Conservative Diary


5 Jul 2012 16:55:54

If we don't fight major wars outside the European theatre, why do we need an army of more than 80,000?

By Paul Goodman
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Former army officers are well represented in the Conservative Parliamentary Party (two Commons Cabinet members, Iain Duncan Smith and Andrew Mitchell, are among their number), the Royal Navy and the RAF are less so.  Philip Hammond's thoroughly-trailed Commons statement on the coming reduction in the size of the army was thus certain to get the rough ride from the Tory benches that Matthew Barrett reported earlier on this site.

I am not sure that Downing Street was right to guide the Defence Secretary towards spreading the pain by disbanding battalions rather than merging regiments.  Taking the latter route is never popular, but it is not exactly novel.  The regiment in which my uncle served - he and his father were both professional soldiers - was merged into the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters, and then into the Mercian Regiment.  It is only one of many examples.

Continue reading "If we don't fight major wars outside the European theatre, why do we need an army of more than 80,000?" »

17 Jun 2012 08:56:51

Hammond finds funds for new generation of nuclear weapons to replace Trident (and annoy the Lib Dems)

By Matthew Barrett
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3.30pm Update: appearing on the Sunday Politics show, Andrew Neil asked Philip Hammond how spending money on a Trident replacement is fair, when the money could be spent on preventing cuts to Army regiment numbers. Hammond defended cuts to the Army, saying that the equipment element of the Defence budget had been improved so troops get the proper armour and equipment they need:

“The overall defence programme consists of a number of different parts: an equipment programme, the nuclear element and the manpower budget. The manpower budget is a very large proportion of the total military spending budget. If you look back a few years, the previous government was not spending enough on equipment for the Army in Afghanistan, for protective equipment, and the money was being spent on maintaining a larger force level.

"What we’ve done is looked at how we can have a sustainable force that meets Britain’s needs in the future, on the basis that we must equip our armed forces properly – so whatever level of force we ultimately decide to have, we’ve got to be able to provide the protective equipment and the proper fighting equipment that that army needs.”


HAMMOND PHILIPConservative MPs are keen for revenge after the decision by Nick Clegg and his MPs to abstain from what amounted to a vote of confidence in Jeremy Hunt earlier this week, the Sunday Telegraph says. While that newspaper says the main revenge will take the form of voting down Nick Clegg's Lords reforms, undoubtedly Tory MPs will look forward to voting for policies that make Lib Dems feel uncomfortable.

That is the background to the announcement today that Philip Hammond has found funding to start work on a new nuclear deterrent. The Defence Secretary will announce the ordering of nuclear reactors for a new class of submarines to replace the current Vanguard fleet, which carries Trident at present. The reactors will be built at a Rolls-Royce plant in Derby - a move that will create hundreds of jobs at the plant, and many more in the wider supply chain. 

The new contract will be worth £20bn - and is made possible by the fact that Mr Hammond's department has now sorted out its cuts programme and structural reforms. Mr Hammond said last month: "In the next few days we will be in a position to make the grand announcement that I’ve balanced the books". Similarly, the Sunday Telegraph quotes "a senior MoD source" as saying: "We have balanced the MoD’s books and can now get on with ordering major pieces of equipment for the armed forces to protect us against future threats".

Conservatives favour a like-for-like replacement of the Vanguard submarines, which will be in use until the late 2020s - and their missiles in use until 2042. While the Coalition Agreement states that the Government will "maintain Britain’s nuclear deterrent", Liberal Democrats are allowed to "continue to make the case for alternatives". Happily for annoyed Conservatives, the newspaper quotes a senior Lib Dem as saying Trident replacement is a "massive fault line" between the two parties, especially as the Lib Dem manifesto states that the party would oppose such a like-for-like replacement, and would instead argue for "alternatives".

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11 Jun 2012 11:04:35

Liam Fox launches charity to give soldiers free holidays

By Harry Phibbs
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GiveustimeThe Sun reports this morning on the launch by the former Defence Secretary Liam Fox of a new charity Give us Time.  The purpose is to provide free holidays with their families for soldiers recovering from combat. Rather than money the focus is on hotels donating the use of a room or travel companies donating seats on planes or trains.

Liam Fox says:

During my time as Secretary of State for Defence I was extremely heartened to see how we improved the treatment of those who had been physically injured in combat. Medical improvements in prosthetics, better physiotherapy and improved social attitudes all contributed to a better chance of rehabilitation. In terms of psychological trauma, the invisible scars of war, we are making progress though perhaps at a slower rate.

