Patrick Benham-Crosswell: Get a grip on defence, Mrs May, and unite the party

Our hapless Prime Minister faces another storm not entirely of her own making: this time over defence funding. The Sunday Telegraph has publicised a report by the Henry Jackson Society, a think tank, which starkly illustrates that spending 2 per cent of GDP on defence (if that were ever achieved) does not produce the ‘strong defence’ that Mrs May declared an ‘important priority’ in 2016.

The Ministry of Defence has been in turmoil since the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union, and the end of the Cold War. This is in part unsurprising. The certainties of the same old adversary deployed a few hundred miles from the Channel (and surrounding Berlin) gave a focus to equipment procurement, strategy and tactics. It also focused political thought. It was not a panacea, as the challenges of liberating the Falkland Islands revealed, but it gave coherence to policy. Since then there has been chaos, as illustrated by the number of defence reviews. During the Cold War (1945 to 1989) there were six, about one every eight years. Since 1990 there have been seven, more than one every four years. The most recent (the Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015) is already in trouble as it did not envisage Brexit or the decline in value of sterling (much defence spending is in euros and, particularly, dollars).

While these problems cannot entirely be blamed on Mrs May, it is her job to solve them. As politicians are happy to parrot in the good times, the defence of the nation is the first duty of government. These aren’t good times – but that does not remove the duty. No one forced Mrs May to become Prime Minister; now she needs to earn her pay and deliver the promised strong defence.

We’re leaving the EU, we’re the fifth-biggest economy in the world and, courtesy of the Commonwealth, one with more global influence and responsibilities than most nations. We need to be able to project hard and soft power, as most of the 17million who voted for Brexit understand and welcome. That means more ships, probably more aircraft and getting a grip of the Army by giving it clear mission priorities.

That means you, Mrs May, not Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, need to explain to Spreadsheet Phil that funds have to be made available. You and he conjured £40billion out of nowhere for the Brexit divorce – that’s more than the entire defence budget of £37billion – so it’s possible. If you are pushed for options, remove the 0.7 per cent of GDP lock that your predecessor gave the international development department (also known as the department of blank cheques).

Which is not to say that throwing money at the MoD will solve its problems. There has been a 20-year brain drain as able and intelligent officers take redundancy rather than support the ‘mismanagement of decline’, as one departing top-notch Colonel put it to me. You need to find a Cardwell or Haldane to get a grip on the whole edifice. That figure may be Gavin Williamson, but if it isn’t you’ll need to find one somewhere – quite possibly outside Westminster.

Yes, it’s challenging – although not entirely unsurprising – that this is happening on top of Brexit. But that goes with the job. On the upside, it’s a unifying cause in your party, and you badly need one of those. Surely you can deliver the proposition that ‘Brexit means Brexit, which means we need strong defence’? Time is running out for you and your lacklustre Parliamentary colleagues. Get a grip on your Cabinet and do your job.

Patrick Benham-Crosswell

  • Owen_Morgan

    According to the Daily Telegraph (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/11/26/armed-forces-denied-extra-funding-cash-diverted-cyber-warfare/ ), Theresa May lets her national security adviser dictate how much money the MoD gets. It seems rather strange that an “adviser” gets to make the decisions, but this could be May’s way of trying to deflect responsibility, or to avoid confronting her useless neighbour, with his relentless whatever-it-is-it-can’t-be-done attitude. The fact that the adviser in question was a close aide to May during her less than stellar performance at the Home Office does not inspire confidence.

    • So many like the power, the perks, the recognition, and all the rest of that stuff, but so few are willing to bear the responsibility that is the cause of them all. Likely she is one of that multitude.

      • nanumaga

        Elementary my dear Watson…..

  • TheRightToArmBears

    May is under instruction from Berlin, via Brussels and CCHQ, to keep us shackled to the EU corpse, which is sucking our lifeblood away.
    There is no reason we don’t just walk away from the EU, except too many if not all our politicians have taken EU gold.
    Sign and circulate this petition
    https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/200165
    and do something patriotic.

    • CRSM

      I agree, although I fear she is also under instruction from a worse place than that.

  • Andy

    Indeed defence spending needs to be vastly increased. After all we have just discovered that the EU27 are not our ‘friends’ but are hostile to the UK and our interests.

    • Reborn

      Most of them always were.

      • Andy

        Aint that a fact.

  • martianonlooker

    Isn’t our defence budget earmarked for the millions of ‘Grenfell survivors’?

  • paul parmenter

    I am sure Mrs M will be doing something to stiffen our sinews and put the fear of God into any potential enemy. Any day now I expect a new announcement about the armed forces becoming more LGBTQ friendly, or an initiative supporting transgender soldiers to transition more happily without being harassed.

