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Telegraph campaigns for U-turn on defence spending

By Tim Montgomerie
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Yesterday's U-turn on crime has been well received by the two newspapers that led calls for a tougher policy. The Sun concludes that the PM's announcements "marked a decisive shift for the Tories away from liberal handwringing and back towards being the party of law and order." The Daily Mail echoed that, declaring that "after months of drift, this was the day when the Government finally found its sense of direction on law and order."

Yesterday, in the Westminster village, journalists were focused on the U-turnery. Downing Street are relaxed about this. Cameron's strategists will happily swallow a day or even a week of bad publicity of this kind if they have ended up in the right place on an issue that is dear to two Britain's best selling daily newspapers.

FightingTalking An issue that is dear to another important newspaper, The Telegraph, is defence.

In a soundbite that is set to become famous the Prime Minister used his Number 10 press conference to urge defence chiefs to do the fighting while he did the talking (watch video). In a leading article The Telegraph warns Mr Cameron not to ignore the grumblings from senior military officers. He "must accept," the newspaper declares, "that something is going badly awry when such senior officers feel obliged to vent their own frustrations in this way." The newspaper recently published a letter from the UK National Defence Association - and signed by ten leading miltary figures including Major General Sir Patrick Cordingley and Colonel Tim Collins - that warned against "an accountant’s approach to strategy that was bound to fail":

"All three Services need a general capability and proper contingency reserve to be fit for the challenges ahead. Given the long lead times – 10 to 15 years, sometimes more – for major equipment provision, and the need to recruit and train servicemen and women to use them effectively, what we spend now will determine our defence effectiveness in the 2020s and beyond."

In opposition Tory members consistently stated that the defence budget should be a Conservative Chancellor's first priority. Despite a lot of fighting and talking by Liam Fox the defence budget bore a heavy share of the cuts. In the months ahead George Osborne may need to find some extra money for the Libyan operations that are costing hundreds of millions of pounds. The Chancellor would not, yesterday, say exactly how much. Some defence economists are predicting that the total cost will be £1 billion by the autumn. This sort of commitment will bite deeply into an already stretched MoD budget. The warnings from Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope, the First Sea Lord, and Air Chief Marshal Sir Simon Bryant should not go unheeded.


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