A State Of Unpreparedness: Lessons In Disaster Recovery From The Grenfell Tower Fire

Grenfell Tower fire - disaster relief - Red Cross

The chaotic government response to the Grenfell Tower disaster has made it worryingly clear that despite extensive legislation and incredible local spirit, Britain’s civil contingencies and disaster preparedness protocols are not fit for purpose

“The Government’s handling of risks and emergencies in recent years has failed to inspire public confidence. In a range of crises, from the Foot and Mouth outbreak through to the grounds for war in Iraq, official predictions or capabilities have been found wanting. The Civil Contingencies Act 2004 tenders reassurance by the promise of systemic planning and activity in civil resilience, though defence lies beyond its scope. The wide-ranging powers in the Act have the capability of delivering on the promise. But, as shall be revealed [..] efforts will be hampered because the legislation is hesitant and uneven.”

– Clive Walker and Jim Broderick, The Civil Contingencies Act 2004: Risk, Resilience and the Law in the United Kingdom

And so, on Sunday, the inevitable happened: the government took over direct control of the Grenfell Tower disaster relief efforts from the beleaguered Kensington & Chelsea borough council, following days of disturbing reports about a lack of proper coordination on the ground.

At the government’s request, the British Red Cross has now expanded from providing psychosocial support, fundraising and donation processing services to being the primary coordinator of the community assistance centre, distributing donations and being the single point of contact for anybody needing help. While organisations like the Red Cross had been on-site in some small capacity even while the fire still burned, they are now to significantly step up their presence and the type of support they are offering.

The Times reported:

The British Red Cross was drafted in to help with disaster relief in west London last night after Theresa May admitted the initial response to the Grenfell Tower tragedy was “not good enough”.

The charity, part of the International Red Cross, which is more usually deployed in war zones and after natural disasters in the developing world, was recruited to give “psychological support” to survivors and the emergency services.

May praised the response of the fire brigade, police, NHS services and the local community as “heroic”. But in her first admission that the official response failed survivors and relatives of the dead, she added: “Frankly, the support on the ground for families who needed help or basic information in the initial hours after this appalling disaster was not good enough.”

Senior staff at Kensington and Chelsea council were ordered to stay at home yesterday after ministers decided they were not doing a good enough job.

Instead, officials with crisis experience were sent in from Westminster and other councils as well as Whitehall departments.

More disquieting accounts of the local council’s failure to get a grip:

A senior government source said Kensington council had been “decapitated”. Ian Austin, the Labour MP, said: “Isn’t it a good job that we’ve got charities and aid workers ready to step in when one of Britain’s richest councils can’t sort its own mess?”

While Paul Waugh provided this rather more encouraging update on Tuesday:

At last, the authorities seem to be getting some kind of grip on the response to the Grenfell Tower disaster. The PM chaired the first taskforce meeting yesterday and last night had some stats that showed progress, with £200,000 being distributed yesterday from the £5m emergency fund.

The Grenfell Response Team – a pan-London, Whitehall, police and British Red Cross effort – said 78 families were on course to be rehomed locally by Monday night. And 126 hotel places have been found. DCLG expected all councils to tell it by last night how many tower blocks needed extra safety checks.  Testing of samples of cladding begins today with all councils told to assess their building materials.

It is heartening to see the situation finally being stabilised, but it is also slightly worrying that it took a Cabinet-level intervention – with the prime minister taking personal charge of the taskforce only to delegate the heavy lifting to the Red Cross – to bring what is effectively (considering all of the worse possibilities lurking in the shadows) a mid-sized disaster relief campaign back under control.

But at this point they had no option. It has become increasingly clear since the Grenfell Tower fire that while our emergency services are incredibly brave and well-trained, there is no similarly disciplined and well-equipped group able and fully prepared to step into the void to help deal with the humanitarian consequences of a disaster once the first responders have done their job.

Frustratingly, it quickly became evident that the huge outpouring of public support for the survivors and bereaved was not being effectively harnessed and proactively directed to those in greatest need – not through any absence of goodwill but because of a failure to properly plan and delineate responsibilities.