    • nanumaga

      I look forward to us having 50,000 hairdressers and manicurists under arms. That’ll scare the hell out of ISIS…….ironically, it probably would!

      • Royinsouthwest

        Actually ISIS would probably regard them as more potential sex slaves.

  • Old Tommer

    Why would you want a British navy or any force for that matter when there will be an EU army.
    By the time the penny drops it s all going to be too late.

    • Royinsouthwest

      We might need the Royal Navy to keep the EU army out.

  • gs_schweik

    The MoD is run by civil servants, very few of whom have the faintest idea about soldiering.
    Many of them openly deride servicemen.
    Yet it is these middle-men that May listens to.
    If the MoD were to be re-staffed with ex-servicemen who have not gone through the revolving door, not been politicised, and understand what armed forces we need to defend our country’s interests,
    then we might have half a hope.

    • Flaketime

      You wouldn’t have half a hope, you would have a catastrophe!

      High level officers liaise directly with the MOD, I’ve seen them in the MOD procurement offices so claiming there none, and no one has an idea about soldiering is plainly fantasy land.

      There’s a balancing act the MOD has to maintain, between keeping the production companies solvent and supplying the forces.

      Back in the Falklands war you might recall a supply chip commandeered called the Atlantic Conveyor which was sunk. On board was a cargo of obsolete radio gear called ‘Clansman’, taken along ‘just in case’. After the loss of the Atlantic Conveyor the MOD re-ordered the Clansmen sets to replace the ones lost and on receipt of them immediately scrapped the lot !

      This is down to the forces involvement that in a time of war equipment lost in action would indeed need to be replaced, and quickly too, the problem is that the Military IS involved and that orders must be followed without question or common sense even if they are plainly wrong.

      What the MOD needs is the exact opposite of what you suggest – get in a procurement team from the big supermarkets and let them supply what is needed when its needed without the massive waste the forces have mismanaged.

      • gs_schweik

        Clansman was hardly obsolete in 1982.
        I sort of know as I was on second phase for that particular Op.
        I think you know less about procurement, and the forces, than you think.

        • John Standley

          Indeed – Clansman was still in use when I left the Army (R. Sigs) in 1997. Maybe he meant Larkspur?

          • Flaketime

            Clansman underwent various iterations to improve it being introduced in 1976 it wasn’t going to be the same design all the way through from then to 2010 !

            And BTW never assume someones gender is he, because at least half the time you’ll be wrong !

          • Little Black Censored

            If you don’t actually know the sex of a person then the masculine gender will do for either. A small child, of course, can be “it”.

          • John Standley

            I am inclined to use ‘they’ in such cases but it risks sounding a little bit too PC.

          • Flaketime

            I will actually use (s)he as it covers the bases without being PC

          • Royinsouthwest

            What about the other 57 genders? You might be committing a hate crime by ignoring them.

            I apologise if I got the precise number wrong but they are probably like buses – you wait for ages for a new gender then another three come all at the same time!

          • John Standley

            That only works when written, not spoken.

          • norman’s nonsense

            My apologies for the above

          • gs_schweik

            I can back that up. We were doing R&D on new data apps for Clansman in ’92 (at Blandford)

        • norman’s nonsense

          But he is right that military procurement is riddled with incompetence and mismanagement

    • I agree. No job there should be filled by someone who hasn’t been in the military unless it can be shown that no suitably ex-service candidate was available. Special preference should be given to any who are disabled as a result of their service. If nothing else, it would be the honourable thing to do.

    • norman’s nonsense

      MOD Main Building civil servants stopped the military there wearing their uniforms as it made them feel insecure and less important

  • Ministry of Hope

    The armed forces are being run down in order to fit the EU army. If a nation does not have armed forces to defend itself then it does not exist as a nation. This is treachery of the highest degree and because the narrative is controlled where any opposition is considered ‘hate’, then we really dont have a chance. Just think the abolition of the UK is so close but we are being distracted by so many other things that very few see it. I think Number 10’s Behavioural Insights Team have a lot to do with such psychological manipulation to obscure what we should be looking at.

  • I’ve always considered that defence should be the Number One priority of any government, far more important than health, education and all the rest.
    This is based on my belief that without defence, nothing else can be guaranteed to be safe.

    • Roanoake

      Defence being allied to ‘stop people entering the country without permission’.

      • Reborn

        i.e. international burglars.

        • Roanoake

          Call them that if you like

      • Exactly, all part of a package. Even countries which don’t have a real navy have a coastal defence force to patrol any coastline.

    • Godfrey Sandford

      Too right. Defence of the realm is, by definition, the most legitimate duty of any government.

