By Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, former UK Defence Secretary and NATO Secretary General
I have spent many years in and around the world of defence, serving both as UK Defence Secretary and as General Secretary of NATO. My admiration for our Forces only got stronger during that time, as did my respect for the families and communities who support them. Their quiet courage sustains our Armed Forces and should never be overlooked.
Labour made huge strides when in government delivering the support the Forces community deserves, and that should be built on today. The thousands around the world, not least the 10,000 in Afghanistan, deserve our gratitude, which must manifest itself through the right policies on issues from kit and equipment to remuneration, housing to healthcare, service children’s education to service families’ relocation and resettlement. The creation of Labour Friends of the Forces shows just how seriously Labour is taking this task.
The organisation will aim to help the service community to participate as they can within politics, and use their experience to help build the best possible policy programme – one which will help serve our Armed Forces around the world and the defence community at home. As a starting point, we know that many are unaware of the support to which they are entitled and so we have compiled what we hope will be useful information in ‘services for our Forces’.
There is an ill-informed and old orthodoxy in politics that says the Tories are the Party of the Forces. That has to change. It is not true and never has been. No party has a monopoly on defence. From the campaigns we run to the candidates we field, Labour is showing that defence is a vital issue for us in Opposition today just as it was in all our 13 years of government.
Labour Friends of the Forces will aim to make Labour the most welcoming party to our Armed Forces. We started that with the new membership rate of £1 for serving personnel and veterans. We will move forward by launching the campaigns that matter to the military community, which will, we hope, be based on their concerns and ambitions raised with us through this website or at events we plan to hold around the country.
We are launching with two priorities. The first is the Office of the Chief Coroner, which the Government is planning to abolish. They are doing so regardless of the need for an independent, expert coronial service and regardless of the Royal British Legion and Inquest’s claims that this can be implemented more cost effectively. The Royal British Legion has said this amounts to a “betrayal” of bereaved service families. Labour legislated for a chief coroner in 2009 with cross party support. It is vital that all parties again come together to do the right thing. We very much hope all of you will write to your MP to support the Royal British Legion’s campaign.
Our second priority is to hear your views on an issue we know to be close to many service families, and that is the disturbance caused by moving. It is part of the duty of service that our Forces move around the UK to the bases at which they must train, whether in Germany or Cyprus, Plymouth or Scotland. We know, however, that this places a huge strain on their families who move with them. Spouses’ careers, continuation of education for children, continuation of healthcare and friends and support networks are all impacted. We want to hear from you about which elements of the current provision work and what doesn’t, and what more could government be doing to support families in this situation to make the transition to new surroundings easier. It is the core principle of the military covenant that no-one should be disadvantaged due to service and we must make sure that is upheld. This is a priority area for Labour and we want to hear your thoughts so please contact us.
I hope you will join Labour Friends of the Forces, which is free, to be kept up to date with defence news, share your ideas and participate in a national network of people passionate about defence and the people at its core. We hope that in joining you will make the case for Labour as a natural party of the Forces, help raise awareness of the £1 party membership rate and campaign with us around the country.
We know that Britain’s security is often dependent on events overseas, but the success of our Armed Forces’ actions abroad is dependent on support at home. This organisation is for all who believe we each have a duty to recognise the unique nature of military service.