Serious questions for Defence Secretary

Liam Fox, British Conservative politician.

Can he out-Fox this one? (Image via Wikipedia)

I’m sure you’ve all seen the furore regarding the Defence Secretary‘s murky relationship with his former flatmate/best man/adviser (delete as appropriate). Apart from the point of view of the ministerial code and integrity in public life, there are very serious concerns for those of us interested in British Defence issues.

The Defence Secretary is supposed to be advised by the Chief of Defence Staff, the service chiefs (First Sea Lord, Chief of the General Staff and Chief of the Air Staff), and the relevant other senior personnel and civilians in the armed forces and the MOD. The MOD has plenty of departments, dealing with things such as policy, plans, procurement, anything and everything. There can hardly be a lack of capability there.

If the Defence Secretary really feels the need to be ‘advised’ by anyone who is outside the MOD chain, there are a number of learned, credible institutions such as the RUSI, which possess a wealth of knowledge and experience around Defence and Security issues. People who have actually paid their dues, either serving or studying military history.

All of which should suggest that at face value, the Defence Secretary shouldn’t really be in need of a special adviser. OK, in reality most Cabinet ministers have staff who advise on spin – how stories are presented, the politics of the issue, etc. But Mr Werrity has been described as a ‘Defence lobbyist’. Funnily enough, when Liam Fox was Shadow Health Secretary, Werrity was a ‘Health lobbyist’. Interesting, no? And surely if a Cabinet Minister cannot do his job without a poorly qualified siamese twin, doesn’t that cast judgement on his ability full stop?

Interestingly, Adam Werrity is, at 33, only five years older than myself. He gained a 2:2 degree in public policy – whatever that is – from the University of Edinburgh. Apparently he also stayed rent-free at Fox’s London apartment between 2003 and 2005, all of which hardly makes for a professional relationship.

It all makes you wonder what ‘advice’ exactly is being sought and offered. I’ve never liked the thought of special advisors who are outside the foodchain – it is completely unaccountable and open to all kind of abuse. What kind of influences are being brought to bear on these middle-men, say from commercial interests? There is absolutely no oversight, no accountability, and no control. Nobody elected him, based on a manifesto, and nobody selected him after an interview process.

This isn’t, for me, a red vs. blue/yellow political issue – all politicians have questions to answer about ‘lobbyists’, and who influences them and their decision making. The Defence of the Realm is far too important to be left to the Defence Secretary’s mini-me. But, as a high-profile Defence blog put it so succinctly, once again the British armed forces have become a political football, and the servicemen and women of the country are hardly likely to be winners.

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33 Comments

Filed under Army, defence, Navy, News, politics, Royal Air Force, Uncategorized

33 responses to “Serious questions for Defence Secretary

  1. x

    I am very disappointed in Dr Fox. Modern politicians once in post are more interested in preparing for their life post-politics than either representing their constituents or performing their duties as ministers of state.

    Perhaps with 80% of the legislation that effects the British people coming from Brussels and with our foreign policy being formed in the White House perhaps our MPs have lots of time to do other things?

  2. John Erickson

    I find it “interesting” that Dr. Fox’s “assistant” could be an expert on both public health AND defence. Smacks to me of cronyism, that great Chicago tradition of gathering a group of close friends and carrying them all the way through your political career, regardless of what expertise you are supposed to display.
    I’d be interested in seeing what companies Mr. Werrity serves as a board member or in which he holds stock. Betcha those companies are the current front-runners for Defence funds!
    Looks like American-style politics is alive and well in London……

  3. x

    Its worse John. British MPs are mostly detached from life outside the Westminster Village. I think the reason why they all so pro-EU is because without it they would have to do some work.

    Recently in the press there has been some articles discussing the fact that about 100 years ago MPs didn’t get paid but worked hard. As opposed to day where they don’t work hard and get paid (and not always from the public purse.)

  4. James Daly

    What terrifies me is that Liam Fox was always supposed to be one of the better ones – ie, one who has actually had a real life. As a GP at that too. Most of the rest have done absolutely nothing apart from climbed the greasy pole. I did a post a few months back about how years ago politicians paid their dues and gained a backgrounds before going into Westminster. Now, its a profession in itself, with its own set of norms and cultures.

  5. x

    Exactly. Fox was raised in a council house and literally made life and death decisions. I wonder what it is in the human psyche that leads us to look for the majority of our leaders amongst those who are at a base level dysfunctional? I do think that it has to be something to with being psychopathic; not really caring about stepping on others is worth more than ability I fear. Through out life I have come across many in positions of “power” who are basically inept in their role but don’t give a second thought to gutting somebody. Just thought that sycophancy has a role to play as well. Better to wet you pants as the boss’ most feeble joke than not………….

