Armed Forces Day – Defence must be a government’s number one priority
In the fourth of a series of exclusive articles for Endeavour Public Affairs to mark Armed Forces Day, which takes place on Saturday 29 June, Godfrey Bloom MEP looks at defence in the round and sets out what UKIP would do differently.
Godfrey Bloom is the UKIP MEP for Yorkshire and The Humber and is UKIP’s defence spokesman. His military service includes service with both the County of London Yeomanry and 150 (Northumbria) Regiment. He holds the Territorial Decoration and bar. He is a graduate of the Royal College of Defence Studies, was commissioned at The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, and is a senior graduate of the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme.
‘Britain has lost an empire but not yet found a role’.
I feel it is perhaps as true as it ever was. There appears to be no serious political strategic thought available nor has there been for many years, without this it is difficult to know where the emphasis on defence should be.
Historically defence has always taken the brunt of economic cut backs. Post Napoleonic Wars, Great War, Second War, the disestablishment of Empire, the Armed Forces have always been cut to the bone. As UKIP’s defence spokesman, I would argue that our defence budget would be adequate for the nation’s needs if we were more careful with defence housekeeping.
In 2007 I gave a fairly detailed procurement paper to the National Defence University in Washington. It outlined how and where we could make significant savings. There has been, one might argue, a failure of procurement policy for almost one hundred years. Where big money changes hands intellectual corruption and bloated bureaucracy soon follows. Defence, Welfare, National Health, and Education the waste is endemic. A cursory glance at Israeli procurement systems would teach us much.
We must get away from the ‘save a million pounds’. Easy, sack the 2nd Battalion the Yorkshire Regiment. Save £2 billion pounds, lose a squadron of Tornados. The defence policy of the Whitehall accountancy apparatchik.
In order to have an effective defence we must abandon the idea that its major role is to provide the defence industry with orders in marginal constituencies. What do the Navy, Air force, and Army need? Buy it off the shelf, get it cheap, get it now. Especially weapon platforms, we can put our own systems in if we know they work. Without off the shelf hardware like the Sidewinder we would have been in a pickle taking back the Falklands.
We have to accept that we as an Island nation, and the eighth biggest trading nation in the world, must have a maritime based defence strategy. This does not mean the Navy gets the entire budget, but the direction of effort is the protection of our trade, overseas possessions and people. Our global reach must be interfaced with an Atlanticist and Commonwealth co-operation pact. Obviously NATO was a magnificent concept post war and wholly responsible for a general, if not total peace in Europe. Not the European Union as rather ill-informed revisionist political historians would have us believe.
We also need to address what has become known, quite properly in my view, as the covenant with our military. In the 1970s the senior command and their political masters lost the plot. The 1970s have much to answer for; buzz phrases like ‘man management’ flooded the ether instead of leadership. The recruitment emphasis was on ‘travel, sport and mates’ not the job in hand which is tough, nasty, thankless, and dangerous. The EU took away Crown Indemnity, fatal in the Armed Services as it led to the imprisonment of eighteen year old soldiers for making alleged mistakes under appalling difficulties. Crown Indemnity must return if confidence is to be maintained between officers and soldiers. Political correctness must be abandoned; being a soldier is not like working in a bank. Soldiers are asked to put their life on the line in places like Iraq and Afghanistan for pitiful wages by modern commercial standards.
Military hospitals must be restored; soldiers’ families looked after when they are abroad. A soldier worried about his family is a useless soldier. Things like a return of dental facilities to bases for families are important. More effort needs to be made to help military charities like Combat Stress, deal with problems out of the public eye. Regimental Associations do their best but these are long term commitments.
Giving £2 billion per month to overseas aid and fake charities is simply treasonable when we have a shortage of anything that makes up this covenant with our Armed Forces.
I flew into Helmand Province a few years ago in a Hercules with the Scots Guards, the joking had stopped, just a look of quiet contemplation on the soldiers’ faces, who would fly back? It is worse for those at home, it always has been.
Governments of the day must understand it is priority one for the nation. Interestingly that is how the public see it; we must persuade the political class to accept their responsibilities. There are pitifully few on the front or shadow benches with military or naval experience. I would start by making it mandatory that all Ministers of Defence are drawn from the senior graduate ranks of the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme, drawn from cross bench talent with a minimum appointment of 30 months, as Churchill would say action this day.
Published: Thursday 27 June 2013
© Copyright of Endeavour Public Affairs 2013
Photograph: © Matt Clark/Godfrey Bloom MEP
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the views of Endeavour Public Affairs or any of our clients.