And as the days wore on following the tragedy, there grew a disquieting sense – first highlighted on this blog, and later expanded upon – that our civil contingency procedures are not working properly, and that ultimate responsibility for dealing with the aftermath of a mass casualty incident with major damage inflicted is currently falling down the gaps between central government, local government, charities and private citizen volunteers, none of whom have an incentive to take ultimate ownership or be the public face of the response. And so a giant flaw in Britain’s emergency planning measures revealed itself.

The lynchpin of Britain’s emergency response protocol is the Gold-Silver-Bronze (or strategic, tactical and operational) Command structure, which was designed to coordinate the response of emergency services to a serious situation but which in actual practice is also used to organise preparedness for other events such as football matches and concerts.

But the Gold-Silver-Bronze Command structure – established after the 1985 Broadwater Farm riot, strengthened by the 2004 Civil Contingencies Act and invoked as part of standard practice in response to the Grenfell Tower fire – is clearly inadequate to dealing with the aftermath of a disaster from the point when the “blue light agencies” (fire, police, ambulance) have brought the immediate issue under control.

The Gold Command structure is useful primarily for coordinating the activities of first responder agencies from a strategic and tactical level. It has far less applicability when it comes to dealing with the human aftermath in the event of displaced or homeless people, where the police have only a limited role and the fire and ambulance services almost no role. The British Red Cross, for example is not wired in to this command structure as a matter of course, even though it has become evident that no other British agency possess the expertise and experience in dealing with the humanitarian aspect.

This is a design flaw that has lurked unnoticed for a long time. The vast majority of incidents in which the Gold-Silver-Bronze command structure is utilised, from football games to terrorist attacks, do not take place in residential settings – so once a situation has been brought under control and the locality is cleared, non-injured people can be reasonably expected to find their way home and fend for themselves. There is no humanitarian aspect, so to speak, as soon as the last victim has been put in an ambulance and carted off to the hospital or coroner.

But in the event of a disaster such as Grenfell Tower, where domiciles themselves were destroyed, there is often no home or alternative shelter to go to. After the fire, people found themselves homeless and in the well-meaning but erratic initial care of various community groups, religious organisations and the local Kensington and Chelsea council, outside any formal command structure overseen by government.

Unfortunately, the council’s role in coordinating the response and the amount of effort required on their part was not properly spelled out in advance in our emergency planning laws. Ironically, the level between Gold Command and Central government, which once defined the role of regional government offices in responding to a disaster, was abolished under the previous Conservative-LibDem coalition government.

Thus, in yet another example of the gross overcentralisation of all aspects of British government, local councils were effectively cut out of the loop when it came to disaster response, at least formally speaking. This is probably why it took the better part of a week – and was trumpeted as a huge achievement when it finally happened – for Kensington & Chelsea council workers assisting in the relief effort to even be issued with official council staff vests so that people could easily identify them and seek assistance.

From the Guardian:

At the Westway centre where the relief effort is being coordinated, there appeared to be evidence of much greater efficiency in efforts by councils, the Red Cross, the NHS and other officials to help residents after days of chaos. For the first time employees of Kensington and Chelsea were visible wearing nylon vests marking them out as council staff.

This, apparently, is what happens when you cut an entire layer of government out of emergency planning and disaster preparedness protocols without properly thinking through the consequences. Even wearing matching clothes becomes a challenge. We should be glad to hear that the relief effort is now finally being coordinated more effectively, but one wonders what is the point of local government if it is to have no formal role (let alone overall responsibility) for keeping citizens safe and ensuring their welfare following a disaster?

It need not be like this. When I first flagged concerns about the Grenfell Tower disaster relief operation on this blog, I recounted my experience of watching state government, local government and voluntary aid organisations working seamlessly together following a deadly tornado in Missouri:

I happened to be living in the American Mid-West when a huge tornado ripped through the town of Joplin, Missouri back in May 2011, killing 158 people and levelling entire neighbourhoods. Driving into town two days later, it looked for all the world as though an atomic bomb had gone off. Whole blocks of houses were reduced to matchsticks. Big box retail stores had been blasted away so that only their steel frames remained standing. Even big, solid buildings like churches and a concrete-constructed hospital were damaged beyond the point of repair.

