This week’s main UK defence news has been the publication of the main parties’ 2015 General Election manifestos. Whilst it is now essentially impossible for any of the main parties to secure the majority of seats in the House of Commons that would be necessary to govern alone, it is likely that it will be either Labour or Conservative policies that will dominate the next government. The details relating to the stance of the two parties regarding defence, policing and counterterrorism are laid out in the main text of this document.
In addition to Labour and the Conservatives, this week has seen the Lib Dems and UKIP publish their manifestos, each of which contained references to defence policy. The only commitment of note in the Lib Dem document was a pledge to end the continuous patrol of Trident missile-carrying submarines and procure fewer replacement (likely two or three) Successor-class submarines. In contrast, UKIP’s manifesto promises – amongst other pledges – to sustain and then exceed the two per cent NATO spending target on defence; retain the nuclear deterrent; and make additional provisions for Armed Forces veterans.
Labour Party General Election 2015 Manifesto
The primary focus of Labour’s manifesto is on emphasising the Party’s economic credibility. As a result, Labour has gone to great lengths to convey that none of the policies it has put forward will require additional borrowing, that non-ringfenced departments will see their budget cut year-on-year, and that Labour will “get national debt falling and a surplus on the current budget as soon as possible in the next Parliament”.
As expected, Labour made minimal reference to defence in its manifesto. No commitments were made with regards to spending, size or force structure, with only a pledge that Labour “will maintain the best Armed Forces in the world, capable of responding to changing threats in an unpredictable security landscape”. Instead, major decisions have been deferred through a commitment to conduct a Strategic Defence and Security Review in their first year of government that will be “fiscally responsible and strategically driven” (note the order of priority). The document did contain a commitment to the maintenance of a minimum, credible, independent nuclear capability, delivered through a Continuous At-Sea Deterrent; but no mention was made of the number of submarines they intend to build to replace the current four vessels.
There were, however, a number of smaller commitments within the manifesto, including:
· The creation of a Veterans’ Register to ensure veterans receive proper support on leaving the Armed Forces
· The introduction of legislation to make discrimination against members of the Armed Forces illegal
· The enshrining of the Military Covenant in the NHS Constitution
Labour made no commitment to the two per cent of GDP NATO defence spending target.
Policing and counter-terrorism
Labour has pledged that:
· Police and Crime Commissioners will be abolished, the subsidy of firearms licenses will end, and police forces will be mandated to work closer together: the savings generated from these measures will allegedly safeguard more than 10,000 police officers for the next three years
· All police officers will be required to become Chartered Officers, holding a registration with the College of Policing, and able to be struck off for serious misconduct, just as doctors and lawyers can be
· A new Police Standards Authority will replace the Independent Police Complaints Commission
· The security services will have the “powers they need” to disrupt and tackle terrorism
· Additional measures to “control” terrorist suspects will be brought in
· Anyone returning from the Syria conflict will be obliged to attend a compulsory de-radicalisation programme
Conservatives Party General Election 2015 Manifesto
The principle themes of the Conservative manifesto are a focus upon an appeal to voters to not squander the last five years of economic recovery, and a number of initiatives aimed at offering a ‘good life’ for all. The background to the plan is an intention to balance the budget by the 2017/18 fiscal year.
The overarching themes of the defence section of the Conservative manifesto is the importance of the economy to sound defence policy, notably offering assurances that: “Our long-term economic plan will ensure we have the economic strength to maintain our world-class Armed Forces, to uphold our national security and project power globally”. Whilst not exactly detailed, the Conservative manifesto is notably more specific with regards to defence commitments than its Labour counterpart. Pledges include:
· Retaining the Trident Continuous At Sea Deterrent and building a new fleet of four Successor-class Ballistic Missile Submarines
- Maintaining the size of the regular Armed Forces and not reducing the army to below 82,000
· Continuing efforts to expand the Reserves to 35,000 personnel
· Investing at least £160 billion in new military equipment over the next decade
- Ensuring the Armed Forces overseas are not subject to persistent human rights claims that undermine their ability to do their job
As with Labour, the Conservatives have made no commitment to the two per cent of GDP NATO defence spending target. At the launch of the manifesto, the Prime Minister said that this decision would be left to the next SDSR.
