Tag Archives: government

Another F-35 Volte Face

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Lightning II, bu...

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Lightning II (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m sure I don’t need to tell you all about today announcement by the Defence Secretary in the House of Commons explaining the Government’s decision to backtrack and purchase the STOVL version of the F-35 Lightning Joint Strike Fighter, instead of the conventional carrier version. The original plan was, of course, to purchase the STOVL version – ie F-35B – as replacement for the Harriers, to operate from the new Queen Elizabeth Class Carriers.

The coalition has now performed two u-turns on the Joint Strike Fighter issue. First, soon after coming into office they abandoned the vertical take-off verson, in favour of  the higher performance variant. Now, having seen the costs for installing catapults and traps on the aircraft carriers spiral, they have decided to go back to the vertical take off variant.

One cannot help but feel that this constant to-ing and fro-ing has probably added a significant amount to the cost, for no discernible gain, and will almost certainly delay their introduction into service. And as anyone who has worked in retail will tell you, there is nothing more annoying than a customer who keeps changing their mind every five minutes. It’s bad enough if someone is buying a book or a loaf of bread, but 50+ fighter aircraft?

There are some upshots to the decision. It is possible that both aircraft carriers will come into service, and slightly earlier in 2018, compared to lengthy delays if they had to be converted to ‘cat and trap’. There have been some concerns that the B version has a less impressive performance than the C version. Compare the following specs:

  • Range – B version, 900 nautical miles; C Version, 1,400 nautical miles
  • combat radius – B version, 469 nautical miles; C Version, 615 nautical miles

The lack of range is apparently due to the B version having to accomodate extra plant for vertical landing, which eats into its fuel capacity. I’m not sure if it’s just me, but the differences do not seem too critical – isn’t the beauty of an aircraft carrier that you can move it 100 miles closer in if need be, and if safe to do so? Apparently the B version will be able to carry less weapons than the C version as well, however I am having trouble finding firm specifications for this. It should also be remembered that the B version will, in theory, be able to operate short-term or in an emergency from other ships that have landing spaces, or from rough airstrips on land – neither of which the F-35 C can do. By way of a contrast, the Sea Harrier had a combat radius of 540 nautical miles, but didn’t have such a high performance as the F-35 in other respects. I seem to recall that the SHAR was hardly bristling with armaments either.

The decision making regarding the Joint Strike Fighter project has been flawed from day one. Perhaps setting out to buy the STOVL versions was not the wisest decision in hindsight, but to decide to switch to the C version, and then back to the B version again in a year shows a serious case of indecision and narrow-mindedness. A decision that was supposed to save money in the long run, ended up costing us more money in the short term and not happening anyway. Let’s hope that this kind of defence procurement strategic direction never transgresses into decision making in war.

Still, I cannot help but feel that we would have been far better off purchasing some F-18′s off the shelf in the first place – both in terms of cost and capabilitity.

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Scotland, Subs and Royal Yachts

The Royal Yacht Britannia

A couple of interesting stories emerged today in naval circles.

Firstly, the Mail in Scotland yesterday reported that the Ministry of Defence was considering contingency plans to re-locate submarines and ships based at Faslane in Scotland, in the event of an independence referendum voting in favour of severing ties with the rest of Britain. Currently, Faslane hosts the four Vanguard Class Ballistic Missile Submarines, HMS Astute, and eight Sandown Class MCMV’s of the 1st MCM Squadron. Faslane is also due to be the base port for the rest of the Astute Class as they come in to service.

Devonport has the sole nuclear refuelling and repair facility for submarines in Britain, including a dock specially built to fit the Vanguard Class, so it would make sense to base at least some of the submarines there. Given that Plymouth is more remote than Portsmouth, it might make sense to base the Vanguards there, and the Astutes at Portsmouth. The Sandown Class Minehunters would fit in well at Portsmouth, given that the Hunt Class are already based there. Or, perhaps, Plymouth could become more of a Submarine base, taking Vanguards and Astutes and transferring surface ships to Portsmouth in their stead. The fly in the ointment would be the Trident missile facility at Coulport on the Clyde – not something you could move in a hurry.