And yet within almost no time, there was real organised and disciplined aid on the ground, delivering help and comfort to people who needed it. Charities like the American Red Cross and Samaritan’s Purse sent convoys of trucks with aid and facilities such as washing machines and tumble driers so that people suddenly made homeless could do their laundry. Medical trucks administered tetanus shots to people, like me, who mucked in to assist with some of the repairs. The insurance companies sent mobile offices on the back of trucks to process damage claims. Churches organised the making and delivering of meals to those who needed them. And crucially, mobile command centres helped to coordinate the response, so that the appropriate help reached people who needed it while avoiding duplication of effort wherever possible. Honestly, the response was a sight to see and something I’m not likely to ever forget.

And all this in a town of little more than 50,000 people, far away from any real centre of political power or commerce in America. One shudders to think what might have happened if the Grenfell Tower fire had taken place somewhere further from the beating heart of our own democracy, perhaps in Sheffield or Newcastle or Glasgow.

In some ways, perhaps, the response might have been better – with fewer local resources to be brought to bear on the challenge, more may have been sent by other regions and leaders may not have been so quick to assume that somebody else was taking charge. Equally, the Grenfell Tower response may have suffered because people assumed that being in London, the logistical and welfare planning would take care of itself.

Ironically, the government’s own document – “Emergency Response and Recovery: Non statutory guidance accompanying the Civil Contingencies Act 2004” – discusses at length the importance of this phase. They even give us this helpful Venn diagram:

Civil Contingencies - Disaster Recovery - Grenfell Tower

 

There is no lack of consideration given to all of the aspects on which a proper Disaster Recovery plan should touch – see page 83 onwards in the report.

But the guidelines also go on to give these instructions:

5.2.1. The local authority is the agency responsible for planning for the recovery of the community following any major emergency, supported by other local partners via the Local Resilience Forums (LRF). In most cases, it will be sensible for top tier local authorities to lead but all local authorities and Category 1 responders should input. If there is more than one top tier local authority in the LRF, they should work together to co-ordinate recovery planning.

5.2.2. Following an emergency, the local authority will usually co-ordinate the multi-agency recovery process, including by chairing and providing the secretariat for the RCG, with support from the full range of multi-agency partners as necessary.

5.4.1. Activation of the Recovery Co-ordinating Group (RCG) is initiated by the local authority, usually following a request by / agreement with the Strategic Co-ordinating Group (SCG). An important part of the work of the RCG during the response phase of an emergency is to develop a recovery strategy (see paragraph 5.4.4) and inform the SCG of this strategy to ensure decisions made by the SCG do not compromise medium to long term recovery.

So the local authority – in the case of Grenfell Tower that would be London’s Kensington & Chelsea borough council – is nominally responsible for the “recovery of the community”, yet was partly cut out the direct interface between national government and the emergency services (through the Gold Command structure) when regional government offices were disbanded following the Coalition reviews.

To make things even more confusing, this document was produced by a group called the Civil Contingencies Secretariat, established in 2001 as a department of the Cabinet Office tasked with overseeing emergency planning in the UK. And we learn from the Metro newspaper that in the immediate aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire, Police and Fire Minister Nick Hurd “chaired a meeting of the Civil Contingencies Secretariat” to “coordinate the response to the disaster”.

So who was really in charge of the disaster relief response effort? Nick Hurd, in his role as chair of the Civil Contingencies Secretariat meeting following the fire? Katharine Hammond, director of the CCS since 2016? Theresa May, for ordering that the CCS convene in the first place? Kensington & Chelsea borough council, in accordance with the leadership role assigned by the CCS’s own guidelines, published in 2005 and updated in 2013? Central government, in its role as the “platinum” COBR level sitting above the Gold-Silver-Bronze command structure? Piers Morgan? Bigfoot?

It seems that we have protocols in place that are not worth the paper they are printed on – guidelines which foresaw a potential role for local Tourist Boards and even English Heritage in disaster recovery protocols, and yet failed to anticipate the degree to which the Grenfell Tower survivors and bereaved relatives of the victims would come to rely on the Red Cross and an army of disorganised but good-hearted independent volunteers to pick up the government’s dropped ball.

