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Totally blown it I see ...


But then, we rather suspected he might.

Des Browne is only Defence Secretary because Blair long ago ran out of first-rate Scots to put into office, has since worked his way through the second-rate Scots, and now has to fall back on promoting third-rate Scots like Browne. I'm surprised that Cameron hasn't called for his resignation.

Browne, to the surprise of many, is turning out to be a better defence secretary than expected. By all means indulge in narrow party politics - and see where that gets you - or try and focus on the issues.

This UKIP line of North's (as via link above) is getting rather tiresome. Quite what this person is doing on this website is beyond me because he's obviously not much of a Conservative. What else could DC say?

Absolutely spot on from Cameron.Can't see anything here I would disagree with.
'Browne, to the suprise of many,is turninhg out to be a better defence secretary than expected'. Really?

I'm not sure how far Richard North is peddling a "UKIP line" - nor whether it matters if he is or he isn't. I've enjoyed reading his coverage of the Gulf hostages affair. I wouldn't care to say how far I agree with him (haven't decided yet) but hardly anyone else out there seems to be running with his particular line, and I'd rather read it here than not at all.

I thought it was Cameron's line to avoid petty party political squabbling and deal with the substantive issues. Why is pursuing that a UKIP line? I didn't even know UKIP had a line on this.

In this specific context, the "cash for stories" is definitely secondary. The far more important issue is what went wrong in the first place. So why is Cameron devoting most of his energy on the secondary issue and why is the party website referring only to that issue?

Is this good politics?

I agree with you that what went wrong initially has to be investigaed - if you read the report above I think DC is saying just that
"We need to learn all the lessons of what went wrong, we need the equivalent of a Board of Inquiry, a full MoD inquiry that is then made public, so we can learn the lessons of what went wrong and make sure that it doesn’t happen again."

However there is a secondary issue - that the Government & Navy then worsened the whole affair through the way they dealt with Iranian PR and the reurn of the hostages.

Unitl we know why the team were sent to intercept the ship in a disputed area of the Gulf, without proper escort or with anyone on watch for Iranian activity we do not know who was to blame. We can however, and should, raise objections to the further embarassment caused by the Navy and their political masters following the sailors release.


There have been many commentators that have expressed their concern that the "cash for stories" issue is a "dangerous distraction". The media needs no encouragement to blather endlessly about this issue, to the detriment of a full exploration of the underlying faults which gave rise to the incident.

As far as it goes, the cash issue is largely settled. It is very clear that it was a Navy decision, and I am of the view that it was made deliberately to distract attention from some very embarrassing operational decisions.

Pushing for a further inquiry just keeps the story running. I think that is poor political judgement.

dog biter 16.35 - fully agree with you. Richard North should stick to his own blog. He only comes on here to attack Tories and Cameron.

What we need is to attack Labour's record in defence which is awful:
- Why are our servicemen patrolling in Iraq in vehicles that offer little more protection than my Volvo?
- Why is the defence budget cut (because of incompetence in defence procurement) being shared equally by all three services. It's insane to cut the Army given our commitments
- Why are we upgrading 1950's era DeHavilland Comet jets as part of Nimrod MR4A at a cost of 100M+ per aircraft. Insanity. Also, why do we need them - I'm unclear what submarine threat Al-Queda pose
- Why are we buying the Eurofighter? What purpose does an air-superiority fighter with no air-to-ground capability have for us? Are we intending to fight the French, or the US? Cancel it (or rather the 2nd tranche, as they will be mothballed at ~100M per aircraft). Again I'm unclear what air force Al-Queda, or any of our potential foes possess.
- Why are we buying the A400M transport aircraft at vast costs that offers very little more than we already have in? We are just subsidising the French and German procurement of real transport aricraft. Buy C-17's instead.
- Why are we buying upgraded Lynx at ~15M per helo - but them off the shelf in the US for 3-4M per helo and better aircraft to boot
- Why buy the useless Type 45 Destroyers destroyers at 1Bn each?
- and so on ad nauseum....SA80, Astor, Astute, etc etc

The real scandal is we spend 30Bn+ per year on defence and procure generally bad or useless kit for grossly underpaid servicemen who's service chiefs seem to live in a time-warp requiring cold-war era equipment and organisation who are then ill-equipped to peform the tasks our political masters ask of them. The cash for stories scandal feels a bit trivial by comparison.