Secondly, Education Secretary Michael Gove has egg on his face after suggesting that perhaps the Government could purchase a new Royal Yacht for the Queen to mark her Diamond Jubilee this year. The last Royal Yacht, HMY Britannia, was retired in 1997 as a cost-cutting measure. As wonderful as she was, the concept of a Royal Yacht belongs in the twentieth century. The figure being quoted for building a replacement is £60m, which seems conservative for me – that was the figure quoted in 1997, and with inflation, it must be well over twice that now. At a time when the Royal Navy is losing ships hand over fist, is it a great idea to commit it to running a Royal Yacht? Not only do we need to consider the build costs, but the fitting out, the manning, the basing, the maintenance, the running costs… can we really afford it? I doubt it. I’m a keen supporter of traditions and heritage, but only where it makes sense on an operational and economic level.

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The Great British Fares Rip-Off

English: Southern Class 313/2 unit 313205 stan...

Image via Wikipedia

I’m sure those of you who live in the UK have heard all about the never-ending increases in train fares, which have continuted with another hike from this week. My weekly train fare from Chichester to Portsmouth is now £28.90 – that’s an increase of £2.10, or almost 8%. For a journey that takes an average of 25 minutes. At a time when the cost of everything – food, energy, etc – is going up, and wages are standing still or worse going down. I now spend more on train travel to work than I do on food each month.

It’s not even as if we get a decent service for it. Most mornings I board trains that are overcrowded, with no toilets, and seats that seem to have all the padding of one layer of cardboard. The trains being used on the Brighton to Portsmouth line are often renovated Class 313 rolling stock (seen above), which are actually over 35 years old! So much for our inflated fares paying for investment… I think we are quite entitled to ask where our money is going, and how huge increases can be justified.

If anyone doesn’t travel on trains, I cannot stress enough to not believe the PR that the train companies spout. There are more cancellations, delays etc than they claim, but they use all kinds of ruses to massage their figures. Often, if a train is more than 10 minutes late, or whatever the cut-off time is, it will be cancelled. You will then see the train you hoped to catch zoom past, empty and out of service. Or the train might terminate a couple of stops down from its final destination. And the amount of times I have checked train times online and they looked fine, only to get to the station and find that there are cancellations and delays. Does anyone think they are trying to give them impression that all is well, when in fact it is not? I’ve tried to find out some more about the business behind Southern – my carrier of no-choice – but their website is a complete baffle, and their parent company Govia‘s website is minimalist to say the least. Anyone would think that they don’t want people to know how much money they are making!

Only a complete delusion artist would attempt to argue that privatising the railways has been succesful. Sucessive Governments hoped, in a Rumsfeldian manner, that investment would make them blossom, competition would bring efficiency, and with the railways off the Government’s balance sheet, the way would be free for big business to gain. It just hasn’t worked, aside from the ideological arguments. Exposing such a crucial part of the nation’s transport infrastructure to commercial forces has resulted in exploitation rather than investment and improvement.

The difference between rail travel in Britain and on the continent is startling. The DB in germany is a model of efficiency – cheap, fast, reliable, clean and comfortable. DB is operated as a commercial venture, but 100% owned by the German government – hence the Government has input into services, fares etc. Apparently, however, there is a deabte ongoing in Germany over privatisation. The example of British Railways since privatisation has to scream one word – DON’T! The Dutch NS is owned by the Dutch Government, and the French SNCF is also state owned. All are vastly superior to the British Rail system.

Trains should be a service, provided for people to go about their working lives at the lowest cost possible. The spectre of commuters - many facing years of pay freezes and cuts – facing fare hikes of up to 10% is galling, whilst shareholders earn very nice profits for doing absolutely nothing.

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The Irish who fought for Britain

Apparently there is a programme on BBC Radio 4 in a few days time looking at the discrimination suffered by Irishmen from the Republic who fought for Britain during the Second World War. I never knew this, but apparently the Irish Government had a blacklist of men who had deserted from the Irish Republic‘s forces and joined the British Armed Forces. The discrimination reached quite far, down to all Government agencies. It must have been hell for many of the poor blokes to have to hide their past for 60 odd years. As somebody says on the programme, it is incredible that men who volunteered to fight fascism were persecuted far more than men who simply deserted and went on the run. Even men who died in action were still included on the list.

