Nicolas Clark: The Government’s defence plans are based on a stark choice – ‘go large’ or ‘go smart’

26 Mar

Nicolas Clark works in the defence sector and is the co-founder of Conservative Friends of the Armed Forces. 

As many start to decipher the Defence Command Paper (‘Defence in a Competitive Age’) it will likely leave them conflicted: with our proud military history do we not need numbers to be considered serious, and to support our allies? Are our elite forces really enough to achieve what we need?

At the heart of the matter is this question: why does our military exist?

For the modern day the primary answer must be to keep both our society and interests, as well as those of our allies, safe Safe from whom? Those who would do us harm of course.

But who are ‘they’, what are they looking to do to us, and how can we best prepare ourselves to address their threats?

Firstly, we have to accept a reality, unpopular for many; Britannia does not rule the waves. Yes, we are good at what we do, better than most, and we are an important ally, but gone are the days where we are likely to take on a peer enemy head to head, alone. It is not impossible that we could do this, but it is more probable that we would enter a conflict alongside any number of our allies.

Secondly, the nature of conflict has changed. A decade ago, talk of cyber hackers, hyper-sonic missiles, directed energy weapons, micro-drones and loyal wingmen (unmanned fighters linked to a manned fighter) were things of science fiction. To put this in context, about a decade ago the army still wore that green camouflage (DPM), Osama bin-Laden and Muammar Gaddafi had been killed, and David Cameron had become Prime Minister in the Coalition Government.

Today the science fiction is becoming science reality and the focus is on hybrid threats (propaganda, deception and sabotage) and actions being carried out within the ‘grey zone’ that exists between war and peace.

Finally, we have to accept the financial situation. We don’t’ have the financial means to maintain a large force, or the collective will to prioritise the military over education, welfare or healthcare. Continuing to spend two per cent of GDP on defence in line with NATO requirements is just about acceptable to many, but does not carry a public majority. As the British Empire grew, its finances could support a large military, and soldiers whether from home or abroad were cheap. I need not elaborate on how this has changed but we must recognise that it is now in Asia that the growth in military stature is taking place.

Faced with this, should we really be going down to an army smaller in size than that of the 1700s? Well size does matter, but it matters if you want to hold large areas of ground. If you accept that we do not want to do this in the future by conventional means, or alone, then you should also be able to recognise that if you cannot ‘go large’, you should ‘go smart’. I would argue that ‘Defence in a Competitive Age’ is a smart solution.

The threat of terrorism still exists of course, particularly where it is sponsored by foreign states; think not just Iran but also Russian activities in Salisbury and North Korean assassinations. Whilst we and our allies became embroiled in Iraq and Afghanistan our adversaries were watching. They noted our mistakes, our conventional military solutions, and they planned.

Not necessarily in new ways – often they went back to basics; Russia to techniques of disinformation and propaganda associated with the World and Cold Wars, and China to Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, and the Peoples’ Liberation Army’s 1999 text ‘Unrestricted Warfare’. To see these strategies in practice one only need look at Russian activity in Eastern Ukraine and Chinese influence in Australia. It is not a coincidence that the Nordic and Baltic countries remained focused, throughout the ‘War on Terror’ years, on the threat that sits on their doorstep, Russia.

Consequently, the technologies and approaches of Sweden and Norway are particularly designed to counter Russian aggression and why they are now particularly strategic allies for the UK. We do need to learn from these examples, and fast.

Without descending into War Studies; Sun Tzu talked about choosing the right strategy for the right conditions but not fighting unless you had to, and, if you had to, fighting smart. Indeed, he said that the superior way of winning a war was by not fighting, i.e. defeating your opponent before it came to battle. Finally, of relevance, is how you should fight the fight that fits the weapons you have, and consequently make the weapons that fit the fight you intend to have.

So, a smaller, highly-trained and capable force, that can deliver a surgical physical strike, that is integrated with cyber, space and electronic warfare capabilities, is a logical direction to take. When married with a maritime force, long-range accurate strike capabilities, and advanced aviation and space asset, the expeditionary effect of your force becomes incredibly potent, arguably multiplied to be much greater than the sum of its parts.

What does this all mean? Well in scenarios where you quickly wanted to support your Norwegian or Australian allies you could get there quickly from air or sea and deploy your air (Paras), land (Rangers) or sea (Commandos), with a variety of physical and invisible technologies, that would deliver the swift Bruce Lee ‘chop’ that helps to stop an aggressor in its tracks. The slow, but powerful, Mike Tyson alternative (the British Army of old) might well turn up to the fight too late and have found its gloves stolen on route.

Upsetting the apple cart at this juncture is probably the right thing to be doing. Cap badges and traditions have formed part of a proud military heritage but we need to rethink the core purpose of our military for the future. It is right to play to our historic strengths but not to be weighed down by them, and to look instead to how we can repurpose for our future challenges.

Investing in technology is key, and has a symbiotic benefit between economy and capability. Supporting allies overseas through engagement projects influence, and working with our partners builds stronger allegiances that we know others seek to weaken.

Of course, we can’t enter a cold war with those that threaten our way of life, but with whom we also trade, on a whim. However, we can prepare to deal with them effectively if it is required of us, and we can insulate ourselves from their malign intentions. What remains to be seen is whether the Ministry of Defence, in the implementation of this paper, can overcome the hurdle of the historic “general ineptitude” with which it was branded by the Defence Select Committee and see this laudable ambition through to fruition.

Andrew Gimson’s PMQs sketch: Davies wonders whether the Prime Minister is a Conservative

24 Mar

Philip Davies (Con, Shipley) raised a question which troubles many Tory backbenchers:

“To paraphrase the late, great, much-missed Eric Forth, Mr Speaker, I believe in individual freedoms and individual responsibility, I believe that individuals make better decisions for themselves, their families and their communities than the state makes for them, I loathe the nanny state, and I believe in cutting taxes. Prime Minister, am I still a Conservative?”

In other words, Prime Minister, are you still a Conservative?

This is dangerous territory for Johnson. One day, when he is down on his luck, those Tory backbenchers will hold his fate in their hands, and not a few of them will say it all went wrong because he abandoned the true Tory faith as proclaimed by Forth and Davies.

