Wednesday, 16 December 2009
Minister: I’ve had another good idea.
Official: Really Minister? Another one… that’s your fourth this week. We’re struggling to keep up with this torrent of wisdom. Dare I ask what this one involves?
Minister: Well, I had given some thought to preparing a proper defence review, like we did in 1998, that could weigh up our foreign policy priorities and try to match some capabilities to them….
Minister: But, I decided that was all bollocks, so I thought I’d announce something completely disconnected to confuse the enemy…
Official: To confuse the enemy, minister?
Minister: Well, if it looks like we don’t know which end of the bat to hold, the enemy will be sure to disintegrate into panic and low morale!
Official: Yes, Minister…
Another day, and another large defence announcement. It’s not that I’m cynical about these announcements now, but they produce a Malcolm Tucker-ish response in my kitchen (often when listening to Radio 5).
It’s often the authoritative tone with which these announcements are delivered. And yes I am referring to the shit Quentin Davies and his Tory select committee member James Arbuthnott both on Radio 5 last evening.
It makes it sound like there is a plan – and I’m just not sure that’s true.
However little gem is the purchase of 22 new Chinook helicopters (and please God, let them have bought the ones with the up-to-date avionics, so that there is a fighting chance that they can be used. And please, Father Christmas, can you grant me the festive wish, that some twit hasn’t decided to try and bolt some bits on in Britain to please some sour faced constituency MP about to lose his or her bell tower in an end of expenses electoral shocker) in exchange for the Harriers at Cottesmore and a squadron of Tornados.
Now, the helicopters are needed. No question about it. Sooner than 2013 would be nice (could we not lease them sooner?) because we might not have the money to continue fighting in Afghanistan nor Iraq come 2013, but forgive me when I say did a certain US President not commit a withdrawl by then, are we to remain on our own?, and could we not have a defence review to decide exactly what it is we are doing in the whole defence/security realm? Just a little one?
Because, we can debate endlessly the timeless classics of British defence:
* East of Suez
* The Special Relationship
* Nukes or no nukes
* Our special role as maritime power
We can debate them. And I’m sure we will. But what I think would be nice is if the UK could adopt a set of hard and fast preferences – things which will remain stable for 30-50years. And within these preferences there will be, of course, policies and events that test the stability of the preference. But we are without preferences at the moment. We want to be transatlantic, but we want to be European… we want to be a bridge between the two. And a naval power, and a humanitarian force.. oh, and a provider of aid, ooo, and a nuclear power, but not one that would ever use them, oh, and we’d like to do it cheaply please. Yesterday.
According to Pugh/Augustine curve projections there will be no navy by 2040. Because the costs will be too high to sustain it. Tinkering around the edges of the defence budget, and defence provision just simply no longer cuts the mustard. We have to come up with some stable preferences – that genuinely reflect our abilities and the size of our wallet – and we need to stick to them. I would say ‘bye-bye carriers’, but I’d have a swift pound that BAE will have made the government promise to give them £30bn quid for work in lieu.
Give me f*****g strength........
H/T to Rob Dover