One of the areas where I think there remains room for improvement is the integration of service families into this equation. As a doctor working with the Armed Forces I learned the importance of seeing our personnel not as isolated individuals but as members of a wider family and community dynamic.

For those wishing to support this cause the details are here.

7 Jun 2012 07:44:13

Reforming his department. Defending Britain's interests. Satisfying the Treasury - the circle that Philip Hammond must try to square.

By Paul Goodman
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Philip Hammond's stock has been quietly rising among ConservativeHome survery respondents.  He came in fourth in May: only William Hague, Michael Gove and Iain Duncan Smith were ahead of him.

I suspect he will find it difficult to keep his place during the months ahead.  This morning's Times (£) helps to explain why.  It reports that -

"As the Army shrinks over the next eight years from 102,000 to 82,000 men – its smallest in 200 years — four infantry battalions and two cavalry regiments will be lost through disbandments and amalgamations.

Ministry of Defence sources confirmed that the Gurkha regiments would escape the cuts — provoking anger elsewhere. The pain will instead fall on traditional recruiting grounds in the North of England and the Midlands."

Continue reading "Reforming his department. Defending Britain's interests. Satisfying the Treasury - the circle that Philip Hammond must try to square. " »

17 May 2012 18:24:32

Alan Duncan launches push for UN treaty on the arms trade

By Tim Montgomerie
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Screen Shot 2012-05-17 at 17.55.31As Nick Clegg has noted, there are global rules covering the trade of bananas but no rules on guns and grenades. International development minister Alan Duncan has today given a speech in which he has called for a UN treaty to govern the arms trade and tackle the illegal spread of weapons to conflict zones such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nepal and Yemen. It is estimated that 400,000 people die each year from illegally traded light weapons and that African GDP is depressed by an amount greater than the whole UK aid budget ($18 billion) because of conflict.

Talking to The Guardian Mr Duncan described the illegal arms trade as "the greatest threat to development, beyond disease and disaster." "We are," he said, "making some progress on issues such as polio and malaria.The factor that is most restraining development is conflict, which is why this new treaty is so important. It has massive implications for development."

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13 May 2012 08:56:43

Philip Hammond says gay marriage and Lords reform aren't deliverable, as he prepares for a balanced MoD budget

By Matthew Barrett
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HammondPhilip Hammond's interview in the Sunday Times (£) this morning covers a number of different issues, the most notable of which is that the Defence Secretary comes out against gay marriage and Lords reform taking up time in the legislative timetable. I've pulled out four topics below.

Balancing the MoD's books

Firstly, following the understandable opposition to the prospect of losing some historical regiment names in Scotland (which Hammond responds to: "None of that is remotely true. We hugely value the regimental system, and nobody, as far as I know, is suggesting dismantling it."), Hammond stresses the light at the end of the budgetry tunnel - the MoD's books are nearly balanced. In remarks given fully in a separate Sunday Times story, Hammond says:

"“In the next few days we will be in a position to make the grand announcement that I’ve balanced the books,” Hammond said. “In terms of reducing the size of the civil service, the army and the air force, we shouldn’t have to do any more over and above what we’ve already announced.” ... “For the first time in the defence budget we’ve got a reserve in each year, which means that if something comes up we’ll be able to manage it, drawing on our own reserve rather than having to cancel or postpone equipment,” he said."

Gay marriage and Lords reform

In light of the local election results, Hammond rejects the push for legislation to allow gay marriage or reform of the House of Lords. He tells the Sunday Times that at present, the Lords "works rather well", and that voters are "probably largely indifferent" to any reform. He also fears gay marriage legislation will not be "do-able", or "deliverable". These remarks are notable because Hammond - neither a leadership loyalist, nor a firebrand of the right - is the first Cabinet minister to come out in opposition to the Coalition's marriage plans:

"“We’ve got to be clear that we focus not just on the things that are important, but on the things that are do-able, the things that are deliverable, and the things that chime with ordinary people’s sense of what the priorities are,” he says. He believes gay marriage is too controversial for the government to tackle right now, suggesting it would be “difficult to push through”, “use up a lot of political capital” and “a lot of legislative time as well”."

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13 Mar 2012 07:42:07

A translation of today's Obama/Cameron Washington Post article

By Paul Goodman
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The joint article in a distinguished paper such as the Washington Post is as integral a part of a British Prime Minister's visit to the United States as the state dinner, the basketball game visit and the talks.  What today's piece doesn't say is as important as what it does, and I do my best below to fill in the omissions.

"Over the next few days, we will consult about preparations for the NATO summit in Chicago, where our alliance will determine the next phase of the transition that we agreed to in Lisbon. This includes shifting to a support role in advance of Afghans taking full responsibility for security in 2014 and ensuring that NATO maintains an enduring commitment so that Afghanistan is never again a haven for al-Qaeda to launch attacks against our citizens."