      • Basically it comes back to “What is all the rest worth if you don’t have freedom”.

  • Reborn

    Ultimately, the only reason for the existence of the nation state is for defending its taxpayers
    from threats from overseas or within that state.
    Defence & policing are the sine qua non of any state.
    The desirables of education, healthcare, etc must be secondary, or that state will cease to exist
    before long.

  • brexit must be stopped

    We need more Armed Forces personnel.

    So why, when women are 51% of the population, do men still make up the vast majority?

    We need more women serving in combat roles in the military.

    It’s 2017 FFS.

    • Colonel Mustard

      Another new name. Same old crap.

      • martianonlooker

        So much for the mentally constipated one actually leaving the country.

    • Royinsouthwest

      Why don’t you join up?

    • Jolly Roger

      If only the Kaiser had agreed to this in the Great War. The Germans would have had such a large army that Hohenzollern Germany would still dominate the continent and the EU would be unknown. Male chauvinism, so hidebound.

      But just think of all those heaps of rotting corpses at Verdun and the Somme; all women.

  • norman’s nonsense

    There’s a lot going on that the military cannot influence or get a grip of, and that’s the progressive illiberals agenda: no decision on trident – look to the 2010 agreement between CamEUron and Sarkozy, the first steps to handing over the nuclear deterrent to the eu. Consider the continued run down of the UK’s military, too expensive for a single country, but eventually sizeable and capable for the UK’s component in the eu military (strategic lift and reach). Ending the Amphibious force and capability, there will be no future need to ‘land’ troops. The military trains young people well, the progressive don’t want educated, well disciplined youths, they want the drones from Uni! And, the enemy now is within, creeping undemocratic eu federalism and Islamic terror; Brussels, Westminster, Berlin and Soros don’t want a solution, they want fear and cracked dissenter’s heads..

  • CheshireRed

    Never mind the military what about that damn-near sell-out today by the absolute traitor Theresa May? Astonishing capitulation. For the love of God please remove her.

  • Timmy

    Just saw that the SAS is lowering it’s standards to get women in.

    • paul parmenter

      Not lowering its standards, just “levelling the playing field.”

      Remember words mean what we want them to mean, not what you think they mean.

  • Adrian Wakeford

    It is the 2020s. The NHS is suffering repeated cyber-attacks which are creating a denial of service crisis and patients are dying. The cyber-attacks originate from a crowded coastal city in the Middle East. Both Queen Elizabeth Class Aircraft Carriers are offshore but their F35Bs cannot strike the cyber attackers because they co-locate with hospitals and schools and there would be unacceptable collateral damage. An attempt to intervene on the ground by landing Royal Marines by helicopter from the Aircraft Carriers and by landing craft from the accompanying Bay Class RFA was beaten off with heavy casualties because the single large landing craft and two open rafts embarked on the Bay could not get sufficient heavy fire support equipment ashore quickly enough. The four large landing craft and four smaller landing craft of one of the decommissioned Albion class LPDs would have made all the difference in getting a landing force with supporting firepower and logistics ashore before the enemy could respond.
    The USA is unable or unwilling to help; the pivot to the Pacific has changed their strategic focus and their strict immigration policies plus energy self-sufficiency have reduced their concerns about the Middle East. Other European nations are unwilling to help; the cyber attackers have made it clear they will widen their attacks to any country which assists the UK, and they are distracted because Russia is carrying out major exercises on the EU’s eastern borders. Australia is sending a Canberra class amphibious assault ship accompanied by a New Zealand frigate but they are still thousands of miles away from joining the impotent Royal Navy Task Force.
    The government is facing a Confidence Vote in the House of Commons on the grounds that it has failed in its primary duty: the defence of the realm. The government is likely to lose the vote and will fall.
    An unlikely scenario? The Falklands War was an unlikely scenario until it happened, possibly triggered by planned defence cuts implying a UK unwilling to defend far flung national interests. Had the Argentinian Junta possessed the strategic patience to wait a few years the amphibious ships would have been decommissioned and the Falklands would have been unrecoverable.
    An unlikely scenario? All the elements of the scenario are in place:
    • We have a dogmatic enemy that loathes us, is capable of inventive plans and is prepared to use women and children to shield their weapons.
    • There are sprawling, feral mega cities in many parts of the world and they are mostly close to the sea.
    • We have a national infrastructure that cannot be completely protected from cyber-attack.
    • There is an international situation in a state of volatile flux.
    • We have a government that is unwittingly carrying out an exercise to see how far defence and deterrence can be lowered in a dangerous and unpredictable world.
    Our potential enemies are continuously watching for gaps and vulnerabilities and will strike where we have weakened ourselves, not where we have remained strong.