Johnson took refuge in brevity: “Yes, Mr Speaker,” he declared with emphasis, provoking an appreciative laugh from the House, and left it at that.

Sir Keir Starmer had earlier attempted, like Davies, to indicate that the Prime Minister is not a true Conservative.

He reminded us that Johnson had promised not to cut the size of the armed forces, yet was now doing exactly that.

The Prime Minister retorted that the Army would still be 100,000 strong “if you include the reserves”, and made a crack at Jeremy Corbyn.

“Mr Speaker, he’s fighting the last war,” Sir Keir retorted, and pointed out that the regular army is to be cut from 82,000 to 72,500 by 2025, with cuts in planes, tanks and ships too.

Might Sir Keir be fighting the last war? None of us will know for certain until the next war comes and we discover whether we have the means to fight it.

The Prime Minister said it was “frankly satirical” to be lectured by Labour about the size of the Army, and mocked his opponent’s “new spirit of jingo”.

Sir Keir retorted that the Prime Minister lacked the “courage” to admit what was happening, or to put the cuts to a vote in the House.

So is the main charge against the PM that he is untrustworthy, that he is cowardly, or simply that he is not a Conservative?

The Leader of the Opposition has not yet decided where to place the Schwerpunkt, as Clausewitz would have termed it, of his attack on Johnson.

After all, the trouble with pointing out that the Prime Minister is not a Conservative is that this might increase his already quite noticeable popularity with Labour voters.

Sarah Ingham: After the party, the hangover. This week, the Integrated Review. Next Monday, defence cuts?

20 Mar

Sarah Ingham is the author of The Military Covenant.

As civilians bask in the sunlit vision of Global Britain described in Tuesday’s Integrated Review, this is an anxious weekend for the country’s military.

Monday’s Defence Command Paper will set out the future for Britain’s Armed Forces. The lull between the two Reviews is less than a week, but it might well represent the gulf between the dreams and reality.

As the Prime Minister set out his plan for Global Britain in a Competitive Age, the fizzing, optimistic Boris we know, love and elected with a stonking 80-seat majority was back.

Global Britain outlined the country’s security and international policy objectives for the next five years and beyond. The Prime Minister-penned foreword crackles with can-do about a stronger, more secure and prosperous Britain being a force for good in the world. In the Commons on Tuesday, he was no less upbeat. Britain would be a science superpower, lead by example on Carbon Net Zero, and be ‘more dynamic abroad.’ Not for Britons ‘the cramped horizons of a regional foreign policy.’

Few listening seem to have been troubled by the paradox that the horizons of Britain’s citizens are currently pretty cramped as we are currently under house arrest and forbidden to leave the country to see the world which the Prime Minister was describing. Planet Integrated Review is not only post-pandemic but is a place where the West seems mysteriously unaffected by its governments icing their economies for a year and racking up trillions in debt.

Global Britain was described as ‘the most comprehensive Review since the Cold War’. For those connected to the Armed Forces with long memories of previous Defence Reviews, this phrase probably caused hearts to sink a tad.

Following the fall of the Soviet Union, in July 1990 John Major’s government published Options for Change, its post-Cold War assessment of Britain’s future defence capability. Its aim was ‘smaller forces, better equipped, properly trained and housed and well-motivated.’

Many Forces’ personnel were right to stop listening after ‘smaller’: the government aimed to cut strength by 18 per cent over five years, down to 155,000 Servicemen and women.

Highlighting the difference between the theory of defence reviews and the actual practice of international events, less than a week after the launch of Options for Change, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. For all the talk of The End of History and President George HW Bush’s new world order, within weeks British armour and boots were on the ground in Saudi Arabia ahead of the Gulf War.

The swingeing cuts to the Royal Navy outlined in the 1981 Defence Review were on the brink of being implemented just as Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands. Had the Buenos Aires junta delayed, the core of the naval task force – HMSs Hermes, Invisible, Fearless and Intrepid – would have probably been scrap and Port Stanley today would still be renamed Puerto Argentino. Sir Lawrence Freedman, the official historian of the conflict, observed that the Falklands ‘was precisely the war for which Britain was planning least’.

While the Blair government’s 1998 Strategic Defence Review is lauded for trying to marry strategic ends and military means, its successors failed to anticipate how protracted the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan might be. The Coalition’s abysmal 2010 Review saw the sell-off of Forces’ family silver, including the Royal Navy’s flagship HMS Ark Royal and RAF Nimrods.

Having banged on about the Military Covenant – the unwritten compact by which Forces’ personnel will be supported in exchange for their service to the nation – David Cameron was caught on camera being berated by a soon-to-be-unemployed Harrier pilot whose fleet was about to be axed. A UK aircraft carrier might have come in handy during the 2011 NATO intervention in Libya when France deployed the Charles de Gaulle.

Despite Boris Johnson’s assertion that Global Britain is not a reflection of old obligations, the Integrated Review’s tilt to the Indo-Pacific region inevitably conjures up the UK’s long-lost military and naval reach, which stretched far beyond the Mediterranean. The January 1968 decision to withdraw from all bases East of Suez – which marked a turning point in Britain’s defence and foreign policy – was not made in any Review but on ‘black Tuesday’ by a Harold Wilson Cabinet buffeted by the shock devaluation of sterling two months earlier.

In the context of defence, Global Britain reinforces the direction of travel for the Armed Forces set out in September’s Integrated Operating Concept. In a speech on the IOC, the Chief of the Defence Staff General, Sir Nick Carter highlighted how Britain’s military must shift from ‘an industrial age of platforms to an information age of systems’. In November, the Prime Minister announced that defence spending would be boosted by £16.5 billion over the next five years, with £6.6 billion going to research and development, particularly AI.

Global Britain underlines the ongoing commitment to NATO, how current defence spending at 2.2 per cent of GDP exceeds the Alliance’s minimum, and that the Government is on the starting blocks to begin the biggest programme of defence investment for three decades, which will include the newer battlegrounds of cyber and space.