On the face of it, this policy isn’t surprising. Ireland in 1939 still had a decidedly anti-British chip on its shoulder, particularly in officialdom. Of course, Eamon de Valera was the only world leader to offer his condolences to Nazi Germany on Hitler’s death. The rationale for which, I have never understood. But to learn that the Government actually went as far as to have a blacklist of names, to the point of affecting men’s employment prospects, is rather startling.

To this day, Irish citizens have a unique status when it comes to applying to serve in the British Armed Forces. If anyone has looked at the entry requirements, they often specify ‘UK, Commonwealth or Irish’ nationality. But Irish recruitment into the Royal Navy and British Army, in particular, has been going on for hundreds of years. During the Napoleonic era legions of Irishmen served in Wellington’s Army – Sergeant Patrick Harper of the Sharpe novels, for example. My own Catholic Irish ancestry brought my family to Portsmouth, to join the Royal Navy. In 1914 my great-grandfather, Thomas Daly, journeyed from Birkenhead to Portsmouth to join the Royal Navy.

Interestingly, we can tell where WW1 sailors were born. 5 sailors out of 745 I have researched so far came from Ireland. This doesn’t include men who might be second generation immigrants. It is also noticeable that many Portsmouth servicemen died fighting with Irish Army units – the Royal Munster Fusiliers, in particular. In his many books Richard Doherty has charted the great contribution that Irishmen – from north and south of the border – made to the allied cause in the Second World War. And in the First World War, the Republican and Unionist paramilitaries in Northern Ireland put aside their differences and joined Divisions that included Protestant and Catholic men.

It seems to me that discrimination against Irishmen who fought Hitler was petty, and had more to do with an inherent anti-Britishness than any thoughts about the morality of the Second World War. When men have to hide medals that they earnt fighting against extremism and tyranny, its a very strange world indeed.

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Filed under Army, Navy, Uncategorized, World War One, World War Two

Thoughts on the Fleet Ready Escort

HMS Somerset of the Royal Navy. Type 23 frigat...

A Type 23 Frigate, often on Fleet Ready Escort (Image via Wikipedia)

There’s been a lot in the papers recently about the fact that the Royal Navy has not had a Frigate or Destroyer designated as the Fleet Ready Escort for the past four weeks or so. But what exactly is the Fleet Ready Escort? It is usually a Frigate or Destroyer, maintained at high-readiness in UK waters to respond to events anywhere in the world. The idea presumably being that if a crisis kicks off somewhere, we can at least get ONE ship there quickly, and the most utilitarian of ships at that. If we need to augment the deployment, add ships, roulement, etc, then we can deal with that in time. FRE could be referred to as the first domino.

A clear example of this is the manner in which during the Callaghan Government of the late 1970′s, a Frigate was despatched. A Submarine and RFA soon followed. Sending a Frigate might be largely symbolic in a lot of cases, given the time that it will take to actually reach a crisis zone. But it is a statement of intent, that we can and will respond. If it is commonly known that we have no means of response, then rogue elements around the world know that they can act with impunity. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that if they can read Janes and see that our ability to respond is somewhere between unlikely and impossible, it must have at least crossed Argentina’s mind that if the Royal Navy does not have one Frigate spare in British waters, how the hell could it send a Task Force 8,000 miles south?

Therefore, that the Royal Navy has been without an FRE for any length of time is a cause of concern. It certainly is an indication that the fleet is far too stretched to fulfil all of its commitments adequately. Defending the realm and responding to the Government’s Foreign policy needs are surely the primary role of the Royal Navy? If they cannot be met, then why not? It’s hardly rocket science, but you can’t keep cutting ships without affecting capability. One expects that if something happened that required a response we would have to scrape the barrell and pull a ship out of refit, or off of exercises. We could probably cope, but ‘cope’ is not a very confidence-inspiring word.

One aspect in which I do think the role of FRE has been overstated is that of terrorism in UK waters. With the best will in the world, enough has been written here and elsewhere online to show that against seaborne terrorist tactics, such as small boats, Frigates and Destroyers are far from ideal. In any case, if you are looking to respond AFTER a terrorist incident, then it is already too late – the perpetrators will either have made away, or been vaporised along with their explosive-packed RIB. Smaller patrol craft, such as those employed by the SBS, would be far more suitable.

Neither is there any credible need to have a warship available to defend British waters in the conventional sense. All of our neighbours in Europe are friendly, and there are no antagonists anywhere near our seaboards who are likely to send a Battle Group up the western approaches any time soon. In any case, one expects if they did, we would know about it with plenty of notice. We are living in a different world from that of Jutland or Operation SeaLion.

