The beginning of Labour’s Shadow Defence Review

Jim Murphy - sittingBy Jim Murphy MP, Shadow Defence Secretary

Labour’s Shadow Defence Team is committed to open policy-making. We want the work we conduct to be part of our party’s discussion on how to we can design a 21st Century defence policy and how we can win again in 2015.

Too often policy-making and party activism have been considered distinct from one another. Work in Whitehall or SW1 think tanks can seem like another world to life behind the doors our campaigners knock up and down the country.  Both should, however, be symbiotic. Labour policy should be reflective of the experiences of those we want to represent.  Our local campaigning should illustrate our Party’s positions and what they mean for families and local communities.

Defence alone is not the issue on which Labour will win a General Election, but it is one which can contribute to a second defeat. Defence policy is an area facing enormous challenges, whether the Arab Spring, serious spending restraint, nuclear proliferation, climate change or religiously-inspired terrorism, each of which demands new ideas and policy solutions.

Labour’s recently-launched Shadow Defence Review aims to meet the dual challenges of developing new ideas with open policy-making.  Our consultation document poses questions on the main issues we consider face defence policy today. The Government’s own review did not survive its first contact with world events because it did not match ends with means and failed to provide a flexible force fit for a changing security landscape.  Our review will be over a year long and we want all from industry, academia, the Forces, the public and party members to participate. In particular we want this process to be rooted in the party and the activists whose intuition and insights will be invaluable.

For that reason our review’s first event is a Pragmatic Radicalism ‘Top of the Policies’ event. I will Chair the event which will see speakers pitching two minute ideas for a new defence policy to an audience comprising Labour members and supporters.  Each presentation will be followed by two minutes of quick-fire questions from the audience.  For a chance to participate Pragmatic Radicalism is accepting submissions from any Labour member or supporter.

We have asked for ideas on where savings can be found, revenue neutral ideas or policies with minimal cost. Each idea will be considered as an official submission to the Shadow Defence Review. At the end of the event the audience will vote for their favourite policy.  The speakers whose policies are in the Top Five will have a chance to write for the Labour Friends of the Forces blog. Everyone will be able to follow and contribute to the event through twitter.  The event will, we hope, bring our work closer to the many ideas across our movement.

David Cameron often gives the impression of a man who fulfilled 85% of his ambition for the country the day he walked in to Downing Street. His lack of vision and world view shape all aspects of this government, including defence.

In recent months the UK has been involved in events using resources Ministers planned to scrap. The UK has significant capability gaps, notably no aircraft to fly from an aircraft carrier for a decade. Those who serve on the frontline are having their allowances cut. The families of the fallen suffer from spending cuts.  No meaningful reforms to defence procurement have been proposed.  Withdrawal from Afghanistan has become a contest around dates in the Government’s calendar. The Arab Spring has demonstrated the scale of potential unpredictable global change before us and yet the Government’s plans have ushered in an era of strategic shrinkage by stealth.

This is not the record of a government intent on prioritising the service community, putting Britain at the cutting edge of reform or maintaining Britain’s leadership role on security issues which was bequeathed to them.

But while we must challenge the Government we must also challenge ourselves. In recent weeks the Shadow Defence Team has published a review of defence procurement; proposed a review of force structures to eradicate the imbalance in favour of the top brass; proposed a £1m fund for research into policy solutions for the long-term mental health of our forces; challenged the Government on post-2014 stabilisation planning for Afghanistan; campaigned for greater help for orphaned service children; and called on David Cameron to show leadership on defence industrial policy.

This is necessary but not sufficient, which is why our review is so wide-ranging and important for longer-term policy-development.  The review will analyse the threat environment in which defence policy is being made and must respond to. We will seek to set out and test the values and principles that underpin our approach to defence, including how best to work with others on the international stage and how we can integrate defence with ‘soft power’ tools, notably development policy. This work will in turn inform future thinking on military structures.

There are so many great and fresh ideas around the country and we are keen to hear more of them.  We want to not just show that defence can be a natural Labour issue but also show how we all benefit from open policy-making. We hope you will get involved.

This article was originally published on LabourList, you can read it here.

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