hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

More Lessons from Fantasy Island: The Doodlings of Decline

Deepest, darkest Yorkshire – The Sequel. Another day on Fantasy Island. For those of you of an un-British persuasion (I suppose there must be some) I apologise for the Britishness of current blogs.  However, there are lessons for all in the mess the British are making of both strategy and austerity at present. Given I am here it is worth considering how small politicians are failing to deal with big issues. 

Those of you sad and mad enough to be regular readers will be aware of two of Lindley-French’s dictums. First, that one should not go to war with a peacetime mindset. Second, that wars cannot be won by cutting defence budgets. Well, that is precisely what this increasingly lost British Government is attempting to do. In the midst of the critical phase of both the Afghanistan and Libya imbroglios London has announced the need to ‘trim’ a further £1 billion of cuts above and beyond those announced in the savage and utterly un-strategic 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review.
If such pain was part of a reasoned and balanced effort to reduce the burgeoning national debt across government then such cuts may be defensible. However, according to the respected Institute for Fiscal Studies it is not.  For every £1 of debt currently incurred by the British taxpayer in four years time at the end of this parliament that debt will be 97p. Put simply, this government is not even good at cutting which is meant to be its raison d'etre!  Sadly, the armed services, which are rightfully a source of pride for the majority of the British people, have clearly been singled out for special treatment.

This particular focus on cutting the defence budget (which in reality is nearer 1.7% of GDP than the 2.1% advertised) also reveals the hopeless lack of interconnectedness in government policy and the creeping retreat into spin caused by a lack of clear strategy. This week London announced a) a new legally-binding military covenant for the care of British soldiers (all well and good); and b) more cuts to the military.  The latter will inevitably mean more British servicemen will be killed and injured than should be the case.  Predictably the announcement of the Covenant was little more than a cynical ploy to cover the announcement of the military cuts.

And how is this for timing?  The same day the government announced plans to ring-fence in law the foreign aid budget (the money the British have not got to give to foreigners) at 0.7% of gross domestic product. According to The Times this is for narrow domestic political reasons, i.e. to appeal to ethnic minorities with the vote. In other words with under-funded, ill-equipped British forces stretched beyond the limit in places the world over Prime Minister Cameron wants to reward certain voters for disloyalty.

Now, I do not care if British citizens are white, black, yellow or purple (Brits on holiday in the sun tend to become that colour), but I do expect them to be loyally British. If The Times is right (and I hope they are not) it makes me particularly angry that an incumbent government is seeking to bribe groups that apparently place the well-being of the country of their forebears before their own. The biggest recipient of such aid is India which has a space programme, a nuclear programme and a defence programme the British can only dream of.

The Defence Minister, Liam Fox, wrote to the Prime Minister complaining that ring-fencing the aid budget at a time of austerity would further limit the Governments already limited room for manouevre in other areas, i.e. defence.  Tellingly, the letter started with “Dear David Cameron…” So much for collegiality at the heart of government; the first principle of implementable strategy.

Britain is broke. Britain is at war. And yet, British politicians want Britain to set an example to the world with its commitment to aid whilst fighting two wars on a threadbare shoestring. The rest of the world is simply laughing at the mix of arrogance and incompetence.

So, why is this happening? The Government has lost all sense of vision and strategy. Rather, it is using ‘cuts’ as a mask to hide the strategy/vision vacuum at its heart.  Sadly, I have never seen pride in this country so low. No wonder the Scots want out!

I believed in this Government but its performance over the past year has been lamentable. Rather, likes its Blownite predecessors it is retreating ever more into spin to mask the lack of substance.  The Government can either cut public spending or fight wars - it cannot do both.  The contradiction is sympomatic of a governments doodling in decline. .

More lessons from Fantasy Island.  Beware!

Julian Lindley-French

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