In a similar manner to the FRE, the Army usually has an infantry Battalion on short notice to go anywhere in the world, and the RAF has assets on high-readiness, in particular fighters to intercept aircraft nosing into our airspace. When it comes down to it, all British servicemen and and defence materiel are on some level of readiness to go anywhere in the world should it be deemed necessary. If one ship is at high-readiness, what are the rest of them at? In the same manner, I guess, we have got used to roulements, with ships/units etc only being deployed for around 6 months at a time. This is obviously a ‘luxury’ or peacetime punctuated by low-intensity operations, whereas during total war, everyone is in the front line for the duration.

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The Armed Forces of the European Union 2012-2013 by Charlie Heyman

Something that doesn’t seem to appear on many strategits or analysts radars if the growth of the European Union as a military infrastructure and a regional power. Since the end of the Second World War, NATO dominated military planning in western and central Europe. Since the fall of the Soviet Union and the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, however, NATO has found itself at something of a loose end.

The EU, on the other hand, appears to be a rising presence on the world stage. The 27 members have a joint population of 498 million people, a joint defence budget of 182bn Euros, and a total of 934,600 soldiers, 223,770 sailors and 331,450 airmen. 5,325 tanks, 7 aircraft carriers, 69 submarines, and 140 Frigates and Destroyers. A mammoth 2,088 combat aircraft, 603 transporters, and 77 air-to-air refuelling aircraft.

It would be wrong to assume that the EU is the same as NATO. Although many members are the same, there are exceptions. Ireland, Sweden, Finland,  Austria and Cyprus are members of the EU only; while Iceland, Norway, Slovenia, Albania and Turkey are members of NATO but not the EU. Denmark is a member of both, but has an op-out clause where EU defence policy is concerned.

The co-ordination and integration of European militaries could be seen by some as a move towards European federalism – after all, one of the hallmarks of a ‘state’ is a military, and with a permanent European military staff, it does herald integration like never before. But what an EU military does reflect, is a Europe endeavouring to work together without needing a cross-Atlantic input. NATO is still important as an underpin to the western hemisphere’s unity.

The EU military commitee is nominally made up of the CDS of each nation, but in practice is formed by a representative seconded from each respective armed forces. The chairmanship rotates every three years and is a 4-star post. The current commander is a Swedish General, and I think it is very important that the Committee is not necessarily always commanded by those with the most muscle. There is an EU ops centre in Brussels, that can command a relatively small force of about 2,000 troops. Other national operational centres have been placed at the EU’s disposal, including PJHQ at Northwood, and its equivalent in Paris, Potsdam, Rome and Greece.

There are a number of non-NATO, EU based multilateral structures:

  • Eurpean Air Group (Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, UK)
  • European Airlift Centre (Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, UK)
  • Sealift Co-ordination Centre (Netherlands and UK)
  • European Amphibious Initiative (France, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, UK)
  • Standby High Readiness Brigade (AU, DK, SU, IRL, I, LIT, N, NOR, PL, P, SLOVENIA, E, SV)
  • SE Europe Brigade (Greece, Italy, Slovenia)
  • Nordic Co-Ordinated Arrangement for Military Peace support (Finland, Sweden, Denmark)
  • EUROCORPS – Germany, Belgium, Spain, France, France, Luxembourg
  • EUROFOR – France, Italy, Portugal, Spain
  • EUROMARFOR – France, Italy, Portugal, Spain

EUROCORPS in particular is a credible structure, with a Franco-German Brigade and a Multinational Command Brigade permanently attached, and up to 9 other Brigades earmarked. Other national, multinational or international units could be made available – the British led ARRC, for example.

The most interesting development, for me, is that of the EU battlegroup. Whilst European nations between them have a sum total military that appears formidable, at present it is limited in its deployability. The reliance on national forces and ad-hoc arrangements every time a threat emerges does not tend to engender long-term planning. In my opinion, officers, staffs and forces are bound to work better together in a crisis if they work together when there isn’t one too. And whilst it might seem like an excuse for cost-cutting – much the same as ‘jointery’ does in the UK – there is no doubt much duplication among 27 militaries that could be avoided.