Along with the exhilarating prospect of the next generation of naval vessels, Dreadnought submarines and the Future Combat Air System, is the intent towards ‘reshaping our Armed Forces for a more competitive edge’. Andy Smith, the Director of Defence UK observes: ‘The Integrated Review is a very good start, but until we see more of the details on funding and capabilities, the jury is out.’

We will have confirmation on Monday about whether Britain’s Armed Forces are to be the world’s most technologically advanced, able more effectively to operate in the grey zone between war and peace – and will be smaller.

Garvan Walshe: The Integrated Review’s tilt to Asia could leave us vulnerable closer to home – and Putin

18 Mar

Garvan Walshe is a former National and International Security Policy Adviser to the Conservative Party

The Integrated Review has emerged as two documents in one. Much of it focuses on trying to bring together different types of threat to our security – from hostile states to terrorist groups, hybrid warfare and misinformation, as well as longer term problems like climate change.

It is full of sensible recommendations for “deeper integration across government”, better crisis management, more coherent policy development and so forth. This is as fine as it is not new (remember Tony Blair’s “joined-up government”?). It would be strange policy paper indeed that advocated the promotion of incoherence and the implementation of contradictory policies.

But government always has to do many different things at once, each making compelling (but often contradictory) demands on policy, reflecting different political constituencies and requirements, and promoted by people with the different personal agendas, as is to be expected in a democracy. Addressing this diversity takes time and thought that is always in short supply. The review is part of that process of thought, and worthwhile for that reason alone.

It is also the first serious attempt at developing a new foreign policy doctrine for the UK since Brexit, and the Government has been wise to wait until the end of the Trump Administration before releasing it.

An unstable, corrupt, semi-authoritarian United States would have made an uncomfortable partner indeed in a world otherwise dominated by a resentful European Union and an assertive China. It is Biden’s restoration of sane, boring US leadership that makes a realistic post-Brexit foreign and security policy feasible. The Review is right to worry about China’s rise, and right, too, to recognise that the post-cold war world moment of Atlantic triumph is passing.

This last half decade has seen the return of geopolitics in the assertion of power by an adventurous Russia and an increasingly hardfline China.

Yet if there is cause for concern in this Review it is that the politics has crowded out the geo. Take, for instance, increasing the cap of available nuclear warheads. Perhaps it is useful to have the freedom to have more available, but without more submarines to launch them it is hard to see what practical they could it could have. It’s not as if the new Dreadnought-class submarines would have time, during a nuclear exchange, to swim back up the Clyde to reload. The proposal did, however, managed to nicely provoke the left.

It’s the “geo” that should give more pause for thought. The Review grandly divides the world into “Euro-Atlantic” and “Indo-Pacific” regions, without really acknoweledging that we’re right in the middle of one of them, and 6,000 miles away from the other.

I’m all in favour of standing up to Chinese aggression (and was even involved in this effort to come up with some ideas about how it might be done), and the Government, again, is right to reverse the beggary of the Osborne-Mandelson erea, when Falun Gong flags were removed from protestors lest they offend the Chinese premier, and the unwise and expensive contract for Hinkley Point C was agreed. Yet strategy is the art of applying means to secure ends, and this is where the Review’s “Indo-Pacific tilt” falls short.

It is indeed the case that the most serious threats to democracy and freedom on this planet are likely to emerge from the Chinese Communist Party, but it doesn’t follow from that that Britain’s main role should involve the prepositioning of military equipment in Asia.

Rather, the greater risk of conflict in Asia means that the UK’s aviation and maritime capability would be required to maintain deterrence against Russia in the event of a major conflict in Asia on which US resources had to be concentrated.

That would clearly be much harder achieve if most of the Royal Navy is in the Pacific protecting the Queen Elizabeth from Chinese anti-ship missiles. Such back-filling may not be the most exciting task but, given the facts of geography tilting to Asia, we risk finding ourselves in the position of the 1990s Colombian goalkeeper Higuita, who would pay upfield while leaving his net undefended.

It is in Europe, after all where Russia tries to make inroads, to the alarm of Poland, the Baltic states and the Nordic countries. It is to Europe’s south where the main ungoverned spaces that host terrorist training camps survive, and it is to Europe’s south-east where a difficult Turkey-EU relationship poses problems in the Western Balkans and Aegean.

And as much as the natural impulse of Brexit is to prove Britain’s openness and optimism by striking out to Asia, the Indo-Pacific tilt increases Britain’s security dependence on Europe, and in particular on the EU’s own institutions that are growing in military and policy-coordination capability. The debate in Paris and Berlin as well as the more traditionally integrationalist Brussels Rome, and Madrid now centres around achieving “strategic autonomy” (code for being able to do more without the US) for a more integrated European policy bloc. One of the strongest arguments against it has been that doing so would unnecessarily alienate the UK, whose interests also require it to contribute to European security.

The creation of such a strategically autonomous bloc has not, to put it mildly, been a British foreign policy objective over the last few hundred years, but a British decision to concentrate on projecting power in Asia would leave gaps, in the event that the United States is unable or unwilling to come to Europe’s defence. If the Government is convinved that a tilt to the Indo-Pacific is in the national interest, it needs to give more thought to who will backfill for us, and in particular our Nordic allies, when the next Russian provocation comes.

James Sunderland: The Integrated Review. To project power in the world, we musn’t skimp on support arms and force protection

15 Mar

James Sunderland is MP for Bracknell.

You’ve got to take your hat off to the Secretary of State for Defence. With speculation rising to fever pitch ahead of the imminent publication of the Integrated Review of security, defence, development and foreign policy, hardly a day goes by without yet another story appearing in the national press about what is being cut from the Royal Navy, Army or Royal Air Force.

As a man who has nobly carried on his shoulders this most ambitious and far-reaching of all defence reviews for years, you can hardly blame Ben Wallace for keeping tight-lipped. Having an extra £16.5 billion to spend on shiny new toys is perhaps the stuff of dreams, but predicting the future is a tricky business, and our enemies are unlikely to fight as we might expect. The element of surprise is everything.