It's a pity Mr Cameron does not take a little advice. We don't need "the equivalent" of a Board of Enquiry - we just need a Board of Enquiry. His sloppy language allows the possibility of some Blairite fudge.
I find Des Browne repellant and he's probably overpromoted BUT I do not believe that he is to blame for much of this naval farrago. The Navy Board has direct responsibility. It is the First and Second Sea Lords and the Chief of Naval Operations who, seemingly, have sent out ill-trained young seamen, in inappropriate vessels, poorly briefed and using tactics that were clearly wanting. This has then been followed by the degradation of the Service by the decision to treat it like a Big Brother spectacular and allow stories to be sold.
Only senior Naval Officers can either justify or take responsibility for the sorry spectacle that has unfolded.
Forget the political scalp - lets have the truth and lets have it from the uniformed side.
A Board of Enquiry is the only way to conclude this sorry business.

If the cash-for-stories decision was taken by the Navy then it follows that the Navy's political lackey Des Browne will cover up for them just as the politicians always do.

What's that? He just did? Well, there's a surprise.

Yes of course Cameron doesn't want to say anything substantive about the kidnapped sailors because he doesn't want people to realise that on important/controversial issues to do with taxation, morality and the defence of the realm he and his colleages are no different from the Socialists.

Ah! Light dawns. I wondered at Mr. North's amazing ideas on the forces, now it seems he is yet another ukip troll.

It will be edifying for natural Conservatives to see that ukip considers Des Browne to be "a better defence secretary than expected".

Yeah right.

This is a wholly party political issue. It is New Labour who made sure to spin these appalling 15 as heroes; New Labour who authorised the selling of the stories; New Labour who approved the statement comparing the circumstances of the 15's sorry capture with holders of the Victoris Cross.

Typical of Des Browne and NL to say "the buck stops here" - and then not resign.

There is also, Mr. North, a major reason why Blair's spokepeople refused *6 times in a row* to say whether he himself authorised the sale. And the same reason as to why Gordon Brown refused to comment on the affair.

We've always said "Vote UKIP, get Labour". Watching Richard North defend Labour over this is breathtaking.

The conduct of the soldiers and the inaction of Cornwall and the other forces, the failure to intercept the approaching Iranians, and the *wholly political* New Labour spin trying to make the 15 into heroes after their release - all of them need an enquiry. By no means does this failure belong to the Royal Navy - understaffed, underequipped, and undertrained by New Labour.

Des Browne should resign and if Tony Blair authorised any of this, especially the spin doctors trying to peddle the "heroism" line to papers, he should consider his position as well.

Tory T's tasteless readiness to condemn all 15 involved in the incident and very evident misunderstanding of who is responsible for manning, equipment and training, point up the need for a Board of Enquiry.
Richard North must speak for himself, but it seems to me that he is asking that the real issues be addressed. It seems a pity that a call for a little radical thinking prompts accusations of being a UKIP troll.
Des Browne is of no account. The efficacy of the Royal Navy is the real matter.

If Tory T wants to pursue the fiction that this incident is "By no means does this failure belong to the Royal Navy - understaffed, underequipped, and undertrained by New Labour," then he will be making a major error.

Ignoring the other errors (er.. like I am not a member of or even sympathiser with UKIP), the FACT of the Royal Naval involvement in the Northern Arabian Gulf is that it forms part of the Coalition Task Force 158, which comprises a fleet of 12 warships. Whatever case can be made for the Royal Navy being underequipped in general, an assessment of this incident must be made in the context of it being a coalition operation. You must ask, therefore, whether the coalition forces were adequate.