    • James Daly

      Cronyism seems to be just as endemic in British society as it has ever been. I don’t mind if people have favourites, but as long as it is based on something tangible, like ability, not old school tie, nepotism, financial gain, and god knows what else. And in a democracy to what extent do we really want unelected, un-appointed randoms, with no ability or experience, leaning on our Defence policy?

      I’m reminded of Montgomery and Slim’s differing approaches to their subordinates. Monty almost always had his own favourites placed into jobs, regardless of the ability of the prior incumbents. Whereas Slim didn’t really have a cabal of followers and invariably let the incumbents prove themselves before casting judgement on their abilities. I know which I think is sounder.

      • x

        The trouble with our defence policy is that we feel safe. War is a boring, inconvenient, and distant thing that fits somewhere between the headline events of the day and the sports news.

        Further it has become to abstract. A Security Studies course at uni’ will discuss feminism and religious freedom more, much, more, more than military matters. We borrow money from China in sums greater than the entire naval budget to give to aid to insecure Third World state. While the Chinese themselves are busy building warships of all shapes and sizes.

  6. I too thought that Fox was one of the better ones.

    Why is the media making such a big deal of this, when they seem to almost ignore other things (such as a senior naval officer warnnig that a loss of carrier related skills is likely to lead to fatal crashes in the future: see http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/defence/8799280/Royal-Navy-sackings-will-lose-aircraft-carriers-skills-forever.html)

      • James Daly

        By and large, I don’t think people do. They think that during peacetime, the military is money that would be better spent on schools on hospitals. But as soon as war kicks off, its good old Tommy Atkins and Jack Tar. Defence-blindness, you might call it. People think you go and order tanks and warships from B&Q whenever you need them.

        • x

          Jack Tar? I thought the RAF won all the wars and the RN exists to provide material for fly on the wall documentaries. The corporate mentality of the Army is so now warped it thinks it is a strategic service forgetting it can’t go anywhere without the permission of the world’s primary fighting service, the USN.

          The next big shooting war will be in the Indian Ocean. We won’t be able to influence what happens to any degree because our fleet will be to0 small. We will be left to broker a deal with who ever wins and bargaining from position of weakness is never good. But if the tricky beggars try sneaking into UK airspace we will show ‘em…………

          • James Daly

            Within defence-blindness you also have seablindness. It’s not a new thing, as we have discussed many a time before.

            A case in point. In the past 2 years the Band of the Coldstream Guards and the Central Band of the RAF have both had high profile CD’s released – in the charts, on the shelves, advertised on telly. Yet it was only last week that the Royal Marines managed to sign a deal to release a similar album – way behind the pace, even though the RM Band are regarded as the best military band in the world. It might seem trivial, but in PR terms its things like that that will engage the public in this modern world that we live in. A bit more savvy would not go amiss.

            As you mention x, if the next threat appears over the white cliffs of dover biggles and algy will be able to defend us.

            • x

              One of my favourite pieces of music is RM Band playing the theme from Jurassic Park.

              And surely I should have said “fly on the bulkhead?” When I was chair of the local sea cadet my two principle staff members were ex-FAA and ex-medical branch. Correct nautical nomenclature wasn’t really their thing. ;)

              On a certain defence site where I now only rarely visit if you mention any of this RAF-PR business you are treated as if you wear a tinfoil hat. Apparently I can evaluate primary sources on Cold War Berlin and Partition and write first classes essays on those topics, but when it comes to the relatively straightforward issue late 20th UK defence I am as far of target as 1000lb’er chucked out of a Vulcan over Stanley in 82.

  7. What sight would that be?

    Anyway, I am personally very aware of sea blindness, and the combination of public/media ignorance, and the deliberate attempt by some in the defence establishment to played down the role played by naval/maritime forces.

    Just look at the MOD PR efforts regarding Libya.

    • x

      Yes I have looked the MoD PR re Libya. My favourite was the RAF rescuing those oilworkers. I know the SBS don’t like publicity but who do you think drove the mission planning on that event? The SBS were in equal danger, if not more, but hardly a mention.

      • James Daly

        Theres been very little about HMS Liverpool in the news. With the best will in the world its one of the oldest ships in the fleet due to go out of service very soon, yet its spent nigh on 6 months off Libya. Fired on a couple of times too.

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