If the British Red Cross (rather than local government) is to be called upon to take operational control of the recovery process following any disaster with significant humanitarian implications then this should be clearly specified and written down in procedures, both to avoid confusion and duplication of effort but also to give the Red Cross a fighting chance of being ready to step into this role in the many various potential emergency scenarios tracked by the government.

In many ways, this would be a brilliant and quintessentially conservative solution – rather than forcing the state to duplicate services and expertise already provided by the charitable sector, instead we formalise their role and integrate them more tightly into our national emergency planning protocols. Rather than seeing the horrific Grenfell Tower disaster as an opportunity to expand the boundaries and competencies of the state even further, instead we formally recognise that voluntary organisations are best equipped to translate a huge and overwhelmingly generous public response into meaningful assistance for disaster victims.

But even if we don’t adopt this approach – even if we create a new government Disaster Recovery Agency to do the same job – at this point we just need to make sure that somebody, anybody is clearly given ownership of this phase of the emergency response process, as well as the authority and resources required to do the job.

Ultimately, it should not have taken the national government five days to recognise that our existing disaster recovery processes – in this case, seemingly half-heartedly managed by a local council whose role in the process was made murkier, not clearer, by recent guidelines – are inadequate to even a medium-sized incident in the heart of our capital city.

The Grenfell Tower fire had exposed serious failures, not just of political leadership (which this blog has covered extensively here, here and here) but crucially of planning and organisation. And we do not live in the kind of quiet, uneventful era where such government confusion and incoherence, broadcast to the entire world on television and the internet, can be permitted to continue.

This is a national security issue as much as an humanitarian one. And the worrying gaps in our civil contingencies protocol must be filled, quickly.

 

UPDATE: 21 June (15:55)

In her Commons speech following the Queen’s Speech, Theresa May finally acknowledged some of these failings:

 

The prime minister also stated that in addition to the judge-led inquiry the government would also consider implementing a Civil Disaster Response Taskforce to look at how disaster recovery processes can be strengthened and improved.

From Hansard (my emphasis in bold):

I would also like to say a few words about the disaster at Grenfell Tower. The whole country was heartbroken by the horrific loss of life and the utter devastation that we have seen. I am sure that the whole House will join me in sending our deepest condolences to the friends and families of all those who lost loved ones. Today, we also think of those who survived but lost everything. One lady I met ran from the fire wearing no more than a T-shirt and a pair of knickers. She had lost absolutely everything.

Let me be absolutely clear. The support on the ground for families in the initial hours was not good enough. People were left without belongings, without a roof over their heads, and without even basic information about what had happened, what they should do and where they could seek help. That was a failure of the state—local and national—to help people when they needed it most. As Prime Minister, I apologise for that failure and, as Prime Minister, I have taken responsibility for doing what we can to put things right. That is why each family whose home was destroyed is receiving a down payment from the emergency fund so that they can buy food, clothes and other essentials, and all those who have lost their homes will be rehoused within three weeks.

There will also be an independent public inquiry, chaired by a judge, to get to the truth about what happened and who was responsible, and to provide justice for the victims and their families who suffered so terribly. All those with an interest, including survivors and victims’ families, will be consulted about the terms of reference, and those affected will have their legal costs paid. Because it is clear that the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea has not been able to cope with the scale of the tragedy, we will also develop a new strategy for resilience in major disasters, which could include a new civil disaster response taskforce that can help at times of emergency. We must learn some of the lessons of this and previous disasters when bereaved families have not had the support they need.

Good. This is exactly what needs to happen – a thorough review of the way that Britain’s emergency services, voluntary organisations and different layers of government respond to the aftermath of any incident with humanitarian implications.

This blog’s concern would be that Theresa May’s instinct for authoritarianism and centralisation makes it more likely that we will see an entirely new agency created as an outcome of this review, paralleling much of the work already done by voluntary and charitable organisations such as the Red Cross. We should actively guard against this approach during the Taskforce once it is established.

