June 4, 2001
Record on Defence
In the 1980s defence was a big issue.
You see, in their heart of hearts the bulk of the Labour Party did
not believe that the Cold War was a reality. Of course this was
bunkum (and I should get a few e-mails for this sentence) and the
ideologically charged, unstable and armed to the teeth Soviet Union
would, if unchecked, have acted pretty much like the West is today.
In consequence they advocated the removal of American bases from
British territory and unilateral nuclear disarmament. This helped
alienate the middle class teachers and social workers who ran the
Labour Party from a large part of their working class constituency.
It was also responsible, along with Europe and nationalisation,
for the peeling away of left wing votes to the more moderate Alliance
(now Liberal Democrats) and so splitting the left wing vote and
allowing in a minority-supported right wing government. In short
defence was one of Labour's most vulnerable areas.
Oh what a change the ending of the
cold war makes. Defence is now a low level issue. Much of the controversy
that does get aired are about Britain's overseas commitments, sometimes
whether we should keep them but mostly about whether or not they
are adequately maintained. Meanwhile defence, as opposed to offence,
is ignored. We're safe, we're told who could possibly invade us?
Of course, we do have a military power
growing in Europe. The European Army, built around a French core,
is rapidly growing and although it may be a joke now it won't
be forever with German money and East European manpower. The European
Union, which this army is pledged to serve, does not recognise that
state's have a right to secede from the "permanent" union. It may
be no enemy now, but for a potential enemy it fulfill all the criteria.
The British armed forces are no longer
geared up for defence. They may be the finest in the world (although
I'm sure that this is believed more fervently in Britain than outside
it) but this is moot. The armed forces are simply incapable of defending
the British isles.
The defence of British coastal waters
was always the first priority of the armed forces. Until now. For
a start Britain has retired its diesel submarines, before they even
went into service. An all nuclear submarine force may be just swell
for launching missiles or going down deep in the Atlantic, but for
active missions in coastal waters you need diesel. Now we (along
with the US) have a nuclear only force. Similarly the British navy
always relied on the extensive British fishing fleet for activities
such as mine clearing and surveillance. Except that this fishing
fleet is no longer so extensive now that the European Common Fisheries
policy has chased British fishermen out of British coastal waters.
Of course we have more aircraft carriers now, but this is not really
an issue in British defence.