3 July 2012

The army’s carelessness

In a post here last April, Matt Cavanagh on Labour and the Generals, I commented on two of his articles which shed light on political-military relationships in the years before the 2010 election:
One resource which British defence seems to possess in abundance is a large cohort of senior officers of all three services, serving and retired, unafraid to speak their minds and, when not at odds with each other, ready to criticise the government of the day. (Perhaps the implementation of career average, rather than final salary, pensions in the armed forces, as Lord Hutton has recommended, will eliminate one of the incentives for this top-heaviness). Depending on the robustness of the Coalition, the next election could be at any time up to the planned date of UK’s leaving Afghanistan in 2015. However, when it comes, the dominant issues are more likely to be the economy and the NHS than the extent of Labour’s shortcomings on equipment pre-SDSR in 2009, despite Cavanagh’s misgivings. One can also expect the uniformed Top Kneddies to pipe down despite their dislike of SDSR, given their natural inclinations towards the Conservative party.
The last sentence is now looking difficult to stand up. Today’s Daily Telegraph splashes a story by its defence correspondent, Thomas Harding, Army at war over axing of battalions, reporting a leaked letter from a brigadier to the Chief of the General Staff prior to the army cuts to be announced later in the week. Yesterday Harding ran a related story, At least six 'talented' generals quit Army over defence cuts:
At least half-a-dozen of the most senior officers have announced their departure in recent months as the Army prepares to shrink by a fifth to 82,000. The cuts that will be announced by Philip Hammond, the Defence Secretary, on Thursday are having a devastating effect on morale. The Future Force 2020 reforms are the most significant in a century and will reduce the Army to its smallest size in two centuries. Some of the generals leaving the Army are regarded as the leading thinkers of their generation.
to which a clearly exasperated MoD responded:
Number of Generals leaving the Armed Forces  
Today's Telegraph claims that six Generals are leaving the Army because they are disillusioned. This is nonsense. The article contains a number of inaccuracies and individuals have been misquoted. Several of those named are still serving with no plans to leave before their normal retirement date. The remainder have already left the Army having reached the natural end of their careers. None left because they were disillusioned and this article does those individuals a huge disservice after decades of distinguished and valuable service to the country.  
More than 24,000 people leave the Armed Forces every year, including senior officers who come to the natural end of their careers. The number of senior officers departing early is in line with the historic trend over a number of years. The MOD has long been criticised for being top heavy with too many senior officers and is soon to announce a reduction in senior posts to ensure the Services are balanced, streamlined and effective.
Well good luck with the last – and just how “long been criticised”? Well, here is the late David Hart writing in the Spectator in February 1993 in an article, Not Enough Bang For Our Bucks:
We have a quite extraordinary number of senior officers compared with other nations. The ratio of British general officers (including nursing staff) to total servicemen is 1:420. In the United States and in France it is 1:1,900. In Germany it is 1:2300.
In a post here a year ago, Poor Jack and Harry, I commented on the advantage the army had over the other services in terms of the upper class connections of its senior officers and how this led to “a natural affinity with the Conservative party”. If Labour form the next government, many of its senior politicians will not have forgotten the way they were treated by the army and its friends in the media before 2010. To have fallen out with both main parties “looks like carelessness” on the part of the army which the other two services might not be slow to exploit, when and if the opportunity arises.


Thanks to the magnificent Spectator Archive, recently made available and going back to July 1828, I have been able to add a link to the Hart article quoted from above.

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