On paper, the national forces of the EU have 120 Brigades that are deployable. However, many smaller countries do not even have forces of that level. Even if, for example countries like the Baltic states – have one or two Brigades, deploying them would repesent a herculean effort. Why not, therefore, combine and send a battalion each? In terms of ships also, whilst Britain, for example, might have one Albion class LPD available, if more were needed for an appropriate task, why not add-in a Rotterdam or Galicia class ship? Some countries have plenty of escort ships but no carrier, in which case integrated battle groups could work dividends. Many smaller nations have no transporter aircraft, but others do. Another example, for me, is in sealift. Obviously, countries such as Austria and the Czech Republic have no sealift capabilty. Fine, drive to Rotterdam or south to a Med port and load up on a borrowed ro-ro there instead!

There are a total of 17 EU battlegroups available. Many are comprised solely of national Brigades (including the UK battlegroup), but others are a combined group. Some are based on geography (Spain and Italy’s amphibious battlegroup, France and Belgium, and the Czech Republic and Slovakia) while others are a little strange (Germany, Netherlands and Finland; and Ireland teaming up with Nordic and Baltic countries). The aim is to have two battlegroups on high readiness at any given time.

Of course, such close intergration only works if countries are genuinely prepared to do their share when the prverbial hits the fan. But all the time countries are working together, they’re less likely to be fighting each other, and more likely to be more effective when called on to fight alongside each other.

Suffice to say, I found this book very thought provoking indeed!

The Armed Forces of the European Union 2012-2013 is published by Pen and Sword

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USS Forrest Sherman

USS Forrest Sherman

USS Forrest Sherman

USS Forrest Sherman, a US Navy Arleigh Burke class Destroyer, seen coming into Portsmouth Harbour – conveniently during my lunch hour!

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England’s green and privatised land

New Forest Autumn

Image by danny george via Flickr

The Government is currently consulting over proposals to sell off a large proportion of our nationally-owned forests. As far as I can tell the plans are ill-defined, ideologically-driven and risk casting a scar upon the landscape of this land forever. In the consultation document Caroline Spelman describes them as ‘treasured woodlands’, but if thats so, why flog them?

Historically Britain – or at least England – has been one of the most heavily forested countries in Europe. Forests and trees are a strong central thread in British history – look at Robin Hood and his merry men hiding out in Sherwood Forest for starters. For hundreds of years the Forests sustained Royal Hunting, with plenty of lodges and a supportive infrastructure. And then we have the crucial role that Royal Forests played in supplying timber for the burgeoning Royal Navy. Not for nothing is the Royal Navy’s march entitled ‘Heart of Oak‘.

The Government, through the Forestry Commission, currently looks after 18% of Britain’s woodland – 258,000 hectares. The other 82% is privately owned (how much of it is on Tory MP’s and Peers estates, one wonders?). Near me there are a couple of ancient Forests – the Forest of Bere and the New Forest. The Forest of Bere was for hundreds of years an ancient hunting reserve. And the New Forest is an enigma all of its own. There are so many ancient customs going on there, and its a real gem of this country that we should be so proud of and protect to the hilt. Particularly at a time when so many people, especially young people, dwell in inner cities and never get to see the countryside – we should be encouraging them to get out and walking in the mud of the Forests. Maybe in this sense communities could take over and run small forests – particularly those on the fringes of urban areas. But only wealthy, well-adjusted communities will have the time, funds and resources to do so.

I cannot understand what the Government hopes to achieve, aside from saving a few quid. Actually, I’ve answered my own question there. Surely some things should be sacred beyond mere penny-pinching? I am in no way convinced about the safeguards in place to prevent private companies – in all likelihood foreign – exploiting and asset stripping the very fabric of our land. We were told before the privatisation of public transport that it would lead to better services and investment, and to be quite frank that was bollocks. The countryside is not an amenity, it IS part of the country. Are we to see ‘the [insert name of faceless company] New Forest’, complete with huge advertising hoardings, blocking access or charging for the right to visit, or exploiting the hell out of the Forest’s resources? We might not, but once control is handed over, what is there to stop it? The consultation talks about ‘alternative models of ownership’, but past experience shows us that this is window dressing for getting something off the balance sheet, and to hell with the consequences, and if someone can profit from it as well, even better.