But duplication of effort and concerns over the size and scope of the state must take a back seat to public safety. First and foremost, local and national government should be empowered to keep the people safe and provide for their welfare in the event of disaster through the application of clear and realistic protocols. Following the Grenfell Tower fire, these protocols were found wanting. Hopefully now we will take the action needed to make them fit for purpose.

 

Grenfell Tower fire - disaster relief - Red Cross - 3

Top Image: British Red Cross

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Why MPs Must Vote To Renew Trident

Vanguard class submarine - Royal Navy

This is no time for woolly idealism or virtue-signalling. Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent must be renewed if Britain is to maintain its status as one of the world’s pre-eminent nations

Tulip Siddiq, the MP for the London – Hampstead & Kilburn constituency and my local MP, sent an email last week encouraging appealing for her constituents to send their views on the renewal of Trident, which Parliament is debating today.

And fair credit to Tulip Siddiq for doing so, rather than simply voting based on any prior ideological views she may have held on the subject. This was the email she sent:

As you will be aware, on Monday 18th July next week MPs will be voting on the renewal of Britain’s Trident nuclear missiles system.

I am deeply disappointed that the Government has rushed through this measure without the chance for proper debate. We are set to have just a day’s debate in Parliament over a spending commitment that will cost billions of pounds throughout its lifetime, and I would have hoped for the chance for much better scrutiny. We still do not have the wording of the motion which we are expected to vote upon.

Nevertheless, I am duty-bound to vote on this issue, and in just a matter of days I will have a momentous decision to make as your local representative. As with the vote on Syria last year I am keen to hear the views of all local residents – on both sides of the debate – ahead of this important vote.

As residents who have written to me about this in the past will know, I have consistently queried the cost-effectiveness of the Government’s plans and raised testing questions with Ministers about the options for renewal.

Given the pressure on our public services and the bleak economic outlook ahead, I think it is vital that Labour redoubles its efforts to scrutinise every penny of public spending and balance our security needs with our country’s other priorities.

I think that you – local taxpayers in this constituency – are best-placed to advise me on how you feel this money should be spent. Just as I did with Syria late last year, I will take the time to look through every comment I receive on this issue ahead of the vote, and you can expect me to respond comprehensively setting out my position in due course.

And here is my response to Siddiq:

Dear Tulip,

Parliament must vote to authorise the renewal of our nuclear deterrent as a matter of the utmost importance. Contrary to the claims of those who favour unilateral disarmament that Trident is an expensive white elephant which we never use, in fact we use our nuclear deterrent every single day, at great benefit to our nation.

Trident benefits Britain in the following ways:

1. Planting the sure knowledge in the mind of rulers of hostile regimes that a nuclear or otherwise catastrophic attack on Britain will be met with a full nuclear response – a deterrent which served us through the Cold War and which nobody should vote to scrap at a time when we can barely guess what threats we will face in 5-10 years time, let alone the medium to long terms

2. Our nuclear deterrent gives Britain a seat at the geopolitical “top tables” and underpins our seat on the P5 of the UN Security Council. The priority of every government (and every MP) must surely be to ensure that Britain’s voice and influence is projected as powerfully and clearly as possible in the world. Scrapping or downgrading our nuclear deterrent would put our permanent seat on the Security Council at risk, immediately making Britain less relevant in world affairs. This will directly harm our interests because, frankly, being a consequential player in the UN helps Britain in a myriad of tangible and intangible ways touching diplomacy, trade and military alliances.

3. Unilateral disarmament by Britain will do absolutely nothing to prompt a sudden outburst of peace or a change in the attitude of Russia and China, the non-allied nuclear powers. Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping would take unilateral disarmament by the UK, put it in the bank and give nothing in return. CND activists and Green campaigners would effectively be virtue signalling their moral purity while Britain’s security and national interest were jeopardised.

