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.


Army cuts will have long-term consequences, but were based on short-term decision making

By Shadow Armed Forces Minister, Kevan Jones MP

Last week the Government announced the exact impact that its Defence cuts would have on the army, which battalions would be scrapped and which would be merged, and the role that the reserves would have in the future. We were told that this would all work towards establishing a modern, dynamic and sustainable army. What we’ve got, however, is an army which has been shaped predominantly by this Government’s desire to make short-term savings, not long-term national security interests.

As Labour MP and former officer in the Parachute Regiment, Dan Jarvis, wrote in The Guardian last week, this Government is trying to do Defence and security on the cheap. These reductions in the size of the army — from 102,000 to 82,000 — are the product of the Government’s Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), which quickly unravelled and was built on the Treasury’s desire for fast cuts.

The only way to make quick savings in the Defence budget is either by creating self-made capability gaps or by making sharp reductions in personnel. This Government has done both, and it has meant that we will soon have an army which is cut to the bone, and which could potentially find it very difficult to meet unknown future threats. Continue reading “Army cuts will have long-term consequences, but were based on short-term decision making”

Jim Murphy MP response to the Army 2020 Statement

Jim Murphy MP, Labour’s Shadow Defence Secretary, responding to the Army 2020 Statement in the House of Commons last Thursday (5th July 2012), said:

I would like to thank the Secretary of State for his statement.

May I join him in paying tribute to Flight Lieutenant Hywel Poole who was killed, and Squadron Leader Samuel Bailey and Flight Lieutenant Adam Sanders who are still missing and must be presumed dead, all of 15 (Reserve) Squadron based at RAF Lossiemouth, who were involved in the Tornado GR4 aircraft incident on Tuesday.

My thoughts – and, I am sure, those of the entire House – are with their loved ones at this difficult time, and with the fourth member of the Squadron involved in the incident, who is currently in a serious but stable condition in hospital.

Mr Speaker today’s statement is rightly long on detail but totally short of strategic context.

New threats are emerging and weak and failing states outnumber strong by two to one. Continue reading “Jim Murphy MP response to the Army 2020 Statement”

“Many of those who fought in the dust and the danger of Afghanistan are being rewarded with P45s” – Jim Murphy

Jim Murphy MPJim Murphy MP, Labour’s Shadow Defence Secretary, commenting on the 4,100 redundancies the Government is making to Armed Forces personnel, said:

“Many of those who fought in the dust and the danger of Afghanistan are being rewarded with P45s.

“All of those who trusted David Cameron in opposition when he promised a larger Army will feel badly let down.

“Savings have to be made, but we worry important skills and capabilities are being lost without thought for our Forces’ role in the world.

“The Defence Secretary claims to have balanced the budget but he cannot tell us how. Many will feel he is doing so at the expense of brave individuals who served their country.

“Britain will need to confront global threats with leaner, rebalanced, more advanced Armed Forces in future. The most important baseline, however, is national security and we need to know the full military impact of so many people leaving the Armed Forces so quickly.

“Ministers must do more to convince that they are looking after families, Service-leavers and those on the frontline.”

“Capability is being lost as are people’s livelihoods” – Jim Murphy

Jim Murphy MP, Labour’s Shadow Defence Secretary, commenting on reports that over 4,000 personnel are set to be sacked from the Armed Forces said:

“We are concerned about the human and military impact of these job losses. Capability is being lost as are people’s livelihoods.

“The Government has focused on structures not purpose. Savings have to be made but Ministers must do much more to explain our future ability to project force around the world as well as how they intend to support the thousands being sacked.

“The Government are not reforming but dithering. We have no final decisions on the future of basing or regiments and the continued uncertainty is deeply debilitating.”

Why we need more legal protection for our Forces

By Rt Hon Jim Murphy MP, Shadow Defence Secretary

I am writing this on the journey back from Afghanistan. I am a little tired but massively inspired after meeting so many of our Forces who are taking on the Taliban and training Afghan troops.

You don’t have to support this or any other conflict to know that protecting our Forces abroad and supporting them and their families at home is crucial. More can be done. And because no political party has a monopoly on wisdom when it comes to supporting our Forces Labour is calling for a cross-party approach to ending unfair treatment against our service community.

It is totally unacceptable that elements of the Armed Forces community today face discrimination. A recent poll by Lord Ashcroft showed that more than one in five service personnel said they had experienced strangers shouting abuse at them while wearing their uniform in public. Nearly one in twenty said they had experienced violence or attempted violence and 18% have been refused service in hotels, pubs or elsewhere. Continue reading “Why we need more legal protection for our Forces”