In addition, not only must the Ministry of Defence fulfil its clear imperative to keep our national secrets safe, but it is surely the most susceptible of all Government departments to the friendly persuasion of so many armchair experts.

With our retired admirals, generals and air marshals, in particular, refusing to bow out gracefully, journalists poised to deploy their pens and Opposition MPs lining up to fire their opening salvo, is it any wonder that copious quantities of body armour are being issued to officials along the corridors of Whitehall?

Sadly, the excellent Defence Secretary may himself need to be first in the queue – for no other reason than he is the fall guy who will ultimately have to take responsibility for what he must now glean from his crystal ball. And to be frank, it is a near-impossible task.

At the heart of the review is the need for the UK to properly define its future role in the world. In true ‘chicken and egg’ fashion, my view is that policy follows strategy, so it stands to reason that our global strategy will pave the way for the next generation of foreign and defence policy aims that will see us to 2030 and beyond.

But, as always, the reality is somewhat more complex. For as long as the UK continues to see itself as a global player, which of course we must, our ongoing and rightful commitment to a seat on the altar of the United Nations Security Council comes with responsibilities that cannot be sacrificed, not least our independent nuclear deterrent. So the review must not just tackle how we allocate the recent increase in defence spending to beyond 2.2 per cent of GDP, but where, when, and why.

For those in any doubt, defence spending is a necessary evil to keep us safe. Today, we face a multitude of threats in multiple domains, some are known to us and some are not, and we are living in an era of constant competition and persistent engagement with our foes. Sub-threshold conflict pervades all around us and it’s a dichotomy perhaps that, in this era of relative peace and prosperity, our future has also rarely been less certain or predictable, not least in the new battlegrounds of space and cyber.

So the UK needs an insurance policy and, thanks to the financial commitment of this Government, the Ministry of Defence finds itself in the rare position of being able to think long-term with its capability planning. This provides certainty, security, clarity, and the confidence to meet our ambition through longer term strategy.

But, as the perceived requirement for precision, stealth, remote and indirect weapons at distance becomes more acute, the bills that come with this are also increasing. Whilst we do still need to put boots on the ground, sailors in our ships and pilots in the air, it may just be that there are better ways of prosecuting military force in a way that does not decisively commit our forces to unacceptable physical risks.

My suspicion is that buying out this danger is one of the core challenges of the digital age, and there may not be a better time to bury bad news. And as Wallace knows, not least as a former Army officer, honouring every single sacred cow is the stuff of fantasy, and there may be blood on the carpet.

It is not for me to wax lyrical about what should be in the Integrated Review, but it seems obvious that the proverbial golf bag of military capability will need to carry a greater range of more expensive clubs. For a start, the golden thread that links hard power with soft power through global free trade, freedom of movement, cooperation and diplomacy, all under-pinned by military force, is persuasive.

Indeed, protecting our trade routes, oil reserves, sovereignty, exports and national interests will continue to require the availability of hard power at unlimited liability and at immediate readiness. If post-EU Britain is to maintain its global presence alongside increasingly ambitious competitors, perhaps even East of Suez, it is inevitable that truly expeditionary capabilities will be needed.

We must therefore enhance our ability to project force by being able to call upon the additional lift needed. So, our naval support vessels, ferries and long-range transport aircraft such as C17 and A400M will need to be augmented alongside our fighting platforms. And if our core assumption is still to put a divisional sized force anywhere in the world, with all of the support arms and force protection that comes with it, then going to the market for a commercial lift solution or contracted logistics cannot be the default setting. We skimp here at our peril.

Beyond this, the Navy will need more ships. As quantity does have a quantity of its own, I would like to see a larger surface fleet, perhaps with less capable platforms, to protect our carriers and enhance our global presence. And if we are to project power from land, sea and air, we will need to invest in our operating bases, not just at our traditional sites in Cyprus, Gibraltar and Ascension, but also at Diego Garcia, Bahrain, Singapore and beyond.

Coalitions will be a force-multiplier so existing defence relations with NATO, the UN, Five Eyes community, Five Powers Defence Agreement, EU and through bilateral deals with allies such as France should be reinforced. Greater integration between the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence, plus our intelligence services, GCHQ, cyber centres, Space Command and our diplomatic network will be essential too. Better aligning our foreign policy with defence policy in the light of the reduction from 0.7 per cent to 0.5 per cent of GDP will also be pivotal and we must not of course forget the need for a new industrial strategy to better support our nascent defence manufacturing industry. So, let’s again build British, buy British and sell British.

Irrespective of the conjecture that has recently appeared in the national press, I can state with certainty that two things will occur. The first is that our best brains have been working on the review for months, and that the final publication will be worth the wait. And the second is that it will be the most brilliant, comprehensive, and incisive analysis of modern defence and foreign policy requirements anywhere in the world for years.

As any armchair enthusiast knows, the first rule of politics is that there is no right and wrong, only degrees of judgement. So irrespective of how unpalatable the review may be to some, there is no doubt that the Secretary of State will be earning his money by standing up to be counted at the Despatch Box. And it may even be that body-armour will not be required.

Sarah Ingham: The Duchess, the Queen – and that Oprah interview. It’s time for Johnson to step in.

14 Mar

Dr Sarah Ingham is the author of The Military Covenant: Its Impact on Civil-Military Relations in Britain.

Boris Johnson may have wanted to be the reincarnation of Winston Churchill, but it looks increasingly likely that he has to be the next Stanley Baldwin.

Baldwin played a crucial role in the Abdication of King Edward VIII in 1936: as the leader of Her Majesty’s Government,  Johnson must step in and help sort out the constitutional mess that is being created by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

Make no mistake, the fall-out from the Sussexes’ interview with Oprah Winfrey is perilous for the future of the Crown. The monarchy is the symbol of Britain’s national unity or it is nothing.

Thanks to the insinuations by Prince Harry and his wife, the heir to the throne and his successor stand accused of being racists. At the time of writing, it is not known who speculated about the skin tone of the Sussex’s unborn child: although the couple deigned not identify the culprit, they intimated that such conjecture was made from the basest of motives.