4. Britain’s insatiable public services will swallow any money diverted from Trident and then still ask for more, with little money actually reaching the front lines and no great increase in performance metrics over the long term. One could throw billions of pounds more that the NHS and other public services, and newspaper headlines will still talk about how they are perpetually “in crisis”. In fact, throwing more money at public services only serves to paper over the cracks, delaying the eventual reckoning which we need to have regarding the NHS, pensions and other services. Is it really worth killing our nuclear deterrent, deliberately maiming our stature on the world stage just to feed the public services bureaucracy with the extra 0.2% of government spending which the Trident renewal will cost over its lifetime?

I hope that you will consider these points as you consider your approaching vote, and I look forward to your response.

Interestingly, the Conservative candidate defeated by Tulip Siddiq in the 2015 general election was a wishy-washy, vague Coke Zero Conservative who disagreed with the “bedroom tax” and who wanted to scrap Britain’s nuclear deterrent altogether. Shamelessly adopting these left-wing positions did not help him much.

As a “rising star” of the Labour Party and with one eye doubtless fixed on her future political ambitions it will be interesting to see which way Siddiq decides to vote this evening.

 

Trident Nuclear Submarine - Faslane Naval Base

Top Image: Guardian

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The National Security Implications Of Failing To Support The Steel Industry

Save Our Steel - Tata Steel - National Security

With so many other glaring weaknesses in Britain’s national security infrastructure, does the loss of domestic steel production really matter?

While everybody rends their garments about the threatened closure of Tata plants and other steelworks around the country, many commentators – from both ends of the political spectrum – are touching on the national security implications of failing to support our steel industry.

Arguing in favour of government intervention to support the British steel industry, the Daily Mirror quotes Labour MP Dan Jarvis:

The steel sector crisis rocking Britain could put our national security at risk, a top Labour MP has warned.

In a boost for the Daily Mirror’s Save Our Steel campaign, Dan Jarvis will tell the annual State of the North conference of the dangers of closing major plants.

“It undermines our freedom and our influence if we become overly reliant on other countries for essential resources that we will need in the future,” he will say.

“Deciding whether we preserve some of the best coke ovens and the largest blast furnaces in our country has implications for our national security as well as our future prosperity.”

While from the other side, Allister Heath writes in the Telegraph:

Then there are the strategic and military dimensions. There may one day be another major war, or a large emerging nation could go rogue. But we cannot run Britain on a war footing. The Government should engage in contingency planning: it could stockpile steel, or even set up a couple of mothballed plants. None of this is any justification for nationalising unviable businesses.

But how much of a hammer blow to Britain’s independent warmaking (or defensive) capability would the closure of our remaining steel plants actually be?

The argument in favour of retaining significant steelmaking capacity is that we might need it in case of urgent re-armament or replenishment of lost military hardware. But the lead time for the construction of a Type 45 destroyer is 3 years – compared to one year for the groundbreaking HMS Dreadnought in 1906 and thirteen months for the famous HMS Belfast in 1938. While the aircraft carrier HMS Invincible was built in seven years during the 1970s, HMS Queen Elizabeth – first of the Royal Navy’s two new aircraft carriers – will have been in production and trials for eleven years before finally becoming operationally ready in 2020.

If we found ourselves facing a dire security or military threat requiring additional naval ships, besides directing our ire at David Cameron – who has presided over a shameful degradation of the Royal Navy’s surface fleet – Britain would have little choice but to attempt to buy the requisite ships from a foreign navy (who may or may not be willing to sell to us). The lead time for commissioning a modern advanced warship is now so long that most conflagrations would be over by the time new ships were completed. And all the time they were under construction, the shipyards – and steelworks, and any other supporting industry – building them would be vulnerable to sabotage from within and aerial attack from without.

In other words, the days when we could melt down iron railings and salvage bits of scrap material to aid the war effort or rush produce a battleship in eleven months are over (to the limited extent that they existed at all). In any future major war, Britain will effectively go to war with the hardware it has available at the time, with little prospect of rapid re-armament – which is why we should all be concerned about this supposedly Conservative government’s failure to prioritise defence spending.

And it’s not just steel. Britain has almost no domestic supply of the rare earth minerals which are needed to manufacture the computer components which go into everything from vehicles, weapons and medical equipment. Sure, the government could keep stockpiles – though our government is too woefully inept to do so. But where does it end? When so many goods are the product of a disaggregated global supply chain, what do you insist is produced locally?