Is anything about this country sacred? If we are being consulted about selling off our trees, heaths, fields and pastures, had we might as well consult about privatising the oxygen supply as well. For me this goes beyond politics, it’s just plain wrong. Yet only the other day a majority of MP’s in the House of Commons – aided by a large number of Tory MP’s who have rural constituencies and a vacancy in brain cells – actually backed the Government’s plan. Evidence, if any is needed, that MP’s will just go along with whatever their political masters tell them to vote for.

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30 year rule for historic records reduced to 20 years

I took this photograph myself when I went on a...

The National Archives in Kew (Image via Wikipedia)

The Ministry of Justice has announced that the current 30-year rule for historic official documents is to be reduced to 20 years.

Currently, official Government documents handed to the National Archives are closed for 30 years after they were produced. This means, for example, that documents relating to the Falklands War in 1982 are expected to become available in 2012. The exception, of course, is material that is judged to be too sensitive on national security grounds.

This is welcome news for historians, as it means that more historic records will be available for research much more quickly. According to the announcement on the ministry’s website, however, the process may take a while:

“To amend the Public Records Act to reduce the 30-year rule so that historical records are generally made available at The National Archives and other places of deposit after 20 years; this will be transitioned over a 10 year period at a rate of two years’ worth of records being transferred per year, with a view to commencing the process in 2013″

This still means however that documents relating to a whole host of events in the 1980′s will become available up to 10 years earlier than anticipated – the Falklands War, Thatcher‘s disputes with the Unions, Northern Ireland and the IRA, and possibly even documents relating to football hooliganism, Thatcher’s downfall and the first Gulf War. It has also been argued that the move will enhance transparency in Government, as ministers will only have to wait 20 years for their actions to come under scrutiny, rather than the present cushion of three decades.

Oliver Morley, Acting Chief Executive of The National Archives, said: ‘We look forward to working with government to implement these changes and will play a pivotal role in smoothing the transition for the records bodies involved.’

The move comes following a review of the 30 year rule in 2008. The 30 year rule has been increasingly redundant, as the Freedom of Information Act has made it possible for members of the public to request the opening up of material well before its 30 year closure has elapsed. This is particularly relevant with harmless and non-sensitive material that will help historians and family history enthusiasts alike.

I have also often thought that the 100 year limit on the national census returns is also excessive – might 50 years not be more sensible? I long for the day we can all access the little-known ‘wartime census’.

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Government advisor resigns after recession remarks

Literally hours on from my previous post about class in British society and its effect on the recession, a Government advisor resigned after making inappopriate remarks about the current economic downturn.

Lord Young, a businessman, former Thatcher Government minister and Tory peer, echoed Harold Macmillan’s famous remarks from the 1950′s that Briton’s had ‘never had it so good’. He also referred to the recent downturn as a ‘so-called recession’. Amusingly, his wikipedia entry states that he has ‘not yet’ resigned from his position as Government enterprise advisor. We can only wait and hope.

Lord Young went on to say:

“So, you know, I have a feeling and a hope that when this goes through, people will wonder what all the fuss was about… Of course, there will be people who complain, but these are people who think they have a right for the state to support them.”

These kind of comments show just how removed some sections of society are from reality. The funny thing is, I can sense what Lord Young was trying to say, but he went completely the wrong way about it. They are insulting to people who are struggling, and even more so coming from somebody who quite clearly does not have to worry about where the next meal is coming from, or whether he is going to be laid off. It’s up there with Barbara Bush saying ‘this has worked out quite well for some people’ after Hurricane Katrina, or even Marie Antoinette’s ‘let them eat cake’.

What’s worse for me is that Cameron hired somebody like Young in the first place, it shows either a breathtaking lack of judgement, or it belies the fact that maybe deep down our Dave agrees with Young. It’s all very well for Young to say that he should have chosen his words better, but this is a smokescreen – these are the fundamental thoughts of a whole section of society and the party that represent it. Even if he hadn’t said it, its still what he was thinking deep down. And this naivetey, snobbery and selfishness is what the programme of cuts are based on.

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MOD organisation structure released

The Government has released organisation diagrams of all Departments, including the Ministry of Defence. It makes for pretty interesting reading indeed.

The diagrams show just how many deparments there are in the MOD. The chains of command are incredibly complicated, with all manner of civilians and officers involved. In most cases the diagram shows how many civilians and militarty personnel work for each person or department. In total it runs to 48 pages, covering the MOD centrally, the Royal Navy, the Army and the Royal Air Force.