The Queen’s response to the interview, which has now been watched by tens of millions, stated that the matter will be dealt with privately. No one can blame her for not wanting any more royal monogrammed linen to be washed in public, but the Sussex’s accusations are a matter of state.

Racism is a grievous accusation to level against any individual or institution. It is often career-ending, as the Duchess’s close friend Jessica Mulroney can attest.

In the last 12 months, British society has become increasingly polarised about race. Taking the knee, Black Lives Matter, the Edward Colston statue, slave-ownership and National Trust properties, Covid and the BAME community …we are living in fractious, fissiparous times. This is all the more reason why the Crown must be believed not only to be above the political fray, but, more importantly, above suspicion in connection with that most socially divisive of all political issues: racism.

In a constitutional monarchy, the personal is political. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have raised the spectre that a future head of state is a racist. Should any politician have a similar accusation made against them, it is highly unlikely that they would ever become Prime Minister, having weekly audiences with the sovereign.

And not content with doing their best to destabilize the monarchy, the Sussexes are threatening free speech and the freedom of the press.

Reports that a Royal Duchess brought pressure to bear on ITV, one of Britain’s national broadcasters are alarming. Can we look forward to the company’s new series – Britain’s Got Feudalism?

Just as ITV’s share price began to plummet following the departure from Good Morning Britain of that Scourge of Sussex, Piers Morgan, The Sun was carrying another report on media interference by the Duke and Duchess: their PR people allegedly told the BBC not to use just ‘old white men’ in any post-interview analysis. Shall we all sit down to Are You Being Serfs?

Holly Lynch, a Labour MP, demanded that a media environment be created ‘where a woman isn’t hounded in the way we saw Meghan Markle being hounded’. Presumably, she is not talking about Vanity Fair cover stories or guest editorships of Vogue.

“What Meghan wants, Meghan gets” should have remained the outburst of a besotted fiancé, never becoming the guiding principle of a publicly-listed television company or of our state broadcaster. It certainly should not be a call-to-arms by a Labour MP, whose Halifax constituents are probably wondering why she is choosing to channel her energies into the plight of a wealthy duchess living the dream in California.

Of course, Britain could be thanking the Sussexes for providing us with a much-needed diversion from the longueurs of lockdown. Giving us plenty to pick over, the Oprah interview raised questions in households up and down the land, not least how the American duchess can cope with Harry’s English teeth. Indeed, slanted a different way, injected with a bit more gratitude and grace, the programme might have been considered an act of ‘universal’ service that the couple alluded to last month when they lost their royal patronages.

Instead, a family psychodrama has been played out in public, creating one of the biggest crises in the Queen’s long reign. What are Commonwealth countries making of the Sussexes’ allegations?

Living in the United States, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are no longer invested in this country. They are heedless of the damage they are currently doing to Britain or to the Crown. How many more incendiary interviews will there be in the years ahead? There are also the long hours of podcasts and broadcasts the Sussexes have to fill for Spotify and Netflix, who will be wanting their multi-million dollar of flesh.

As a British Army Officer, Prince Harry took an oath of allegiance to ‘honestly and faithfully defend Her Majesty, her heirs and successors’. We can infer from the interview that this is now irrelevant to him. Why should he remain one of those successors?

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex received their titles and status as working royals, but they resigned more than a year ago. Boris Johnson must find his inner Stanley Baldwin and act.  Her Prime Minister should advise the Queen that as private citizens, the Sussexes can intervene in politics, jeopardise the monarchy and try to muzzle the press and free speech all they like.  He should suggest that, however, Britain cannot risk allowing them, in any royal capacity, to trash this country or its institutions ever again.

Fiyaz Mughal: Britain must honour its obligations to Afghan translators who served with our soldiers

11 Mar

Fiyaz Mughal is the founder of counter-extremist organisation Faith Matters, and the anti-Muslim national hate crime monitoring project, Tell MAMA.

I first came across the case of Mohammed Nabi Wardak in 2017 through the work of a young British woman, Jess Webster, who founded ‘Forge for Humanity’, an Athens-based not-for-profit organisation helping refugees who were streaming in from Syria during the civil war.

Jess told me that Mohammed was living on the streets of Athens and that he had fled Afghanistan because he had worked for British forces in Helmand and had been repeatedly targeted by the Taliban; the very Taliban that are now part of a peace process in Afghanistan and who continue to attack civilians, women and those deemed to have supported British, American and ISAF forces in country.

Moved by this case, I set up a petition for Mohammed to be relocated to the UK with his family, which garnered over 135,000 signatures. Yet there was no response from any Government department. So I delved further into his case and flew out to Athens in 2018 to meet with him at my own expense.

I found a man suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and who had been living on the streets of Athens. He had arrived in Greece through the route that Syrian refugees had been taking via Turkey and he has been imprisoned on his arrival, humiliated and then dumped on the streets of Athens to cater for himself. He was simply alive because of the charity of members of the public, the support from ‘Forge for Humanity’, and by people giving him any left over water in bottles. He had also slept on park benches and he ended up in hospital with suspected kidney failure due to dehydration at one point.

Mohammed was an Afghan forces translator who joined the Afghan forces to push back the Taliban, since he saw the danger they had posed to progress in his country. He believed in the messages that Western forces had brought to Afghanistan, those of ‘peace’, ‘progress’ and ‘stability’ and he joined up whilst in his late teens. These messages resonated with him and he ended up being one of the leading translators for British forces in places like Kajaki and in Helmand province.

He saw action in the field, lost Afghan colleagues, and saw his friends die as they stepped on mines, as they patrolled with British forces. His translations and directions in the heat of battle when British forces had contact with the Taliban may well have saved British lives.

Between 2008-2011, Mohammed saw fierce action with British forces in Helmand. I have seen the commendations and certificates congratulating him from British officers in the field for his bravery and his calm under fire. During these three years of service, Mohammed and his family were repeatedly threatened because of his support for British forces. It culminated in a kidnapping attempt by Taliban sympathisers with the aim of assassinating him. Their attempt was loaded with this message: anyone helping ISAF, British and American forces was a target to be killed.

