Great post-election discussion in Portcullis House

FeaturedGreat post-election discussion in Portcullis House

“A great evening – informative, interesting, friendly and fun. It felt like it was a group who can really move things forward.” –  Councillor Kate Chinn

Many thanks to all those who joined us on the evening of Monday, July 3 at Portcullis House for our first meeting and discussion following #GE2017.

Opened by LFoF chair Toby Perkins MP and addressed by Shadow Defence Secretary Nia Griffith MP, the event showcased a selection of former military and associated candidates, all of whom had dramatically increased the Labour voteshare.

They included former Royal Navy Commodore Gareth Derrick [South East Cornwall], former Army doctor Laura Davies [Shrewsbury and Thatcham], ex-RAF engineer Sophie Cook [East Worthing and Shoreham], former firefighter Gary Puffett [Aldershot] and ex-Royal Signals  officer Sarah Church [South Swindon].

Click here for full biographies.

“Seeing so many of my fellow veterans and supporters sharing their experiences was great,” said Dr Laura Davies. “We can all learn so much from each other. It was clear from the discussion that our troops would be better supported under Labour – and that only Labour can marry a robust defence and security policy with ethical diplomacy.”

Also speaking were LFoF volunteer Peter Apps  who helped coordinate activities during the campaign, newly elected parliamentarian for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport Luke Pollard MP and LFoF patron Dan Jarvis MP.  Shadow defence ministers Wayne David MP and Gareth Jones MP also attended, as did multiple other MPs.

Issues raised by attendees included procurement, party and national strategy, pay and conditions, mental health and other services for veterans and campaigning plans going forward. Discussions continued afterwards in a Whitehall pub.

“The importance of Labour Friends of the Forces was highlighted by the extremely successful meeting,” said Wayne David MP. “It was impressive to hear how a number of candidates with strong links to the Armed Forces had campaigned so effectively on issues which were of direct concern to forces personnel. Our challenge is to make sure that this good work continues and develops.”

LFoF will be holding further events after the summer recess including in the regions and at Conference in Brighton at the end of September. Sign up here for further details.



Fabian Society article – Defining Labour on defence

Fabian Society article – Defining Labour on defence

This article appeared in the Fabian Review, the journal of the Fabian Society, in April.

Peter Apps is a global affairs columnist for Reuters news agency. He is also a member of the British Army Reserve and the Labour party.

By the time the next Labour government takes power, the United Kingdom may well be facing the most complex defence, military and security challenges at any point in recent memory.

International tensions are rising and the future of some of the most basic international structures and assumptions – the EU, NATO, a United States heavily invested in the rest of the world – is being thrown into question. Meanwhile, changing technology and growing social strains across the world are generating new, deeply unpredictable dangers.

This kind of volatility isn’t new. When it was elected in 1997, few in the Blair government would have foreseen how much it would come to be defined by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Cameron government was confronted by the Arab spring and war in Libya within a year of taking office.

What is needed above all else, then, is not just flexibility but a worldview and degree of sophistication that allows the UK to deal with a wide range of possible scenarios.

In doing so, however, we should remain fundamentally true to Labour’s core values: defending not just territory and peoples but liberties and principles. Military service is a risky occupation, and those who take it on accept that. Still, their welfare – as well as that of the rest of the nation – must be a driving concern, whether in taking action overseas or making spending decisions at home.

A significant portion of the party has often viewed Britain’s military and its activities with a healthy degree of scepticism. Their views should not be discounted – not least because in recent history, they have more than once been proved right. Our forces and the population of the Middle East would have been better served if we had listened to those who marched against the Iraq war.

Priorities, though, are important.

Deterring a catastrophic attack has been at the heart of British defence policy since the days of the cold war. It will continue to be so: tensions are going to keep rising with Russia and perhaps also with China. North Korea might have a missile that can reach the United Kingdom within a decade or so. We shouldn’t delude ourselves that Trident – and the replacement Dreadnought class submarines that will carry it – protect us against all dangers. But they are the only line of protection we have ever found against that kind of existential threat.

Beyond that, planning becomes ever more complicated, not least because the time it takes to construct some of the more sophisticated military platforms is growing ever longer. The first plans for building Britain’s Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers were announced in the strategic defence review of 1998. The ships themselves will only enter service at the end of this decade, finding themselves in a rather different world from anything anticipated in the late 20th century.

