IT’S ALL A BIT MICKEY MOUSE
• There are some who will likely do less damage than others
• One small party offers a cure to what ails UK Defence
(but will never be able to administer its medicine)
• Nationalists want to kill off the nuclear deterrent
Brexit, the National Health Service (NHS), the environment and the end of austerity were the main issues the three major parties wished to discuss as the final phase in General Election campaigning began. There were, however, strident promises to ditch the UK’s nuclear deterrent emanating from nationalist parties in Wales and Scotland.
Huge increases in public spending are being pledged by some parties, but Defence does not appear to have been invited to the party. The UK Armed Forces have been cut to the bone and yet there is no big uplift in spending to, say, three per cent of GDP for Defence promised by anyone.
This all came as fears surfaced again that the UK will try to lease off one of its new aircraft carriers – a key element of the nation’s conventional deterrent – and take an axe to its amphibious forces (also useful to deter enemies) in any post-election defence review.
Aside from a discussion at RUSI in London – where the relevant spokespersons of the three major parties spoke to a small audience of people who already know a lot about it – Defence and security did not feature prominently in the broader debates, even though serious threats to the UK increase daily.
At RUSI, incumbent Secretary of State for Defence Ben Wallace dismissed the carrier lease suggestion by stating: ‘We’re not leasing [HMS] Prince of Wales to the Americans, Mickey Mouse or anyone else.’ Yet, the Royal Navy in particular has been starved of adequate funds to maintain its critical mass on operations while bringing into service new carriers, which is why those lease claims gain traction. And especially with cost-driven defence cuts applied to the Navy since 1991 without any let up. The Senior Service is now a third of what it was at the end of the Cold War and while individual ships are more capable, their presence on the oceans is much diminished. So, what exactly have the parties said on naval Defence in their manifestos, and what does Odin think of it?
One thing is for sure, when contrasted with the seriously scary global reality of gathering threats to the UK, what the parties do say on defence is all a bit mickey mouse – tired old pledges no longer fit for purpose, and proposals for so-called new thinking straight out of the 1960s – or we get foaming at the mouth vows to take a cleaver to the national strategic deterrent. Nowhere will you find serious promises of action to counter the state actors who menace the UK featuring in the parties’ manifesto dramas, nor any promises to do anything that represents an actual boost to spending and therefore force levels. The only party that does attempt to take Defence seriously is the DUP. However, it will never be the party of government in mainland UK (though it may continue to influence the course of Brexit if the Tories again fail to gain a working majority).