These are not easy questions to answer. But in answering them, policymakers have an obligation to delve deeper than the very two-dimensional “steelwork closures will mean that Britain is no longer a military power” level of debate we are getting so far. And they have an obligation – not that they are likely to fulfil it – to be honest with the public about the trade-offs which guide such decisions.

As it happens, this blog would like to see more critical national security infrastructure brought back under British control – energy independence for a start, and a strengthened military with a Royal Navy befitting a powerful island trading nation. But so far, I have yet to be convinced by anyone that the loss of domestic steel production weakens us as a country any more than the many other inevitable global interdependencies which undergird our ability to make war – never mind the Conservative government’s reckless vandalism of the armed forces, which was utterly avoidable.

And so I put this out there to those with strong opinions backed up by detailed knowledge: from a national security standpoint, with so many other glaring (and often recently self-inflicted) weaknesses in our national security infrastructure, does the potential loss of our remaining domestic steel production capacity really matter?

 

Postscript:

This is not to say there should not be some type of government intervention to delay the steelworks closures or mitigate their effects. Surely one of the lessons learned from Thatcherism is that no matter how essential industrial and economic realignment may be for long-term success, simply expecting people (particularly a coddled British population used to being helped by the government) to brush themselves off and start lucrative new careers after being made redundant is callous and wildly overoptimistic. The word “Tory” is still utterly toxic in some communities, over thirty years later, and we must avoid making it even worse.

People have no right to demand that the state (i.e. their taxpaying neighbours) permanently subsidise the loss-making industry which gives them employment, but we should provide those affected with transitional support through re-training and educational grants to equip workers with more lucrative skills. Failing to do so, either out of bumbling incompetence (David Cameron and Sajid Javid) or rigid ideology will only create more negative consequences of social deprivation and regional dereliction, which is morally wrong as well as more expensive in the long term.

This piece in Conservative Home explains the consequences of failing to provide such transitional support, and the advantages of doing so.

 

Tata Steel

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John Bolton’s Alternative American Position On Brexit

John Bolton - Brexit

Former United States UN ambassador John Bolton provides a refreshingly different – and much more authentically American – position on Brexit to that of the sitting president

In marked contrast to President Obama – who treats his country’s closest ally with utter contempt by urging the British people to accept a continued loss of sovereignty and self-governance which America would never tolerate for herself – there are a number of other, more respectful American public figures who treat British democracy with the respect it deserves.

Some of these individuals not only recognise that the EU referendum is a sovereign decision for the British people alone to make without unwelcome hectoring from the Oval Office, but also appreciate that Brexit is the far better outcome for Britain, America and the world.

One such person is former US ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, who writes in the Telegraph:

President Barack Obama embodies the conventional wisdom, unabashedly supporting continued construction of a European superstate. Obama’s fascination with Brussels, however, reflects his own statist inclinations. His lack of international leadership perfectly mirrors the EU’s timid, ineffective defence of its own interests and values. Of course Obama loves the EU.

Arguing that today’s EU is collectively stronger than a continent of free nation-states misreads history, distorting it through a quasi-theological lens. The EU is less than the sum of its parts. Its politico-military “unity” is purest symbolism. Flags and anthems not only do not embody unity, but instead mask a poisonous, paralysing disarray.

Nor is unity reflected in incessant affirmations of Europe’s economic size, as if it were truly integrated. Indeed, if Europe had single-mindedly pursued a single market, abjuring political abstractions, it could have achieved more economic integration and broader political consensus together, rather than getting wrapped around the axle of “ever closer union”. And just as symbolic gestures do not ensure unity, reversing those symbolic gestures does not forestall Britain’s ongoing descent from representative government into Europe’s bureaucratic oligarchy. David Cameron’s proposed changes to London’s relationship with Brussels in no way addresses, let alone cures, the systemic failures inherent in EU decision-making structures.

Brilliant, stirring stuff. This blog does not often  share common cause with prominent neoconservatives in the model of John Bolton, but in this case he is absolutely correct. The point about Europe being less than the sum of its parts is particularly astute and counters the lazy (and never supported) trope that the EU amplifies our economic, military and diplomatic output, when in fact the European Union does no such thing.

