We might have expected that with General Sir Richard Dannatt on the Tories Defence team, they might start espousing some sensible Defence policies. They couldn’t be any worse than Labour, surely?
It hasn’t taken long, however, for the electioneering to begin. Last night the Tories announced that they would provide free University education for the children of Soldiers killed in action since 1990. Whilst it is great that they are proposing to do things to benefit the children of the fallen, dig a bit deeper and you can see what a cheap gesture it is. For a start, what if they don’t want to go to University? Do they get funding to help train as a plumber? What if they don’t get the A-level grades to go to Uni, do they get a wildcard entry to Uni? Its poorly thought out to say the least, and seems like a throwaway votegrabber.
Whats more worrying, is that reportedly David Cameron has promised to ringfence only the NHS and International Development budgets in any future spending cuts, which are bound to be savage. It also seems very unlikely that the Social Security budget will be cut.
So…. While the our armed forces struggle – not to mention all of the other parts of the public sector such as local Government – the Government is happy to send £5.5bn overseas. And whilst I am sure there are some extremely worthwhile projects going on in the world, what I do question is why the UK should be sending hundreds of millions of pounds to a country like India. Whilst there are some extremely poor people in India, as a country India is not poor. With one of the fastest rates of growth in the world, India is bound to at some point in the near future become a superpower. A nuclear armed state, India has the third largest military in the world. The Indian Navy has 155 vessels, with three Ballistic Missile Submarines due to enter service soon. The Indian Air Force has over 2,800 aircraft. A country that still operates the Sea Harrier, while the Royal Navy’s has long been retired. Compare these statistics to the tales of woe emanating from the state of the UK’s armed forces in recent years.
Whilst the concept of aiding overseas countries is a very noble one, it should only ever be when a country cannot help itself. Giving money to a country that could look after itself, with no strings attached, is irresponsible on the UK taxpayer. Why should International aid be ringfenced, while other areas of spending come under massive pressure? Countries like Afghanistan really deserve our full attention, our aid can make a big difference there. But it shouldn’t be all about money – perhaps we can offer more effective aid in terms of expertise and resources, rather than throwing money at problems? How many African states receive aid, while their President sits in nice leather office chairs, and driven around in Limos?
And at the same time we are spending £169bn annually on social security. How much of this is being claimed fraudulently, or by people who could work, or helps people live the life of riley above and beyond a mere comfortable existence? Why shouldn’t Government’s take a sensible, root and branch look at such a massive area of public spending? For too long the solution to any problem has been to throw money at it – the amount of money being poured into the NHS has sky-rocket in recent years, but improvement in services has not matched the money going in. Just because a service is important, it does not mean that it should get carte blanche to waste money with no fear of accountability. I have seen it personally – services that have restricted budgets have to make every penny count and become efficient, whereas services with less pressure can splash the cash far more without the worry. Simply throwing money at a problem is not good enough – many of the problems, especially with the NHS and Education – are not financial, but structural and doctrinal.
It might sound at times like I’m suggesting that the Government should spend Billions on Defence at the expense of everything else. Far from it. Hospitals, Education, and other essential services should come first. But what I do strongly think is that in times of austerity Governments need to seriously get their priorities in order when it comes to spending policy, rather than blindly ringfencing some budgets and slashing others.