The first interesting point is that the main components of each service – eg Fleet, Land Forces, Air Command, Permanent Joint Headquarters, Defence Estates and Defence Equipment and support – are treated as separate from their services when it comes to budgeting. Divide and conquer perhaps, by making the services financially separate from their main components?

Another thing that strikes me is just how many senior officers work in MOD Head Office, and also civilian civil servants, all on significant salaries. This probably accounts for the oft-quoted figures about how the armed forces have more Admirals than major surface ships.

Thought it might make interesting reading for my regulars!

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Mo Mowlam remembered

I watched the docu-drama Mo on Channel 4 last night. It’s a portrayal of the last years of Mo Mowlam’s life, from just before the General Election of 1997 until her untimely death in 2005.

I know its only TV, and although its as a documentary element its not necessarily 100% accurate, but by all accounts her friends who were involved in making it regarded it as very true to life. Julie Walters was fantastic as Mo, and the screenplay was dramatic, moving and heartfelt. Mo’s story tells us a lot about the past 15 years in Britain. Its maybe too early to look at the New Labour era objectively, but with the Labour Government seemingly sloping towards an election defeat in May it seems natural to look back on those early days.

The way that Tony Blair undermined Mowlam after her standing ovation at the Labour Conference was nothing short of a disgrace. In an almost Stalinist manner, it was not acceptable for a Minister to be too popular. In a Government full of figures intent on following a political career rather than staying true to their beliefs, someone like Mo Mowlam was always going to stand out. But there seems little doubt that amongst ordinary people she remains the most popular and likeable Labour politcian of the past 13 years. Isn’t the Labour party supposed to be about representing ordinary people?

In hindsight it would seem as well that Downing Street attempted to marginalise Mowlam during the Northern Ireland negotiations. This fits in with the controlling, unconstitutional style of Government that is rapidly being exposed by the Iraq Inquiry. Despite attempts to steal the limelight, it has to be said that peace in Northern Ireland – largely brought about by Mo Mowlam – is the greatest achievement of the Labour Government.

But most importantly, Mo was herself. And among a cabal of faceless New Labour functionaries, that was refreshing. The way that she handled her illness was an inspiration. It does seem wrong that while Mo Mowlam suffered like she did, somebody like Peter Mandelson keeps bouncing back like a rubber ball and we have a Prime Minister ill at ease with people and vainly clinging onto power.

Her story tells us about much that is right and wrong about British politics, and budding politicians would to well to watch and learn.

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New documents released by National Archives

The National Archives have released a new selection of official documents, dating from 1979. Records relating to the intelligence services, strikes and the civil service are now in the public domain.

Interestingly, in 1979 it was suggested that an official history of the intelligence services in the second world war might be ‘laying up trouble for ourselves in the future’, according to Prime Minister Jim Callaghan. At the time the Government did not even acknowledge that the intelligence services existed. An authorised History was published only in 2009, as part of a new policy of openness.

On 11 January 1979 the Transport and General Workers Union voted for a strike among lorry drivers. There was much concern that essential, supplies would be put in danger due to secondary picketing. Troops were put on standby as the Government was on the verge of declaring a state of emergency. Documents released show robust correspondence between the Prime Minister and Union officials, at a time of much unrest.

When the new Conservative Government, by Margaret Thatcher, came to power in 1979 they immediately set upon schemes to freeze and then reduce civil service manpower and running costs. There was much heated debate among ministers about whether they could a 10% cut in budgets. In particular the Chancellor and Secretary of Defence were concerned. Also, Margaret Thatcher also refused to send a goodwill Christmas to civil service staff.

In Northern Ireland, the new Government took a robust position. After the US Government refused to supply weapons to the Royal Ulster Constabulary Margaret Thatcher took up the issue personally with President Carter. There were suggestions that the powerful Irish-American lobby were behind the problems.

New year always brings an interesting release of documents from thirty years ago. Under the 30 year rule most documents are closed for that period of time, unless they are deemed harmless enough to be released early, or sensitive enough to be closed for longer. 2013 should see the release of many documents relating to the Falklands War that aren’t already in the public domain.

