party conference.
Will be looking at each of them but this one covers the efforts of the Labour Party to take the initiative on defence.
To coincide with their annual conference the Labour Party thought it would be a good time to start the long road to credibility on defence, recruiting a cast of luminaries to add gravitas to their ideas for procurement reform.
Ho Ho Ho
In 1998 the resurgent Labour Party published what was then regarded and still is to this day, a coherent and sensible defence review called the Strategic Defence Review. It set out a clear set of roles, avoided too much bullshit and laid out the ways and means by which the elucidated objectives would be met.
As a report (forgiving the dodgy desktop publishing of the day) it was pretty damned good.
Unfortunately it all went downhill from there; aspirations met political and financial reality, a dalliance from which they never quite recovered.
It is probably fair to say that the Labour Party did a lot of good things for defence but in equal measure they did a lot of bad things as well.
Perhaps the biggest failing they had was actually recognising that those aspirations could not be afforded and did not have the political testicles to put a stop to it, checking the aspirations of Senior Officers and Industrialists alike, in fact, they presided over an era where the boundaries between those two groups became increasingly blurred.
The net result was the infamous black hole in the MoD’s budget, everyone knew someone was going to have to fill it but senior officers and politicians in the Labour Party simply failed to demonstrate the moral courage to do the right thing.
Besides the gimmick of Labour Party membership for armed forces personnel for a quid so came the time for the Labour Party to airbrush out the last decade or so and tell us all how they are in fact the true saviours of the nation.
Demonstrating a flair for being completely out of touch with reality and all round general fuckwittery synonymous with the type, someone, and I am not naming names, trotted out the immortal line
We are not bloody Denmark or Belgium
So that would be the Belgium that provided a mine hunter and 6 F16’s for operations over Libya and the Denmark that provides 750 personnel to ISAF (just under 10% of its active Army strength) and has suffered 42 casualties, amongst the highest of all contributing nations relative to population, not to mention hundreds of strike sorties over Libya.
Fancy a job ACAS, best leave the briefcase at home though!
Although Jim Murphy tried to make light the remark, hopefully he will have learned his lesson and realised that a break with the past is needed, not a hangover from it, politically it’s a trivial target which Liam Fox took full advantage of, tearing them both a new exit hole.
Jim Murphy, the Shadow Defence Minister, has been quietly impressive in his role but he has the considerable challenge of shaking off the undoubted legacy of the ‘black hole’ and Labours skeletons in the defence cupboard.
Despite the noble Lord firing a Spearfish torpedo at the re-launch and effectively sinking it, Jim’s speech at the Labour conference wasn’t all that bad, if a little light in the details and with far too many references to overseas issues that really shouldn’t concern us.
The real meat on the bones was a policy paper on defence procurement, have a read here
Of course, the Labour Party proposing ideas on defence procurement might seem to some like a burglar offering advice on home security from within Wormwood Scrubs but the paper is worth a read.
The ten year budget idea is perhaps one of the best, if nothing new, but the fundamental problem with this is that one Parliament cannot bind the next one so it’s difficult to see how this could be implemented without cross party consensus.
It also talks about the best being the enemy of good enough and this is a sound principle but if I was sitting in a ship under fire from supersonic sea skimming anti-ship missiles do I want my defence system to be good enough.
This is a fundamental problem and not easily addressed.
The report somewhat embarrassingly mixes FRES SV and UV and comes to the wrong conclusions, if anyone wants to check this and see if it is me that is barking mad, check out page 83 of the report.
The controversy caused by the Belgium and Denmark remarks cast a shadow over what is a pretty reasonable document.
Good effort but must try harder chaps