They will also, like just about every other piece of military equipment, have proved dramatically more expensive than initially anticipated.

In recent decades, British governments have tended to try to use military procurement to shore up a relatively small defence industrial base. There’s no doubt that that’s helped ensure that some companies remain big employers. But where possible, defence procurement decisions should also be aimed at growing broader, peacetime industries. That is already the case, at least up to a point, in aerospace. It hasn’t been in shipbuilding. Any future Labour government needs a much more comprehensive plan for this than any which has preceded it.

At its heart, however, defence is about people and it is those who serve who have ensured that Britain’s armed forces remain amongst the best in the world.

If you talk to members of those services today – particularly in the ranks – they are pretty underwhelmed at how successive governments, of whichever political persuasion, have treated them. There’s a feeling that they have been used – and in some cases, suffered serious casualties – without sufficient planning. But also a clear sentiment that there has been far too little attention paid to what military life is really like.

That’s somewhere where the Labour party could really be upping its game. With Nia Griffith as shadow defence secretary, there are signs it is beginning to do so. Labour is beginning to make much more noise on substandard accommodation, better career structures and lifestyles.

At the end of February, we relaunched Labour Friends of the Forces, which we hope will be at the heart of this campaigning.

In some respects, what the electorate wants from defence is not so different from what it expects from the welfare state and social welfare net. Individuals have a reasonably good idea of some of the situations they will be in and services they will require – education for their children, social care for their relatives as they age. But they also want protection against the unexpected – catastrophic ill health, redundancy, violent crime or natural disaster. With defence too, we need to be ready for the dangers we can’t predict as well as those we can.

That means having a plan, staying within budget and valuing those who actually provide the services the country needs. Getting that right in a complex century is going to be a challenge – but it’s one we have to meet.

Labour Friends of the Forces post-election discussion – July 3

FeaturedLabour Friends of the Forces post-election discussion – July 3

Monday, July 3, 2017, 7 p.m.

Wilson Room, Portcullis House, 1 Parliament Street, Westminster SW1

Sign up here

In the aftermath of of #GE2017, join Labour Friends of the Forces to hear about our work and plans.

Join Shadow Defence Secretary Nia Griffith MP, LFOF chair Toby Perkins MP and Labour’s other service veteran and military-supporting parliamentarians, candidates, councillors and others to hear about our plans going forward. We will be discussing campaigning for next year’s council and a possible new general election, as well as how members can get involved in shaping a party defence policy that will make us the credible government the country really needs.

Key campaign priorities will include:

* Fighting potentially debilitating further military cuts, particularly to  personnel levels in the British Army and Royal Marine Commandos

* A fair deal for serving and veteran personnel, including a pay review and improvements to housing, career opportunities and adequate training

* A defence industrial strategy that supports British industry and manufacturing, provides the armed forces with the equipment they need and avoids unnecessary wastage through private sector contracting.

We will also be discussing the tactics of how we get more great former-military personnel involved in politics and use them best.

In this election, the Labour Party fielded by far its strongest selection of former military candidates since 1945, all significantly increasing their share of the vote. So did a string of candidates in military constituencies, with Luke Pollard winning in Plymouth Sutton and Stephen Morgan in Portsmouth South. Labour’s two Army veterans Dan Jarvis and Clive Lewis  both increased their majorities, while Army reservist Paul Sweeney took Glasgow North East.

Even where we did not win, the party often saw dramatic increases in vote share. In the heavily military constituency of Aldershot, former firefighter Gary Puffett almost doubled Labour’s vote share to 32 percent.

“We made gains in 2015, and after a fantastic campaign in 2017 did even better,” says Laura Davies, a former Royal Army Medical Corps major, NHS doctor and parliamentary candidate for Shrewsbury and Atcham who won an additional 7000 votes for Labour on June 8. “We are ready to hit the ground running and hoping to get over the line to victory next time.”

After this event, we will be continuing the discussion in the Red Lion pub in Whitehall and you are warmly encouraged to join us

One last push – get the vote out tomorrow

One last push – get the vote out tomorrow

Throughout the campaign, Labour Friends of the Forces supporters and candidates have been slogging hard to deliver a Labour Party victory.

Tomorrow night, we will find out where the chips have fallen. In the meantime, make sure you vote, make sure everyone else you know votes and  if you can, help your local constituency party get the vote out.

