Anything goes in the build-up to a British general election. And the British people have certainly come to take for granted the endless stream of personal attacks, exaggerated claims, obfuscations and outright lies emanating from the main parties as they vie for position.
But jaded as we are, one still has to admire the gall displayed by David Cameron – a privileged, cosseted man who has never served a day in uniform – when he takes it upon himself to publicly question the patriotism and motivation of Britain’s senior military officers.
The Prime Minister, in full electioneering and damage control mode, did exactly this when responding to the growing chorus of concerns from current and ex-service chiefs alarmed at the degradation of Britain’s military capability and the prioritisation of almost every other area of government spending at the expense of the Defence budget.
The Telegraph reports:
David Cameron appears to have questioned the motives of senior military figures criticising his failure to commit to spending 2 per cent of GDP of defence.
The Prime Minister slapped down retired generals who have attacked the Government over its cuts to the military budget.
Speaking to LBC Radio, Mr Cameron put the generals’ interventions down to them “having their own book to talk, sometimes quite literally a book to talk”.
This is a hit below the belt, even by the no-holds-barred standard of British political debate. But more than this, it is an intolerable insult to the honour and dedication of the men and women who serve in our Armed Forces. And all this coming from someone who has never served personally, but who has been the happy beneficiary of the peace dividend made possible in part by Britain’s military capabilities.
The Prime Minister should apologise for insinuating that former military chiefs could have no other reason for criticising the Conservative Party’s newfound ambivalence toward the armed forces than making a name for themselves and shifting a few extra units of their autobiographies. This may be how people behave in the world of politics – indeed, we know it is. But we are fortunate that the vast majority of the people who serve our country in uniform are made of finer fettle.
The threats facing Britain in the twenty-first century are numerous, and unpredictable. Who could have predicted at the turn of the millennium that Islamist fundamentalism and a resurgent Russia would be such pressing national security concerns? And who can say with confidence that these antagonists will not have been supplanted by some other as yet overlooked threat in a decade’s time?
Sadly our political leaders, as with so many of us, came of age in a post-Soviet world, and do not fully understand the importance of a prohibitive defence capability. Thus Britain now has an army that could fit comfortably inside Wembley stadium, and is left exposed while several years elapse with no aircraft carrier capability to project force or maritime air patrol to keep watch over our home territory.
David Davis MP makes an eloquent case against everything that the coalition government has done to Defence spending in an important column in Conservative Home, well worth reading in full:
Just as Britain is more influential, as NATO’s leading member in Europe, than our size would dictate, so our weakness will be commensurately symbolic. The simple fact is that our armed forces need greater funding, greater political support and thorough reform merely to maintain our current military capabilities. Even Philip Hammond’s promise that we will not cut the size of the army any further is not good enough: we need as a minimum to reverse the cuts already made this Parliament.
The world is as dangerous as it has ever been. The failed foreign policies of the Western nations, especially the US, have resulted in widespread Islamic insurgency in the Middle East, a belligerent Russia flexing her muscles on the borders of Europe, and China pressing her territorial claims in Southeast Asia.
Our armed forces, starved of funds since the early 1990s and war-weary after long campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, are as vulnerable as they have been for generations. Our ability to fight a conventional war, rather than the anti-insurgency asymmetrical conflicts which have become the norm over the last two decades, is minimal. And worst of all, our ability to even operate independently in support of an ally is on the verge of disappearing.
And yet all of this could be partially understood (if not excused) in the context of the public spending crisis and persistent budget deficit, were it not for the fact that Britain’s nominally Conservative Prime Minister had the nerve to lash out at people who gave their entire careers to the protection of our country when their reasonable concerns risked making him look bad.
If only David Cameron was as preoccupied with the defence of our country and neutralising threats to our national security as he is obsessed with following Lynton Crosby’s election strategy and neutralising threats to his own chances of re-election, the Conservative Party might not face losing its position as the natural party of the armed forces.