These threats meant that Mohammed left the employ of British forces on two occasions, because of pressure from his family, relatives, and those who did not want to see him dead in a gutter.

Finally, around 2014, an attempt to capture Mohamed and the subsequent targeting of his family led to him fleeing Afghanistan, with the hope that the Taliban would leave his family alone. Mohammed walked and hitch-hiked to Iran where Iranian border guards robbed him, beat him, and sent him back. He entered again and this time made it on foot to Turkey where he was used for cheap labour as a shepherd, just to survive and to try and to get to Europe. Eventually, abused and maltreated, he crossed into Greece on a rubber boat in 2016, which led to more beatings and grinding homelessness in Greece.

As I write this in March 2021, Mohammed is still in a refugee camp in Athens, where murders and threats form part of the cycle of life. I have made repeated attempts to get the Government to look at the case of Mohammed and his family, as the Taliban are now entrenched into the areas where his family reside in Afghanistan. The initial responses from the Ministry of Defence had not taken into account the threats to Mohammed and his family and stipulated that because he left the employment of British forces, he could not be included in the Afghan Locally Employed Ex-Gratia Scheme, where relocation was only possible for those who were still employed with British forces when we formally withdrew from Afghanistan.

Since 2018, I have campaigned with others so that Afghan translators like Mohammed could be protected under a duty of care that is based on trust. These staff trusted us enough to put their lives on the line for our country, now we must step up and live up to that trust.

In October 2021, Ben Wallace MP, the Secretary of State for Defence, made changes to this scheme. Local Afghan staff and translators who resigned and who worked for more than a year with British forces in Afghanistan can be included in the scheme. This change must be warmly welcomed and the Secretary of State made the right moves.

That was six months ago and the Taliban are on the verge of power sharing in Afghanistan and emboldened enough to target and kill those that go against their fundamentalist Islamist principles. Whilst the Government have shifted, now is the time to move quickly and to bring Mohammed and the many others out there, into the safety of our country with their families. Each day that passes, places them and their loved ones at risk.

In the end, they stood with us, now we must stand with them in their hour of need.

Barney Campbell: The case for a new national service scheme – driven by incentives, not compulsion

8 Mar

Barney Campbell is on the approved candidates list having previously stood in Easington in the 2017 election. He is the author of ‘Rain’, a novel about the war in Afghanistan.

Moving on from the Budget, the next big document to have ink spilt over its fallout is the forthcoming Integrated Defence Review.

As ever with Defence Reviews, this one will see the following: cuts in personnel levels; investment in new technologies; usage of the words ‘agile’ and ‘lean’ as euphemisms for ‘depleted’; the MoD get a kicking from the old and bold; and almost zero attention from a public who, while they hold servicemen and women in high regard, neither know nor care very much about defence policy at the best of times, let alone while navigating the reverse slope of a pandemic.

The Government will take criticism of it on the chin; few voters pick defence as their hill to die on.

Where the Review should make a bold move is in trying to bridge the increasing gulf between the military and the rest of society, and by doing so strengthen both. The means of doing this is a new kind of national service, one focused not on a push from government but by the pull of the private sector post-service.

The concept of national service as we know it from the twentieth century is long dead. Firstly, and most obviously, we inhabit an entirely different world to the Forties and Fifties, when there was such extraordinary turmoil that the nascent Cold War and the retreat from Empire demanded that we maintained forces around the globe in a variety of commitments that simply don’t exist now.

Secondly, the greatest argument against enforced conscription has always been that the military doesn’t want unwilling recruits, far preferring the volunteer spirit: ‘better one volunteer than ten pressed men’, as the saying has it. But what about encouraging people to be volunteers?

Service in the Armed Forces produces an undisputed good for society, not only from the period of that service but also after it has taken place, putting back into civil society people steeped in socially invaluable principles. These include selfless commitment; discipline; teamwork; respect for others; and knowledge that a person’s background matters not a bit in comparison to their drive and desire to get on.

One of the subsidiary problems created by a smaller military, aside from the actual weakening of the country’s means to defend itself, is that the rest of society understands it less, being less exposed to those people who are in it.

For those leaving service, civilian employers’ understanding of how their hard-won and valuable skills might be transferable is reduced. This in turn threatens to create the prospect of the post-military jobs landscape being so unpromising it actively deters people from joining in the first place, not only depriving the country of their service but also, as above, the extremely valuable post-service benefits they can bring to society.

There are good initiatives in existence, such as the Defence Employer Recognition Scheme that employers sign up to that encourages them to engage ex-servicemen and women and builds awareness of the benefits that the veteran community can provide them. Currently the scheme has 355 ‘Gold’ employers (mostly large organisations), 986 ‘Silver’ and 3,170 ‘Bronze’ (mostly smaller employers). The recent introduction of the Veterans Railcard is also a generous addition that expresses the gratitude of government to those who have served.

But what is needed is more radical than that. To help to integrate Defence into society at large, military service should be made attractive not just to those who wish to serve but to their future civilian employers too. It should be done in a way that does not compromise the volunteer spirit but rather encourages it when it might otherwise falter.

I propose that any employer who engages a veteran should be excused paying National Insurance Contributions (NICs) on that employee for the length of time that that individual spent in the military. By doing so you bridge the gap between the military and civil society, keep the military an attractive place to spend part of your career, and help to keep the steady flow of military values and standards into society.

My personal wish, for what it is worth, is far greater than the aspirations of this already ambitious policy. Once such a scheme has been rolled out and had its concept proved it should be expanded so that anyone at all who is on the public sector payroll finds themselves the beneficiary of the same scheme. Spend two years working for the NHS, five as a teacher, one working for your local council? Your immediate future private sector employer is excused that same period of paying NICs on you when you start work for them. Will it happen? Probably not. But worth thinking about.

Profile: Ben Wallace, one of Johnson’s Long Marchers, and a traditional but also irreverent Defence Secretary

26 Jan

Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, is not just another cautious career politician who has risen by taking immense pains never to say or do anything interesting.

He might, it is true, be mistaken at first glance for that type. He is capable, when he puts his mind to it, of being as dull as any of his Cabinet colleagues.