“It’s close in South Swindon,” says Sarah Church, a former Royal Signals major and the Labour Party’s local candidate. “The campaign has been such a positive one and supported by so many dedicated activists. Whatever the results tomorrow night, everyone who has campaigned in South Swindon can know they gave it everything.”

The Prime Minister called this election just as Friends of the Forces were rebooting themselves and relaunching. But we have managed to support a range of great candidates, including the strongest slate of former military veterans the party has deployed since 1945.

“I’m hugely grateful for the support I’ve received from Labour Friends of the Forces.,” said Wes Streeting, candidate for elf in North. “Under the Tories, cuts to our armed forces have left us ill-equipped to tackle the modern threats facing our country. Re-elected as Ilford North’s MP, I will continue to speak up for service personnel and their families.”

Whatever the result, we will be continuing to fight, helping the Labour Party up its game still further on defence.

If you haven’t already done so, sign up for our mailing list here



Get out the message with Friends of the Forces

Get out the message with Friends of the Forces

AMembers and Candidates from Labour Friends of the Forces have been out campaigning hard as the election gets into its final two weeks. Join us for our two campaign events this week in Norwich and Ilford, and get out and support your own local candidates across the country.

Wednesday, May 31 – Supporting Clive Lewis in Norwich South

Saturday, June 3 – Supporting Wes Streeting in Ilford North

Sign up here for details of both

Click here for details of our strongest slate of former military candidate since 1945

With the polls narrowing, several members of Friends of the Forces supported Jeremy Corbyn as he launched his speech on security and foreign policy last Friday. Others have been out on the doorsteps, stressing the party’s commitment on defence as well as its wider message.

Read Friends of the Forces Patron Dan Jarvis  on denying the Manchester bomber a propaganda victory

While Tory Defence Secretary Michael Fallon dodged a debate on defence policy to campaign in marginal constituencies, Labour’s Nia Griffith has been a pillar of strength and stability. Read her on commitment to Trident and ongoing strikes against ISIS.

As former Royal Navy Commodore Gareth Derrick wrote last week for Labour List, the party must build itself a solid base of credibility on the topic that should help take us well beyond this election.

Labour Friends of the Forces intends to be a part of that process. Sign up here for our mailing list.

Michael Fallon skips defence debate to campaign in Ilford

Michael Fallon skips defence debate to campaign in Ilford

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon should have spent Monday morning answering tough questions on the Tory record at a London debate organized by the Royal United Services Institute. Instead, he was in Ilford North supporting former Conservative MP Lee Scott’s struggling campaign win back his seat.

In Fallon’s place, the Tories sent Parliamentary Under Secretary For Defence Harriet Baldwin,, who has held that junior ministerial appointment for less than a year. Fallon had been due to take part, but pulled out at the last minute.

“Michael Fallon has serious questions to answer about the impact of government cuts on the capacity of Armed Forces, which is probably why he wanted to duck such an important debate,” said Wes Streeting, Labour Candidate in Ilford North who has served as its MP since 2015.

“I would never pull the Defence Secretary away from talking to serving personnel and reservists to prop up a local campaign. Michael Fallon and the Ilford North Conservative Association should apologise to those who wanted to hear from the Defence Secretary and explain why he felt it was more important to travel up the Central Line to Ilford when he was expected to answer questions in central London.”

Click here to read about Labour’s strongest slate of former Armed Forces candidates since 1945 and Tory defence failures

Click here to sign up for Friends of the Forces  campaign events, including in Ilford on Saturday, June 3

At RUSI, Baldwin struggled to defend the Conservative record, being particularly pushed by a recent Royal Marine officer on collapsing training budgets. [You can see the debate here]. Attendees – who included some of Britain’s leading defence experts as well as veterans, reservists and serving personnel – said privately afterwards they were distinctly unimpressed.

Labour’s Shadow Defence Secretary Nia Griffith said she was proud to take part alongside senior spokespeople from the Liberal Democrats, Green Party and Scottish National Party. She stressed the  party’s commitment to maintaining military spending at two percent of GDP, the Trident nuclear weapons system and improving lives and opportunity for military personnel.

She also said the party was committed to examining the overuse of private contractors to provide military services such as catering and housing.