Policing and Counterterrorism
The Conservatives have pledged to:
· Extend the use of police-led prosecutions
· Allow police forces to retain a greater percentage of the value of assets they seize from criminals
· Improve the response to cyber-crime with reforms to police training
· Overhaul the police complaints system
· Keep up to date the ability of the police and security services to access communications data
· Outlaw groups that foment hate with the introduction of new Banning Orders for extremist organisations
Speculation that defence spending may be largely protected post-election
The Financial Times reports that the former head of the civil service has forecast that ministers are likely to protect Britain’s defence budget post-election. Bob Kerslake, who was permanent secretary at the communities and local government department until six weeks ago, said it had become “increasingly clear” that defence spending “to all intents and purposes is going to be protected” as an incoming government, especially if Conservative-led, faced pressure from backbenchers and Armed Forces chiefs to eschew deep cuts. “So if we think about the pressure on the unprotected budgets, it’s even more acute if you think defence is unlikely to feature in huge measure,” he added.
While the comments of Lord Kerslake are welcome, it must be noted that they run contrary to the commentary/warnings of various defence policy experts and also to the policy priorities set out by the major parties. These have indicated that areas such as health, education – and possibly international development – are likely to have their funding ringfenced. If this is the case, there is likely to be pressure for further cuts to the Ministry of Defence budget.
Arrests at anti-Trident protest
The Scotsman reports that dozens of anti-nuclear protesters were arrested during a demonstration at the Faslane naval base, aimed to coincide with the run-up to May’s election. The Scrap Trident Coalition’s ‘Bairns Not Bombs’ demonstration aimed to shut down the base which is home to the nuclear weapons system, with the police estimating that about 200 people took part in the protest. Faslane officials said the operational output of the base was not affected by the protest due to contingency plans being put in place. Police Scotland arrested 32 people at the gates to the base, whilst the MDP made a further two arrests.
British paratrooper critically injured in jump accident at US exercise
The Daily Telegraph reports that a British paratrooper has been critically injured in a parachute accident while preparing for the biggest allied airborne landing exercise in nearly twenty years. The unnamed soldier was knocked unconscious when he bumped into another soldier while jumping at Fort Bragg in North Carolina on Sunday, and then landed “very badly”, military sources said. The soldier was one of nearly 800 from the 3 Para battle group, which is part of the 16 Air Assault Brigade, taking part in joint exercises with American troops. The accident happened as troops prepared for a massive 2,100-strong jump by 600 British and 1,500 Americans the following day in a mock assault on an airfield.
Paratrooper presented with Victoria Cross
The Daily Mail reports that a paratrooper who braved heavy Taliban fire to rescue a wounded comrade received the Victoria Cross from the Queen this week. She told Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey: 'I don’t get to give this one out very often. Did you ever imagine you’d be standing here? Well done.’ L/Cpl Leakey is only the sixth living British soldier the Queen has presented with this medal. He was invested in a ceremony at Windsor Castle. Leakey, of 1 Para, is the third British serviceman to receive the VC for bravery during the Afghanistan campaign, but the other two awards were made posthumously.
Russian warships tracked through English Channel
The Guardian reports that the Royal Navy is monitoring a Russian warship that entered the Channel on Tuesday morning. The MoD deployed Plymouth-based HMS Argyll to track the Russian Udaloy-class destroyer Severomorsk and two support ships, including a tanker. The MoD, contrary to Russian claims, said there was no evidence the ships were engaged in any military exercises. The passage of Russian naval vessels through the Channel was, until last year, regarded as routine. But the west-east tension, as a result of the Ukrainian crisis, has added an edge to such voyages.
Question raised over compensation awarded by MoD
The Daily Mirror reports that the MoD paid out £709,000 to a member of the Armed Forces who was bullied so badly they suffered psychological problems. Thought to be a record pay-out by the UK military, it is many hundreds of thousands of pounds more than the amount awarded to some troops crippled on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. Soldiers injured on the battlefield have a complex compensation scheme agreed by Parliament. For example, a soldier gets £570,000 for losing both legs, £5,775 for a fractured skull and £470,000 if they are made either totally blind or deaf. Details of the payments were disclosed in a Freedom of Information Act response from the MoD. The compensation cheques that were issued last year by the MoD amounted to a total of £81.9million in payouts for injuries, deaths and property damage.