The EU is far from a single, integrated economy – as John Bolton goes on to argue, the single-minded obsession with forging a political union has in many ways actually detracted from the creation of a true single market, such as could ever exist in a continent with such diverse cultures and no common language. Therefore, if we vote for Brexit, Britain will not be leaving some dynamic and prosperous unified economy – we will be leaving a political bloc dominated by an ill-fated currency union which imposes utter economic misery on the south and imposes financial obligations in the form of necessary transfer payments with the northern countries are unwilling to meet.

Bolton is also absolutely correct when he turns his analysis to the military and diplomatic angle:

America is partially at fault for the EU mirage because Nato, largely a US creation, has been so successful. For decades, sheltering under Washington’s military umbrella, Europe, including Britain, has recklessly shrivelled defence budgets and increased social-welfare expenditures. The results are not pretty. The EU has not only retreated from the world stage, it is becoming incompetent in ensuring security within its own “borders”. Europe’s loss of defence capabilities, as well as will and resolve, are deeply inimical to defending the West against today’s increasing global threats.

[..] If advocates of Britain remaining in the EU haven’t noticed, America’s international commitments are under attack from several populist directions in our ongoing presidential campaign. Some, especially among Democrats, simply do not value national security, preferring to focus on domestic issues, hoping – God forbid – to make America look more like social-democratic Europe. Others, especially among Republicans, think America’s allies have got a free ride, don’t appreciate US efforts, and should be made to fend for themselves. If Britain votes to stay In, this view may prevail across Washington. So be careful what you wish for.

These criticisms are entirely justified. Though Britain does best of the European powers in terms of maintaining any form of credible military, our armed forces have been pared back relentlessly while money is funnelled in an unearned peace dividend toward vote-winning social programmes.

And appallingly, many of the worst cutbacks have taken place under the current supposedly conservative administration of David Cameron, whose government’s disastrous stewardship of defence matters has left Britain with no maritime patrol capability and (far more crucially), no aircraft capability until the two (or possibly just one) new carriers currently being built come into service.

America has traditionally regarded Britain as her most stalwart ally because we have maintained moderate expeditionary capabilities together with the political will to use them where necessary. The political will has clearly ebbed away, as evidenced by the recent debacle with Parliament’s response to the Syrian crisis, and the expeditionary capabilities are gravely imperilled too. The Pentagon has always operated on the assumption that Britain could be relied upon to field an entire division operating independently of American forces in any joint action, but this is now being re-evaluated.

Part of the EU’s problem is that it has pretensions of significance on the world stage which are simply not matched by its willingness to divert money from generous social programmes to pay for them. Our defence is literally being guaranteed by the American working poor, who go without the kind of welfare perks (like working tax credits) and government-provided universal healthcare that we take for granted, in order to fund the American military machine.

Then there is also the issue of duplication. As well as spending far less on defence spending in real terms, the stubborn refusal of EU member states to give up the last vestige of sovereignty by abolishing national armies and contributing to joint European armed services means that there is massive duplication of HQ and some core infrastructure, while not nearly enough of everything else. There are probably enough European generals and admirals to fully man a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, and yet Europe does not possess even one comparable ship (to America’s ten).

In all of these ways, the European Union fails to pull its weight, let alone punch above its own weight, and actively contributes to making Europe far less than the sum of its parts.

As Bolton rightly notes, flags and anthems do not embody unity. And in the European Union’s case, these ostentatious pretensions of statehood only mark the desperation of certain political elites to escape the irritant of accountability to their own electorates and instead dissolve themselves into the unaccountable anonymity of Brussels supranational governance. Or – to see the project in the kindest possible light – they reflect a desperate effort to create a single European demos through sheer force of will, the geopolitical equivalent of “if you build it, they will come”.

But no European demos came, and none is coming. The entire European Union is built on an imaginary foundation and cannot hope to succeed, let alone win the respect and devotion of an informed citizenry.

Ambassador John Bolton gets it. Tragically, Barack Obama does not.

 

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