“Without Fallon, Labour and Nia Griffith were clearly the strongest in town,” says Peter Apps, volunteer coordinator for Labour Friends of the Forces, who attended the debate. “She clearly knew her stuff, and stuck to her guns. Baldwin admitted her expertise was limited beyond her narrow beat of procurement. Maybe she could sense the crowd was unconvinced.”

“It was clear many in the audience felt the UK was heading towards a psychotically hard Brexit that could be devastating for our economy and defences, many of which already need substantial improvement.”

Labour deploying strongest field of ex-military candidates since 1945

Labour deploying strongest field of ex-military candidates since 1945

The Labour Party is deploying at least seven former military personnel as parliamentary candidates in 2017, believed its largest number since the end of National Service.

They include a former Royal Army Medical Corps and NHS doctor hitting the campaign trail with her newborn infant, an ex-Royal Navy commodore who is the most senior former officer to stand for the party in recent history and a RAF veteran who may become Britain’s first transgender MP.

“We are hugely proud of our former military candidates,” says Nia Griffith, Shadow Defence Secretary. “Their commitment to our country and the ideal of public service sits sits right at the heart of our Labour Party values. Their expertise is invaluable as we seek to undo the damage the Conservatives have done to our Armed Forces.”

Labour Friends of the Forces believes they represent the strongest slate of former military candidates the party has fielded in decades, almost certainly since the Second World War.

“They represent a truly inclusive, progressive and inspiring British patriotism, not the xenophobic nationalism of UKIP and a now hard-Brexit obsessed Conservative Party,” says Peter Apps, a paralysed former war reporter, Army reservist and volunteer coordinator for Labour Friends of the Forces.

“There’s a long-tradition of often mediocre military officers becoming Tory MPs. But for raw quality over quantity, I genuinely believe the Labour Party now has the edge in attracting those with serious, credible military backgrounds.”


Being injured in a war zone showed me the value of the Labour Party


Sarah Church  – South Swindon

A former Royal Signals major who deployed to Iraq, Sarah Church says she learned her public service values from her NHS doctor mother.  After leaving the Army in 2015, she campaigned to safeguard library and other public services in the Swindon area before being selected to fight the currently Tory-held marginal.

“The values that brought me into the armed forces and into the Labour party are the same thing,” she says.

Sarah is married to an Army veteran wounded in Afghanistan.

Want to help get Sarah into Parliament? Join LFoF for their campaign day in the Swindon on Saturday, May 27.

Dan Jarvis  – Barnsley Central

A Parachute Regiment officer with operational experience in Iraq, Northern Ireland, Afghanistan and Kosovo, Dan resigned his commission in 2011 to fight a by-election in Barnsley before serving in frontbench culture and justice roles

As Patron of Labour Friends of the Forces, he has provided mentorship to a range of other form Armed Forces personnel considering entering politics.

“Dan has been a legend when it’s come to building Labour’s credibility within the Armed Forces community,” says Peter Apps at Labour Friends of the Forces. “His example has been crucial in bringing others forward.”

Gareth Derrick – South East Cornwall

Career RN officer Commodore Gareth Derrick served in both the 1991 and 2003 Iraq wars and a diplomatic post in Tokyo before commanding the Royal Naval and Royal Marine Reserves until 2013.

In 2016, he stood as Labour’s candidate for Cornwall Police and Crime Commissioner, coming second just 900 votes behind Conservative winner Alison Hernandez in the final round.

“This election is about the kind of society we want in Cornwall,” the father-of-three told Cornwall Live. “Let’s stop the damage being done to our NHS, to schools and to the job and home ownership prospects of young families.”

Clive Lewis – Norwich South

One of the stars of the 2015 Labour parliamentary intake, Lewis grew up on a council estate in Northampton as son of a single father. A BBC journalist covering political affairs, he joined the Army Reserve and in 2006 commissioned as a junior officer with 7th Battalion, the Rifles.

In 2009, he deployed to Helmand Province in Afghanistan with the regular 2nd Battalion, the Rifles commanding a Combat Camera Team, a small detachment of soldiers operating alongside front-line troops including documenting firefights and ambushes.

Lewis served on the Labour front bench as Shadow Defence and Shadow Business Secretary before resigning to return to the back benches after voting against triggering Article 50 to initiate Brexit.

Dr Laura Davies – Shrewsbury and Atcham

After completing medical school, Laura Davies commissioned into the Royal Army Medical Corps and served in the UK and overseas. She now works as an NHS doctor specialising in trauma.