For the record, my input on this and previous threads was for the singular reason of helping readers avoid the obvious pitfalls which would make them look superficial and shallow, and to help focus the debate on the substantive issues - not least because lives are at stake.

If Tory T wants to see this as the action of a "UKIP troll" then that, I believe, is more a reflection of him than it is me. And, by the way, if he can't handle a simple "Richard" - which I prefer - then he should use Dr North, which is my correct title.

Let's play the ball here please - not the man.

Tory T - longish defence of Dr North (with whom I do not often agree in discussions on this site) eaten up in the ther.

It is important we do not lose sight of the primary issue - why and in what circumstance were our sailors captured, who made the decisions that exposed them to that action, what needs to change to ensure there is no repetition whilst allowing the important operational work being done to continue.

Yes let's also attack this government of spin for it's complete mishandling of the aftermath but don't let that obscure the very real errors made that gave rise to this whole thing.

Okay, what DC has said isn't perfect and sure, we can all pick holes in it in the same way we can pick holes in what DR. North says. But DC is on the right track. He's having a go at Labour and we look set to do pretty well in the local elections. And what the hell is wrong with that? So why don't the UKIP types (whether they are members are not matters little to me) button their lips and just accept that at last we have a Tory leader who looks like getting the party back into Government. God these anti-Euro old farts are boring. Can't they stay under their Luddite stones and leave these pages alone?

Does dog biter really think a future Conservative Government would spend more on defence?, forget it, they won't. If they get to power they will do the same as the Labour Government, spend what they have got in useless expensive projects, while the insurgency conflicts end up with unsuitable equipment. The incident on March 23rd. should never have happened, and the reason why it did has to be flushed out, and that it what the opposition should be doing.

"It is important we do not lose sight of the primary issue - why and in what circumstance were our sailors captured"

I really think it is Richard North who is playing the man (Cameron)not the ball. Of course we need to know what went wrong in the Gulf, but, remember there were ships from other countries in the UN task force. But the stories for cash raised something else about how Labour runs the country. Cameron was spot on to equate this damaging of the reputation of the armed forces with the damage already done to Parliament and the civil service, to name but two. Compared to the disasters of this government the spat in the Gulf is merely a symptom of the decline of Britain under Blair and Brown and it is not punch and judy politics to say so.

or useless kit for grossly underpaid servicemen

You are kidding ?

Tugboat Turney is vastly OVERpaid - she's on a similar package to a House Officer in an NHS Hospital who has 7 years training....she has a Non-Contributory pension which an SHO does not plus £25/day allowance for being at sea

Why don't we pay graduates of Medical Schools as well as this school-leaver ?

Hell she is on £26.000 for what ?

The Royal Navy looks to be featherbedded, time for some cost analysis on payroll costs and what we are getting for them

this damaging of the reputation of the armed forces

but maybe the Armed Forces are not as good as we have been led to believe.

Maybe the Royal Navy is staffed by incompetents right up the chain of command.

Turney met some fitness standard and Batchelor obviously was chosen to serve on a warship in a flashpoint. Maybe the Royal Navy is just taking what it can get rather than having the pick of recruits.

I think this incident in the Gulf is just the tip of the iceberg. Maybe our Armed Forces are simply not as good as we have been deluded into believing, and perhaps we are running a cruise line with crews that are not military in any sense but civil servants meeting gender, diversity, and equality targets and posing no mortal danger to Iranians or any other hostile ?

This requires more than a review or inquiry - this requires a Jackie Fisher!

Hear hear David Sergeant!

Ted, I am afraid that this is the primary issue. It is all part and parcel, warp and weft; the underfunding of the Armed Forces, the politically cowardly Rules of Engagement, the politicisation of the civil service, the tawdry use of servicemen as propaganda pawns, and finally, in devastating use of spin, the comparison of Seaman Turney et al with those conspicuous heroes who have won the VC.

