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Malcolm Dunn: Fox goes on the offence on defence issues

Malcolm Dunn, a regular commenter here, congratulates Liam Fox on his mastering of the defence brief at conference.

Liam Fox has been one of our busier Shadow Cabinet Ministers at this conference, making a series of speeches on defence both at the main conference venue and at various fringe meetings

At all of them he highlighted the manifold failure of Gordon Brown and our part-time secretary of state for defence both in terms of our government defence policy and also how this country treats its members of the armed services, 'the covenant'.

Far from having the joined-up government we were promised he pointed out that our foreign policy and defence policy were completely disjointed.

Our foreign policy has received more from our armed services than at any time in the past thirty years at the same time as our defence spending has fallen to the lowest level in terms of GDP since the early 1930s.

He also made clear that it was difficult for the opposition to make detailed changes to the Ministry of Defence budget as much of the budget is classified for reasons of national security.

He promised that an incoming Conservative government would hold an immediate Defence Review and that an early priority would be the reformation of three infantry battalions which have been cut by the Labour government.

On the treatment of the men, women and families of our armed forces Liam was absolutely damning of the record of Gordon Brown, Geoff Hoon and Des Browne.

Liam made the very valid point that the way we treat our armed forces is "a testament to the values of our society".

Currently service families often find themselves in substandard homes, at the bottom of waiting lists for medical services because of the constant moves involved in service life, with inadequate medical and psychiatric care for wounded servicemen.

Fox promised to address this in detail. He promised to introduce military hospital wards for injured servicemen, a beefing up of psychiatric healthcare for traumatised servicemen and as "the covenant" should exist not only between the government and the armed services but the nation and the armed services that service families should not be at the bottom of any queues for public services but the top.

Ths is to happen not only because it is the right thing to do but also because it is one way of addressing the terrible problem of retention that is currently besetting the British Army.

Other ideas put forward included asking councils to make their leisure services free to the families of servicemen on active uty, welcome home parades and allowing service men and women to wear their uniforms "off base" so that the general public can see more of the men and women for whom we should all be so proud.

I have been a constant critic of Liam Fox over the past eighteen months as I felt that defence has not been given the profile it should have been given by the Conservative Party. The conference has certainly changed my mind. Liam came across as a passionate and well informed advocate for our our armed services who I hope one day will make an admirable Secretary of State for Defence.


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