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anger at MOD bonuses

There has been widespread anger at the news that the Ministry of Defence has paid over £47 million worth of bonuses to 50,000 civilian staff for ‘outstanding performance’. The negotiated pay deals saw the civil servants earning an average of just less than £1,000 each. By contrast, a Private in the British Army earns less than £17,000 a year.

Defence Minister Kevin Jones revealed the figures after a written question in Parliament. The revelation comes at a sensitive time, when British forces are suffering serious casualties in Afghanistan, there are calls for more Helicopters, and all armed forces face a savage defence review after the next general election.

There is something fundamentally at odds here. On the one hand the MOD is lavishing bonuses on civilian staff, while looking to make cuts in front line services. There is nothing wrong with employing civilians: in many cases it makes much more sense to employ civilians than have the job performed by a serviceman. Administration, for example, can be performed just as well by a civilian worker. Arguments that civil servants often go into the front line shows the extent of cuts to the services. Personally, I feel that any military-related job that entails someone going into harms way should not be performed by a civilian.

The MOD and civil service unions argue that the payments come from central salary budgets, were already negotiated and have no effect on operational spending. However, this does not add up. Anyone with a simple understanding of Government spending knows that it is quite simple to make savings in one area to transfer the surplus to another.

Not only does this show that the MOD’s values are not the same as those of the armed forces,and that the Government’s priorities are not with the men at the coalface, it sends a disgraceful signal to soldiers, sailors and airmen, and their families. In my own experience, if you cannot subscribe to the values of an organisation, you should not be working there. Hence, I feel that to work in the MOD and accept bonuses, all the time that our armed forces are under such difficulties, is immoral.

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Defence spending and statistics

All the recent talk about Defence spending has got me thinking. The Ministry of Defence website has a very interesting statistics section, accesible here.

There quite a few interesting nuggets of information to be found.

In 2009, Defence spending totalled £38.6bn. This was the fourth highest area of spending, after Work and Pensions, Health, and Children, Schools and Families. We spent 2.2% of our GDP on Defence, which although slightly more than most European countries, it is much less than the USA at 3.9%.

Of this budget, £2bn went to running the Navy, £6.7bn on the Army and £2.7bn to the RAF. £14.6bn was allocated to equipment purchasing, which is held separate from each of the armed forces. Over £7bn is spent on central administration, estates and various agencies. Clearly, the Army is relatively cheap in terms of the equipment that it needs, compared to the Navy and RAF, but due to its high numbers and cost of training it is more expensive to run. Also, interesting that a fifth of the MOD’s annual budget disappears in ‘central administration’ – more than it costs to run the Army.

That the MOD keeps the equipment purchasing pot separate is not surprising. That way they can control what gets bought, and make the services squabble with each other. Although the idea of the MOD intergrating the 3 services was to encourage them to work together better, it seems to create more distrust and rivalry. Civil Servants are quite happy to force officers to fight for resources then complain when they speak out of turn. The bulk of the equipment purchasing fund seems to go to the Navy and the RAF – reportedly only 10% reaches the Army.

That £7bn is spent by the MOD on administration is nothing short of scandalous. Surely that could quite easily be trimmed back. £7bn is half what we spend each year on buying new warships, jets and tanks. Think of the equipment that a £1bn or £2bn saving would buy. Money should reach where it is most needed, not the Whitehall Mandarins. Streamlining would save money and make the services more effective.

On 1 April 2009 the UK Armed Forces stood at 188,370 personnel. The Royal Navy 38,340, the Army 106,460 and the RAF 43,565. This would account partly for why the cost of running the Army is so high, due to its manpower. For the first time in 5 years, more people joined than left. 6.5% of personnel are from ethnic minority backgrounds, and 9.5% are female. The armed services have 5,785 officers of Lieutenant-Colonel rank or above. Are the armed forces overloaded with senior officers? Quite possibly, there is an often-quoted example that the Royal Navy has more Admirals than major surface ships. How many Rear-Admirals, Brigadiers or Air Commodores are working behind desks in indecipherable Defence agencies?

The armed forces are almost certain to be among the biggest losers in the scramble to make savings in the next few years. But it shouldnt simply be a case of cuts. In 2007-8 £169bn was spent on social security – work, pensions and benefits. How much of this is being paid to people who could work, should work, etc? Even just a tiny percentage would pay for a few more Type 45 Destroyers that we badly need.

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