Laura stood for the first time in Shrewsbury and Atcham in 2015, where she came second with 15,603 votes, an increase of almost a third on the previous party candidate in 2010.

Davies gave birth to second son Nicholas two weeks before the Prime Minister called the snap election. “This was not quite how I anticipated spending my maternity leave but he is doing very well and I’m looking forward to it,” she told the Shropshire Star

Sophie Cook – East Worthing and Shoreham

When she joined the RAF as a 16-year-old technician, Sophie Cook – then Steve – says she was too scared to tell people she felt she was really a woman. Now aged 50, she came out as transgender in 2015 and continues to work as a photographer and presenter for Premier League side AFC Bournemouth.

Since her transition, she says she has been blown away by the supportive reaction of the football club and its supporters, her local community and her own ex-wife and children.

“I’ve been through hell to be who I am but it has been beyond my wildest dreams and if I can make the world a little better it would give meaning to the past pain,” she told the Daily Telegraph. “The time is right for a first transgender MP and the reaction on the doorstep has been amazing. “

Paul Sweeney – Glasgow North East

An Army reservist and former employee at BAe Systems, Paul Sweeney won election in Glasgow North East, recapturing it from the Scottish National Party.

In particular, he has campaigned hard to protect military shipbuilding jobs on the Clyde.

“It is… Critical that both the Scottish and UK governments collaborate to build on the Clyde’s status as the UK is undisputed center of excellence for complex warship design, build and integration,” he wrote in March. “It is not too late. We had a significant window of opportunity to undertake… investment.”


The Labour Party 2017 manifesto includes a firm commitment to maintain UK defence spending at two percent of Gross Domestic Product, the NATO standard temporarily dropped by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats after 2010.

Labour is committed to the replacement of the Trident nuclear weapons system, a credible defence industrial platform including a National Shipbuilding Strategy and a Homes Fit for Heroes program for Armed Forces personnel and veterans priced out of the UK housing market.

Labour will launch an immediate review of recruitment and retention with figures this week showing the Army falling some 4,000 personnel behind the government’s own target of 82,000. The Royal Navy and RAF have also again fallen below their intended strength.

Labour will also prioritise protecting Britain’s cyber security, with the May 12 “WannaCry” ransomware attack demonstrating alarming lapses. Britain’s NHS was not the deliberate target of the attack, but the failure to update software left systems amongst the most vulnerable in Europe.


Under the Conservatives, the UK lost its 2010 status as the world’s third-largest defence spender behind the United States and China. It is now notably outspent by Russia and Saudi Arabia. Recent post-Brexit falls in the value of sterling may also see it drop behind France.

The 2010 Coalition Strategic Defence and Security Review slashed personnel and equipment and sacrificed several key UK military systems. They included axing Harrier fast jet cover for the Royal Navy barely a year before the Libya war and scrapping the recently refurbished Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft, vital for keeping increasingly aggressive foreign submarine patrols away from Britain’s nuclear missile submarines.

To his partial credit, Conservative Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has been scrambling to remedy some of the more obvious oversights since succeeding Liam Fox and Philip Hammond in 2014. New US-built maritime patrol aircraft are now being acquired as an emergency purchase, and should enter service around 2019. In November, he signed an embarrassing but necessary deal with Norway to provide their maritime patrol aircraft cover when Britain needed them.

Under the Conservatives, Britain has let down its Armed Forces, its allies and its people on defence. With a top-flight range of former military candidates in 2017, the Labour Party offers the best chance of doing better.

Labour Friends of the Forces is extremely interested in hearing from current and former Armed Forces personnel interested in becoming candidates for local and national elections, and will be holding a range of events across the country later this year.

Labour Party rules require at least a year’s membership to stand as a candidate. Wherever your thoughts on the current state of the party, now is the ideal time to join and get a say in its post-election future, leadership and policies.

Current and former Armed Forces personnel can join for as little as three pounds a year.

Want to know more? Sign up for Labour Friends of the Forces mailing list here

IMPORTANT. Military regulations contain restrictions on the kinds of political activity serving members of the Armed Forces can take part in, particularly regular personnel or reservists on full-time service. Click here for the Friends of the Forces guide to the relevant Queen’s Regulations.

There should, however, be no problem in serving personnel, including regulars, sharing this on social media in their own personal capacity.