New Labour, in under-equpping our troops, have held their lives cheaply and now they hold their honour equally cheaply.

The whole dirty affair is part and parcel of endemic failure; tactical, economic, and political.

Posted by: David Sergeant | April 11, 2007 at 19:24

"I really think it is Richard North who is playing the man (Cameron)not the ball.... Of course we need to know what went wrong in the Gulf, but, remember there were ships from other countries in the UN task force. But the stories for cash raised something else about how Labour runs the country..."

David, I think my attack is on the "team" for getting it wrong. Nothing either Cameron nor Fox has said indicates they are up to speed on this issue. Some of the questions Cameron was asking we already know the answers to, and they don't lead in the direction he would seem to want to go.

I agree, of course, that this is very damaging to the reputation of the Armed Forces, but I think you are drawing the issue far too narrowly if you want to equate the problem to the decline of Britain under Blair and Brown. There has been rot building up in the Armed Forces long before 1997 and to lump it all on NuLab is wide of the mark. There are much more complex issues at stake and simply to load them all on Blair/Brown turns off ordinary people (i.e., voters).

That is what really concerns me, and I was keen to avoid. The public takes a very dim view of politicians trying to make party political points out of issues such as these, and that is what it looks like.

If you recall, there was a great furore about Brown, as in Gordon, not taking officials' advice over the pensions grab, and now it looks as is the Tory team is complaining because Browne did take advice ... in this case, from the Navy and the MoD ... amnd acted on it (much against his better judgement).

It is a very brave (to the point of rashness) Secretary of Defence who goes against the advice of the Military and that Browne took the weekend to mull it over before acting to rescind the decision (against the original advice of his officials) is not a surprise. Would any Tory SoS have acted any differently?

Then, as is most often the case, it is clear that the decision was taken "bottom up". To try to embroil Blair in this, loathsome as he is, is facile. It simply won't work, especially as the narrative is that Blair was trying to "cover up". What is he trying to cover up, for heavens' sake.

More generally, why should he be involved at all? You would be the first to complain if he was found micro-managing decisions such as these.

You still haven't said why you think Des Browne is 'a better than expected Defence Secretary' Richard.
Personally I thought anybody would have been better than the devious, dishonest and ultimately useless Hoon but Browne does not appear to be much if anything of an improvement.
Which part of the affair is Cameron ignoring Richard? He has demanded an MOD enquiry which reports publically. What else would you prefer?

Malcome - apologies .. didn't see the post asking. I've written several posts on my own blog on this issue, but will get into trouble if I cross-post too many links. Hence just three examples:

1. In following up defence procurement, I became aware that particular equipment needed by troops in Iraq was being blocked, not by the politicos, but by the general staff. As far as I am aware, the logjam was broken by Browne.

2. On another issue, representations were made (by a Lib Dem MP) for a wider issue of thermal imagers (Vipir) in Afghanistan, to counter suicide bombers. Large numbers (at £10,000 each) were bought, very quickly. The speed was impressive and unusual, and happened on Browne's watch.

3. After making representations about force protection from indirect fire at British bases in Iraq, we are now aware that a number of serious protective measures have been taken, which had not been on the table previously.

If you study the detail on defence issues, instead of just shouting about generalities, amongst the bad, there are a few good things happening. And I think, again, it is good politics to give credit where it is due.

On which part of the affair Cameron is ignoring - that was not my point. It is a matter of emphasis - too much on the "cash for stories" and not enough on the cause of the incident. Give the media both and it is obvious they will concentrate on the soap opera.

