It was the late Margaret Thatcher who once correctly observed that “the defence budget is one of the very few elements of public expenditure that can truly be described as essential”.
Indeed, throughout her time in office, Baroness Thatcher won many friends amongst the large Armed Services family in the UK for supporting her brave boys more than most post-war prime ministers.
Since she left office, however, successive governments have raided the defence budget, squeezed the capability for operational deployment and hacked away at troop numbers. This dysfunctional coalition of posh boys with little real world experience is no different, and their attitude to our armed services was a key factor in my decision to leave the Conservative Party.
The days in which ex-servicemen swamped the House of Commons are long gone, but that does not mean that their interests are any less relevant. Perhaps just as importantly, our national defence interests are jeopardised by a bureaucratic and political Ministry of Defence led by a succession of defence secretaries with no military experience, paying lip service to our forces family whilst disgracefully turning their backs on them.
I have seen the effects of willful inaction and unrelenting cuts through my involvement with the Royal Air Forces Association and the Royal British Legion. I have also seen the effects of government cuts passed on to the cadet movement since my recent return to the Air Cadets.
That is why I was pleased to see the UKIP Defence Policy 2013, released this week, make disbanding the MOD over the course of a parliament one of their priorities. They (rightly) say:
Soldiers, sailors and airmen win wars- not civil servants no matter how worthy. The Ministry of Defence is not fit for purpose, nor has it been for many years – and it is very expensive –the cost of keeping 85,000 civilian staff alone will run to the order of £6 billion per year.
The UKIP policy goes into some detail about what would replace the MOD:
UKIP will disestablish the MOD, removing both the responsibility for procurement and for defence doctrine and management. A new defence ministry will be created, with primacy given to the Central Staff over civil servants. The civilian role in framing policy and strategy will cease and be left to educated military professionals.
Responsibility for the planning and conduct of operations will pass to the Chief of Joint Operations (CJO). The new ministry will have no role in this function, thus making it a Department of State rather than a military HQ.
Defence procurement will be overseen by a slimmed down and independent Defence Procurement Executive with a brief to equip the armed services with such systems and manpower as they need to achieve the government’s strategic objectives. Single service chiefs should have direct input on weaponry, platforms and logistic budget without political interference. Defence doctrine and management will return to the individual armed forces. The government of the day should, like service personnel, command ‘one down’ having established appropriate direction.
The linkage will be restored within the single services between operational analysis, doctrine, training and equipment procurement.
There can be no place in the future for equipment procurement on the basis of lobbying by constituency MPs. Jobs can be secured through striking deals with manufacturers to assemble and service equipment under licence in UK, but the services, and the defence and security of the country, cannot be held hostage to the whims of individual MPs or local political issues.
UKIP will ensure that, once the new organisations are in established, shadow ministers are brought in to the procedure to ensure strategic decisions are continued beyond the parliamentary life span.
I would thoroughly recommend anyone interested in the defence of the realm, particularly the role UKIP believes our services should be playing and how much money should be invested in defence, should read the full UKIP Defence Position. It goes into some, honest, detail about UK defence and answers many questions which have been raised about their policy in this area in the past.
Crucially, it establishes UKIP as the only party in the UK which is committed to both protecting the interests of our service personnel and national defence, the only party in the UK to formally recognise that self-interested pen-pushers in Whitehall are not as important (in fact, significantly less so) than the brave men and women who put their bodies on the line on a daily basis to protect us.
UKIP is the only party in the UK which can be trusted to honour our covenant with our Armed Services.