The last two Defence Secretaries, Penny Mordaunt (May to July 2019) and Gavin Williamson (November 2017 to May 2019), often courted publicity.

Wallace, on the whole, does not. He might pass, in his Brigade tie, for a quiet clubman, looking somewhat older than his 50 years, a bit of an anachronism and most likely a bore.

His friends insist this is quite wrong: “He’s great company. A good mimic. He sends people up. He sends deeply inappropriate memes on WhatsApp. I could tell you about the time he was serving in Northern Ireland…”

But in the words of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, this exploit is like “the giant rat of Sumatra, a story for which the world is not yet prepared”.

Wallace’s irreverence is perhaps one of the things that in 2014 led him to conclude, and tell his fellow Lancashire MP Jake Berry, that when there was a vacancy, Boris Johnson should become the next leader of the Conservative Party.

This was not, at the time, a fashionable opinion. Johnson was not even in Parliament, many Conservative MPs distrusted him, and the party machine was firmly in the hands of David Cameron and George Osborne.

Wallace and Berry are Long Marchers, who seemed to have nothing much to hope for under Cameron, and supported Johnson well before victory seemed within the latter’s grasp.

Berry told ConHome:

“Both of us understood as northern MPs what it takes to win the North as Conservatives. We always believed Boris Johnson was the person who could win in the North – who could get under the skin of northern voters in the way that David Cameron couldn’t.”

Irreverence can be a valuable quality, for one way Johnson reaches northern voters is by refusing to take pious London commentators as seriously as those commentators take themselves.

Wallace told Berry he would go and see Johnson, let him know of their support, and offer to help him to find a seat in London for the 2015 general election.

They also began, with others including Nigel Adams and Amanda Milling, to hold curry evenings at Johnson’s house in Islington so he could meet and get to know Conservative MPs.

Johnson came back into the Commons in 2015 as MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, and took time to find his feet. Early the following year, when the EU Referendum campaign was about to start and Johnson was wavering between Leave and Remain, Wallace urged him in emphatic terms to back Remain, and told him that siding with Leave would mean being allied with such “clowns” as Nigel Farage, and would lead to the loss of 30 parliamentary votes in any future leadership campaign.

Loyalty in Wallace’s book means telling your leader, in private, when you think he is being a damn fool. Johnson rejected the advice, led Leave to an unexpected victory, and became, after Cameron’s breakfast-time resignation, front-runner to be the next Prime Minister.

The referendum victors were exhausted, which is one reason why they were not thinking straight. Michael Gove told Johnson he would support him for the leadership, and Johnson allowed his campaign, run by Wallace and by Lynton Crosby, to be more or less taken over by the Gove team.

A week after the referendum, on the morning of Thursday 30th June 2016, Gove unexpectedly announced that he was running himself for the leadership, whereupon Johnson threw in his hand.

Wallace proceeded, a few days later, to write a piece for The Daily Telegraph, in which he remarked:

“Just like the operational tours I used to deploy on in the Army, you learn a lot during the contest. You learn who to trust, you learn who is honourable and you learn who your friends are. Ultimately what matters in a campaign is not who you vote for, but how you conduct yourself – because we need a functioning party after the event.”

He offered this account of recent developments:

“When on Thursday morning, just before 9am, I got a call from a journalist asking me if it was true Michael Gove was deserting Boris, I denied it. It couldn’t have been true. Only the night before we had confirmed 97 names of supporters, and I knew of three more coming over that day. Michael hadn’t said anything or hinted at any frustrations over the previous four days so I presumed it was just another story from the ‘rumour mill’ that accompanies leadership campaigns.

“I walked round the corner to see Lynton Crosby, ashen white, taking a call from someone who turned out to be Michael Gove. ‘He has done the dirty on us, mate,’ were the words I remember most afterwards.”

In Wallace’s view, this made Gove – married to Sarah Vine, a columnist for The Daily Mail – unfit for Number Ten:

“One of the most privileged parts of my job as a Northern Ireland minister is to work alongside members of MI5 and the police. They work, every day, anonymously, to keep us safe. In their world loose talk costs lives. It does in a prime minister’s world too. UK citizens deserve to know that when they go to sleep at night their secrets and their nation’s secrets aren’t shared in the newspaper column of the prime minister’s wife the next day, or traded away with newspaper proprietors over fine wine.

“I always told Boris we needed to show that we had support from across the political spectrum. Vote Boris was not to be a takeover by Vote Leave, nor was it to be about an inner circle. But Michael thought otherwise.

“He already had Dominic Cummings (his former special adviser, who has the same effect on MPs as arsenic) making plans for who and how to run No 10.

“Whoever leads the Conservative Party needs to be trustworthy. We have a divided country and a divided parliamentary party. An untrustworthy ‘Brexiteer’ is no different from an untrustworthy ‘Remainer’. Governing is a serious business. It is not a game, nor is it a role play of House of Cards.

“Boris is many things, but nasty he is not. I remember when he made his decision to back Brexit I pleaded with him not to. I said it would lose him the leadership. But he said ‘sovereignty mattered more than anything’. At the time David Cameron was negotiating hard in Brussels. Boris agreed it would be dishonourable to pull the rug from under the PM as he sat at dinner with EU leaders trying to get the best for the UK. So he waited till he was back. Gove didn’t. That says it all.”

After the article appeared, Crosby sent Wallace a message: “Mate, you don’t miss.”

The piece is not one that anyone who read PPE at Oxford would be likely to have written. It indicates a different scale of values; a different idea of loyalty.

Wallace is unusual among modern Cabinet ministers, for he did not go to university. On leaving Millfield School, he spent a short time as a ski instructor at the Austrian National Ski School in Alpbach, before proceeding to the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.

At school, “a very old colonel, a Scotsman, who had been in the Royal Scots Greys” suggested to him and others that they join the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards.

But at Sandhurst, “all the college adjutants, nearly all the colour sergeants, and all the company sergeant majors were Guardsmen”, and Wallace decided instead to join the Scots Guards, with whom he served from 1991-98, being mentioned in dispatches in 1992 for leading a patrol which captured an IRA active service unit.