Thankyou Richard.I must say I'm very suprised to hear that the General staff were blocking equipment purchases deemed necessary by serving soldiers, are you sure?
I suspect that perhaps the government were so shamed by equipment shortages in 2005-6 they will not risk further dreadful headlines again.
My gripe with Browne is for different reasons. Our troops in Afghanistan are living a hand to mouth existance taking small parcels of land and then not holding it. They are winning tactical victories over the Taleban on a regular basis but where's the strategy? Helmand is getting wrecked in this fighting our troops are not eradicating the poppy fields nor are they engaging in any of the 'hearts and minds' work essential to get the civilian population onside. In the end, if this continues ,we will lose.
Iraq is worse. There is absolutely no strategy whatsoever there. Our troops have abandoned Amarah and other strategically important bases only to find that they are then de facto falling under the control of hostile forces. We control less and less in Southern Iraq and with the talk of us withdrawing ever larger numbers this year the local populace know it and are emboldened to attack the British. Our troops are taking casualties for what? To cover the embarrasment of their incompetent political masters who have no clue what to do but are not willing to accept the fact.

Posted by: malcolm | April 11, 2007 at 22:16

"Thankyou Richard.I must say I'm very suprised to hear that the General staff were blocking equipment purchases deemed necessary by serving soldiers, are you sure?"

Yes, I'm very sure, and this is what I find so frustrating about the current nature of the defence debate. There is a serious battle going on within the MoD to dictate that future shape of the Army.

One "school" wants to equip for the expeditionary role, based on the FRES concept. Others want to re-equip to deal with the insurgencies, but they are opposed by the "expeditionary" lobby, who are resisting the re-equipment because it might stop them getting their new toys.

Similar arguments are going on in the Navy - which is why the force in the Gulf lacks fast patrol boats with a shallow draught - and the RAF is resisting the acquisition of light assault helicopters, light surveillance aircraft and organic CAS for the Army.

Then there is the luddite tendecy which can't deal with a number of high tech options for dealing with insurgents, and is blocking the introduction of some very useful technology. I would like to see, for instance, environmental exception mapping of UAV video feeds to identify route IEDs, I have argued long and hard for AC-130s and would like to see light aircraft equipped with XM-15s to provide top cover for routine land patrols. But none of that is happening.

All this makes the job of any SoS extremely difficult - and that applies whichever Party is in power. Unlike most Departments, in addition to intra-Service squabbles, you have three warring Services who regard each other as the greater enemy than the people we are at war with. The SoS does not so much manage the Department, as hold the ring and conduct perpetual peace negotiations. The Korean War has nothing on this.

On the other hand, I take your general points, but many of the operational tactics are determined by the military. Where the politicos are involved, it is not always the SoS for Defence who is calling the shots. Very often he will have decisions imposed, and then will have to make them happen.

That is not to excuse Browne or NuLabour - simply to point out that the reality is a lot more complex than the one-dimensional rants that we sometimes hear from opposition politicians (and their acolytes) would have us believe.

Nevertheless, I could point you to what I believe to be some very serious defence failures, few of which have I heard coming from the mouth of Dr Fox. In my view, we need more rapier and less scattergun.

Richard North 22.54 - You just couldn't resist a final dig at a Tory shadow (Fox),could you? Why can't you just criticise Labour's failures without trying to find fault with the Tories? Lie down and take your tablets.

Posted by: Perdix | April 11, 2007 at 23:36

"Richard North 22.54 - You just couldn't resist a final dig at a Tory shadow (Fox),could you? Why can't you just criticise Labour's failures without trying to find fault with the Tories?"

Because the failures are shared by the opposition. The job of the opposition is to hold the government to account, and expose its failures. It is, in my view, doing a very poor job on defence.

If its friends and allies do not seek to expose the weaknesses of the opposition strategy, it will remain weak. I would sooner see a potent, effective Conservative opposition with enough sound ideas to carry it into government.

If you want to win the election, on defence as in other issues, the Party is going to have to up its game. The ostrich position is hardly calculated to win votes.

Incidentally, we tried very hard to get the "team" on side.


