In the news today is an indication that the Government has done yet another U Turn, on top of its original U Turn
Of course, the story is about enshrining the military covenant into the Armed Forces Bill. Armed Forces Bill’s are usually uncontroversial affairs that include lots of tidying up, aligning UK law with military law and the like but this one has created a highly charged atmosphere because of the Government’s signposted intention NOT to fulfil an election promise to define the covenant in law. The governments previous position, no doubt after realising the realities of doing so, was that it would create in law an obligation on the government of the day to make annual reports to Parliament on the issue
The Royal British Legion has mounted an effective campaign, reminding the government that part of the covenant is fundamentally about trust, saying one thing and actually doing it. The campaign has been a strong advocate of bringing it into law.
With looming battles with civil servants and the NHS on the horizon the government has made a political calculation that it does not need yet another set of enemy’s and pictures of flag draped coffins, limbless service personnel in wheelchairs and poppies is imagery they can well do without in this difficult period.
We will hear more on Monday but all the media outlets are reporting that it is a done deal, the U has been turned and the military covenant will now be included in the Armed Forces Bill.
I often get accused of being cynical and dismissive, perhaps too realistic, but on this one I am genuinely in two minds whether it is actually a good idea or not.
On the one hand I can see the value, it forces governments to account for the treatment of service personnel and the RBL surely has thought about the pros and cons of its position.
On the other hand, the cynical me, sees this as purely a political gesture, something designed to shut critics up with a single sentence so no matter what actually happens, underfunding, over committing or whatever, the government will simply pull out the military covenant red card and sweep aside any criticism in one swoosh.
The devil will be in the detail and it is hard to see anything but a wishy washy, non specific set of good intentions findings its way through the drafting and committee stages of the House of Parliament.
Once something is in law it becomes open to challenge and this means that the MoD will be deluged with cases, tactical decisions in the field are already under intense scrutiny. The ability of commanders in the field to use their discretion in the filed in matters of personal equipment is already more or less non existent and this may well make it worse.
Every single error of judgement or decision will now be subject to legal challenge.
You might see this as a good thing but consider this…
If the MoD has a finite budget and will need a significant increase in the capacity of its legal department, what else is going to be cut to pay for all those extra legal personnel.
Unless of course the MoD gets an increase in budget to meet the demands of a newly created military covenant law, does anyone here think that is going to be the case?
The worry I have is that it will be so watered down to be useless anyway, will be used as a political swat to deflect any criticism whatsoever and absorb budget that might be better spent of personnel welfare.
Sorry for having a downer on this and I hope it will turn out differently.