Alphen, Netherlands. 27 September. It is not often I am moved to write two blogs in a day. And, I am afraid for those of you not of an island persuasion this is one of those British moments of mine when I really do sound like ‘Irritated of Alphen’. This is because I am ‘Irritated of Alphen’. The reason for my irritation is that I have just finished reading the report of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee on Carrier Strike 2012. The report reads for what it is; a politicized piece of nonsense from an over-bearing and self-serving out-of-control politician who bangs on about the cost of everything but understands the value of nothing - Margaret Hodge.
In characteristically bombastic style she thundered; “When this programme got the green light in 2007, we were supposed to get two aircraft carriers, available from 2016 and 2018, at a cost to the taxpayer of £3.65 billion. We are now on course to spend £5.5 billion and have no aircraft carrier capability for nearly a decade”.
Just for once Mrs Hodge please take the long, strategic view and consider the British interest rather than the narrow electoral ambitions of the Labour Party. Yes, the carriers have cost more than planned but show me a major engineering project that has not and does not. Yes, mistakes have been made switching between the types of F-35 the carriers will carry – that is what happens when programmes get politicised. Yes, Britain’s defence procurement system needs sorting out. Yes, the aircraft planned for the carriers might not be complete as yet and some other systems still need to be perfected. However, these problems will be overcome.
Equally, (and just for the record Mrs Hodge) HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales are the most advanced engineering projects Britain has ever embarked upon. Indeed, the cutting-edge way in which the Aircraft Carrier Alliance has approached the project has generated engineering vision and skills vital to the future British economy at a critical juncture. When they are complete the very fact of them will force you politicians to think strategically for once about Britain’s role in the world. Indeed, over the life of these two ships their value will be proven to Britain, Europe, NATO and the wider world many times over.
Look at the facts. By 2030 the world’s population will be well over 9bn people compared with today’s 6bn. 50% of them will live in cities and over 80% will live 100kms or less from the sea. The hyper-competition for energy and life fundamentals that such pressures will generate allied to the emergence of powerful but instable states will create all the conditions for dangerous and violent instability.
For once Britain is ahead of the curve with the future force it is beginning to build and the two aircraft carriers are central to that. This is because the two ships are not simply aircraft carriers, something the defence-strategic Neanderthals who wrote the report clearly do not understand. Rather, the ships will be powerful projectors of influence able to prevent conflict upstream and deal with conflicts downstream from humanitarian and rescue missions to outright national emergencies. They will be the centre-piece of a new military central to British national strategy with a joint force credibly influential across five 21st century domains – air, sea, land, cyber and space.
Furthermore, the ‘QE’ and ‘PoW’ will provide British leaders with the flexible discretion to intervene or not to intervene until the very last moment a decision must be made. They will also act as a critical nexus between land, sea and air operations and as such signal Britain’s strategic intent to ally and adversary alike. Critically they will help re-establish Britain’s strategic brand in the dangerous world ahead and enable Britain and its partners to prevail in the conflicts to come.
Clearly you do not understand that Mrs Hodge and like so many of your colleagues who are meant to lead the rest of us you are putting your head in the strategic sand. Or, you simply believe Britain should no longer aspire to such a role and you are using the report to create a very different Britain - Little Britain. Indeed, it is precisely the kind of narrow-minded, short-sighted, non-strategic thinking of which the report reeks that has brought Britain low. Were the rest of the committee asleep or has Margaret Hodge now completely taken over?
HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales will afford Britain real strategic influence in their fifty year service lives in a world full of friction. The report of the Public Accounts Committee does nothing to recognise such strategic value.
Would someone please sink HMS Margaret Hodge!
Would someone please sink HMS Margaret Hodge!