"Browne, to the surprise of many, is turning out to be a better defence secretary than expected"
I found this comment very hard to swallow, Des Browne is the weakest in a serious of defence Secretaries from an incompetent Labour government.
Reading through many of Richard North's comments I was struck by the way his opinions vary from all the military personal I know, and also the performances I have witnessed from Des Browne at Defence questions.
Labour have been in power for 10 years and have tried to politicise everything from the civil service to the police and armed forces, we are now seeing the results of this.
I nearly fell of my chair laughing at his attempts to do a Labour spin job and blame even procurement problems on the very people who desperately need the equipment, No10 Downing street spin machine will be out of a job and Des Browne will not need to read from the script "its not us guv" but the military themselves!
Richard North, Gordon Brown controls domestic affairs in this country and holds the purse strings, he is know to hold a grudge against those that cross him, anyone including a military chief would cross him at their peril, so your argument does not wash with me.

Perdix, if the best you can manage is:
""Why can't you just criticise Labour's failures without trying to find fault with the Tories? Lie down and take your tablets.""
then perhaps you completely misunderstand the purpose of this thread. Conservative defence policy has no discernable form, witness the fact that it took Mr Cameron well over a week before he made any comment on the Gulf fiasco. Criticism is essential to prod the Conservative party into some sort of thinking abour defence.

Nick Robinson, BBC political editor. Today programme, this morning:

"The issue … is did they (the government) fail to see the controversy over payments or did they regard the controversy as a price worth paying in order to get those stories told in that way, as against what might have been the alternative … which is very heavy scrutiny of why these soldiers were taken prisoner when they were and whether that could have been prevented."

In other words, was the "cash for stories" a set-up to divert attention from the substantive issue? And, if it was, has the opposition focus on this issue simply helped to divert attention. And if there is a cover-up, who is covering up, and why?

North's naivety is unbelievable! he should read the Hutton Inquiry evidence re MoD / Downing Street press operations.

Iangot - since "playing the man" seems to be in order, could I ask whether it is you displaying your ignorance?

This is chalk and cheese ... we're talking about the interaction with the military here.

The Kelly affair involved civil servants - different entirely. Neither the MoD nor Downing Street would mess with flag officers of the Senior Service in the same way.

It is quite possible that Des Browne is both (a) a total washout; and (b) better than expected.

They've hardly been an inspiring bunch since '97, have they? Robertson: basically, a quangocrat. Hoon: a suit looking for a hanger. Reid: a bag of wind. So there's a downward trend to say the least.

Browne, a solicitor specialising in child law, didn't strike any one as a latter day St George when he was appointed, so the bar for expectations would have been set pretty low...

'a suit looking for a hanger!'.Brilliant William.I'll have to remember that one.

"There has been rot building up in the Armed Forces long before 1997 and to lump it all on NuLab is wide of the mark." Richard North.

Surely by now we can recognise that Labour have been in power over 10 years and trying to parcel blame on Tory governments for Labour's foulups isn't going to impress anyone. I know it should have taken 4 or 5 years for Tories to stop being blamed but, never mind, people have obviously woken up now. I can never understand why some people need to nit pick at the Tories but seem to accept Labour at face value.

William, you are possibly the first to demonstrate an understanding of what I wrote. I chose my words carefully, and when I wrote "better than expected", that was indeed from a very low base of expectation. If anything, with his background, I expected him to be even worse than his predecessors, which is saying something, considering how dire they were. As it turns out, the man is better than, say, the dire Hoon and, whatever his capabilities, I now know enough of him and his works to form the view that I did.

David, as to what is very clearly a deterioration is some aspects of the Armed Forces (although the best are as good as they ever were), this has indeed been going on a long time, but the adverse changes are not necessarily related to any specific political actions.

They reflect, in part, profound social changes which have been affecting the whole of our society. Therefore, to attribute all evils to New Labour is indeed wrong. But it was you who assumed, necessarily, that I was thereby suggesting that the Conservatives were to blame. You flatter your Party if you believe that, as a government, it had that much influence.

Surely, in this context, the issue is not always so much as to who was responsible for the change, but how it was and is managed?

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