The Veteran community accounts for 8% of the British Population. If gratitude for service wasn’t enough of a reason than perhaps recognition of the size of this voting block should have driven Mr. Cameron to attend the British Legion’s reception at conference.
The Prime Minister instead decided to mingle with defence contractors in the room next door. We must, of course, support our defence Industry to protect jobs, exports and investment in the UK. There must, however, be a balance between our Defence Industrial Policy, National Security Strategy and our moral and social responsibilities. Right now, the Government is failing on all measures in this area – there is no balance, nor it would seem any coherent strategy.
Furthermore, the Government failed to show any coherent leadership during the BAE-EADS merger negotiations. While Mr. Cameron said he was ready to jump in to save the deal, Defence Secretary Hammond declared intractable negotiating red lines and while some Tory MPs went directly to the US Congress and declared their opposition to the merger. It was a mess and has left everyone wondering…where do we go from here?
As Alison Seabeck, Shadow Procurement Minister said, “The collapse of the BAe EADs merger serves to highlight just how important it is that the UK has a defence industrial strategy linked to a much clearer understanding of the future defence needs and expectations of our nation. In a declining global market as companies seek to diversify and meet emerging challenges Government has a clear interest in ensuring that Britain’s sovereign defence needs can be maintained and the vital skills base retained. This is essential not just for the defence sector but for our wider manufacturing export base.”
The British Defence Industry accounts for £35 billion in annual turnover and 10% of our total manufacturing, supports 300,000 jobs and 9,000 businesses. The UK is the world’s second largest defence exporter after the US. With the reduction in global defence budgets most analysts would suggest it is commercially prudent to diversify.
As with all Industry, Government must support this transition for the economic sake of the nation. However, supporting industry with visionless government procurement is not the answer, for example, building aircraft carriers without planes. Furthermore, procurement and economic considerations are not always symbiotic with our national security.
Mr. Cameron seems to develop policy led by only one metric – the bottom line. The government seems content to outsource everything and dilute our sovereignty and status in the world. As Jim Murphy (Shadow Secretary of Defence) stated in his conference speech, they have a ‘defence posture without a strategy’.
Defence savings are inevitable, however, the government chooses to take the easiest option and enforce cuts which impact the budget line item least likely to fight back – our service men and women and veterans. This is extremely short-sighted and on very shaky moral ground.
These men and women are being plunged into poverty, many suffering with PTSD and physical disabilities and struggling to support their families. The fallout will manifest itself in the socio-economic fabric of communities.
Jim Murphy made clear in his speech at Labour Party Conference that our defence policy must take into consideration the entire national interest rather than the narrow interests of the few. The complex mix of forces which shape our defence strategy and implementation absolutely must give the treatment of our current military personnel, veterans and their families the same weight and concern as wealthy donors at Tory fundraisers.
In defence of our nation, the morally just course is also the path that leads to a sustainable and sound Defence policy – the government should consider that in how it prioritizes its time and money.
Sonia Klein is Chair of the Defence Group at LFIG