He was on duty the night the Princess of Wales died, and was the Guardsman sent over to retrieve her body.

On leaving the Scots Guards with the rank of captain, Wallace entered Conservative politics, and was elected in 1999 as a Member of the Scottish Parliament, where he served a single term.

He has described, somewhat indiscreetly, how the Queen might have played a part in his selection as a candidate. Scotland on Sunday nicknamed him Captain Fantastic, and convivial Scottish journalists claim in jest to have invented him.

In 2003, he moved to Lancashire, was returned in 2005 as the MP for Lancaster and Wyre, and since 2010 has sat for Wyre and Preston North.

This does not mean he has left his regiment behind. His Senior Parliamentary Assistant in the constituency is Alf Clempson, a former Warrant Officer in the Scots Guards, Wallace’s Platoon Sergeant in F Company, applying “the same Sergeants’ Mess and Household Division discipline to his job” now as he did then, while serving also as a Lancashire County Councillor.

In 2005, at the start of his maiden speech in the Commons, Wallace emitted another flash of feeling which would not probably have occurred to a PPE graduate:

“Yesterday, while I was waiting all day to be called, it struck me that a maiden speech is a bit like a first bungee jump, leap from an aeroplane or chance to walk a girl home—while one is waiting, one does not know whether one will get one’s chance; while one is waiting for the chance, one is not sure whether one has done the right thing.”

From 2010-14 Wallace served a convivial apprenticeship as PPS to Ken Clarke, followed by a year in the Whips’ Office and a year as a junior Northern Ireland minister.

In 2016 Theresa May, who had raised Johnson to the Foreign Office, sent Wallace to be Security Minister in the Home Office, where he spent three onerous years preserving a perfect discretion about the horrible matters with which he had to deal.

In the summer of 2019, Johnson’s second leadership campaign was flooded with ambitious MPs rushing to join the winning side, but Wallace the Long Marcher, though this time rather more backward in coming forward, was rewarded with the post of Defence Secretary.

In February 2020, when the Cabinet was reshuffled, “everyone was adamant,” an insider relates, “that Wallace should be sacked, but Johnson hunched his shoulders and insisted on keeping him.”

In an interview last October with ConservativeHome, Wallace expressed pride in the swift response of the armed forces when called on by the civil power to help deal with the pandemic.

The Defence Secretary demonstrated his ability to be not especially interesting when he chooses, but grew more animated at the end of the interview as he explained that he had criticised Labour for waging “unlawful wars” because those who served in those conflicts had found themselves exposed, long afterwards, to vexatious and unreasonable charges, for which the Government which had sent them to war without taking proper precautions against such proceedings must bear the ultimate responsibility.

Wallace does not bring to his post a capacity for airy theorising. He is a pragmatist, who in his speeches draws lessons from his own experience as a junior officer, which senior officers do not always regard as strictly relevant.

Mark Francois, a member of the Defence Select Committee, reckons Wallace is doing a good job. He says he brings continuity to a role which has had six occupants since 2010; has the ear of the Prime Minister; has the moral courage to give Johnson unwelcome advice (for example to keep the promise to protect Northern Ireland veterans against vexatious claims); and has recently obtained an excellent financial settlement from the Treasury.

Francois added that Wallace will have to make sure the extra money is not frittered away, as can so easily happen when long-term procurement programmes are based on absurdly optimistic assumptions.

Johnson is said to have promised to keep Wallace at the Ministry of Defence, charged with ensuring the money is properly spent, though both of them also hope that by spending considerable amounts of it in Scotland, the Union will be strengthened, and Johnson has high hopes for the future of British shipbuilding.

Conservative Party members think highly of Wallace, who is currently fourth in this site’s Cabinet league table.

Wallace has remarked that the Officer’ Messes of his youth were a mixture of “thrusters, characters, dreamers, and drifters…and in time of war you never know which is the one that pulls you out of trouble and is the great leader”.

In politics, as in war, one can never be sure who is going to come good, and who will turn out to be a dead loss. But Johnson is in some ways a more traditional, and pragmatic, Prime Minister than his critics are willing to recognise.

And in Wallace, he has appointed a traditional, and pragmatic, Defence Secretary, with “strange though quite well hidden qualities of empathy”, as one observer puts it, and deep feelings which only bubble to the surface at rare intervals.

Does cross-party support for the Mali mission signal a new consensus on deploying troops overseas?

11 Dec

Earlier this month John Healey, the Shadow Defence Secretary, wrote for this site demanding that the Government explain to Parliament its reasons for deploying 300 British troops to Mali as part of the ongoing United Nations peacekeeping mission there.

By good fortune, an official announcement about the decision was forthcoming the same day:

“300 UK troops have arrived in Mali as part of the UN’s peacekeeping mission, primarily drawn from the Light Dragoons alongside the Royal Anglian Regiment and supported by specialist trades from across the Armed Forces. The UK Task Force will provide a highly specialised reconnaissance capability, conducting patrols to gather intelligence and engage with the local population to help the UN respond to threats from violent extremism, and weak governance.”

In numbers terms this is a relatively small part of the 14,000-strong UN operation, although it is apparently providing a critical capability. Nor are the dragoons the first British troops on the ground in the Sahel. James Heappey, the Armed Forces Minister, pointed out in his statement to the House of Commons that we are also providing helicopter support to Operation Barkhane, the separate (and at over personnel, very substantial) French operation in the country.

But it is still significant. Heappey told MPs that “it is important to stress that deploying to MINUSMA does not come without risk”, and Healey that “Labour strongly support this commitment of UK troops to the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, and we do so with eyes wide open to the risks they face”. There is a real danger of British casualties from this deployment, and it marks the first time since Iraq that the UK has committed ‘boots on the ground’ (except for special forces) to a new theatre.

Does this reflect a slow rebuilding of cross-party political will to deploy the Armed Forces? David Cameron tried to do so in Syria, but was prevented by Ed Miliband’s gamesmanship. Perhaps it is in recognition of the consequences of that decision that Healey stresses Labour’s recognition of the interwoven humanitarian, development, and security cases for deploying now.