Translation: "We both want out of Afghanistan as quickly as possible."

"We believe there is time and space to pursue a diplomatic solution, and we are coordinating our diplomatic approach with China, France, Germany and Russia, our P5+1 partners. Meanwhile, as the United States imposes its strongest sanctions to date and the European Union prepares to impose an embargo on Iranian oil, the choice for Tehran will be sharpened — meet your international obligations or face the consequences."

Translation: "Netanyahu, don't bomb Iran. Give sanctions time to work."

"We condemn the Syrian regime’s horrific violence against innocent civilians, and we are focused on the urgent humanitarian task of getting food and medicine to those in need. With our international partners, we’ll continue to tighten the noose around Bashar al-Assad and his cohorts, and we’ll work with the opposition and the United Nations-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan to plan for the transition that will follow Assad’s departure from power."

Translation: "We have no intention whatsoever of sending group troops into Syria."

Continue reading "A translation of today's Obama/Cameron Washington Post article" »

19 Jan 2012 08:23:37

A message to David Cameron from the age of the Iron Lady: never, never lose the Falklands

By Paul Goodman
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Screen shot 2012-01-19 at 07.34.30If David Cameron had made a speech that mentioned the Falkland Islands and accused Argentina of colonialism while doing so, he would deliberately have been firing an diplomatic exocet at Buenos Aires.  The Times has seized on remarks the Prime Minister made to this effect and splashed them all over its front page this morning.  However, he was responding at Prime Minister's Questions yesterday to a question from Andrew Rossindell.  The Romford MP is an unweariable champion of the rights of the Falkland Islands: his enquiry, therefore, may not have been a put-up job designed in Downing Street.  Is the Times all at sea?

I believe, rather, that it is flagging up a timely issue.  The 30th anniversary of the Falklands War takes place this spring. Cristina Kirchner, Argentina's Prime Minister, wants to boost her popularity by exploiting nationalist sentiment about the islands: last summer, she called Britain "a crude colonial power in decline" (which helps to explain the Prime Minister's response yesterday).  She has called for Mercosur nations – Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay – to turn away vessels flying Falkland Island flags.  The effectivenesss of her ploy is disputed, but it has worried the Government sufficiently for William Hague to raise it yesterday in Brazil.

Continue reading "A message to David Cameron from the age of the Iron Lady: never, never lose the Falklands" »

8 Jan 2012 12:28:25

Cameron tells Andrew Marr that "every avenue of policy is about helping the economy to grow"

By Joseph Willits 
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Screen shot 2012-01-08 at 11.41.06On this morning's Andrew Marr Show, Cameron reiterated his commitment to battle against "crony capitalism" and pursue a transparent agenda. Both the Observer and the Sunday Telegraph reported that the Prime Minister would personally back plans to make shareholder remuneration votes mandatory. Speaking to Andrew Marr, Cameron said that "pay going up and up and up when it’s not commensurate with success businesses are having" was wrong in a time of "market failure". He continued:

"Excessive growth in payment unrelated to success that’s frankly ripping off the shareholder and the customer, and is crony capitalism and is wrong ... payments for failures, big rewards when people fail, make people’s blood boil."

Cameron promised "clear transparency" in three ways:

  • "The publication of proper pay numbers, so you can really see what people are being paid".
  • "Binding shareholder votes so the owners of the company are being asked to vote on the pay levels".
  • A shareholder "vote on any parts about dismissal packages and payments for failure.”

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5 Dec 2011 15:41:09

Hague says Afghanistan has a "bright future", with or without the Taliban at the discussion table

By Joseph Willits 
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Screen shot 2011-12-05 at 15.09.15At a conference in Bonn today to discuss the future of Afghanistan, William Hague said that despite the absence of both the Taliban and Pakistan at the discussion table being far from ideal, a "sustainable Afghanistan with strong national security forces that is able to look after its own security" is still possible.

The decision on whether or not "a political settlement with the Taliban or elements of the Taliban" is achievable "if they want it", said the Foreign Secretary.  The ideal scenario for discussion about Afghanistan's future and "the broadest possible political settlement would ... include the Taliban" continued Hague, "but if that is not attainable ... there can still be a brighter future for Afghanistan".

Hague described the killing of 24 officers and men by American warplanes, as an "unfortunate incident", which has led to Pakistan's boycott of this year's conference. He was optimistic however, that Pakistan's absence was only temporary:

"I don't think that means that in the longer term Pakistan is not taking part in the international deliberations about these matters"

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