This is our truth, tell us yours
Jeremy Corbyn’s attempts to find an explicable defence policy for Labour are floundering in a very Old Labour set of compromises. The resignation of Kevan Jones, and his calculated attack on Corbyn did not require sophisticated analysis; Jones owes his career and position to the GMB, the union that represents the bulk of the workers who makes Britain’s nuclear submarines in Cumbria.
As a result, Corbyn has proposed a classic Labour fudge; build the submarines, keeping the GMB happy, but don’t deploy the warheads. Inthe process Corbyn will abandon any hope of a peace dividend while placating the GMB and the lost Labour voters of Clydeside who see Faslane as a cashcow for the local economy rather than a theat to world peace.
If Corbyn’s strategic review is going to suggest that, it should be re-billed as a strategic review of Corbyn’s chances of staying in office rather than anything to do with defence. Without a peace dividend of the 6% of the defence budget that is spent on Trident, and the capital cost of buying its delivery vehicles there is no prospect of Corbyn being able to reshape the defence budget to demonstrate that Labour does things differently.
That’s the problem with compromises; they shut down the space available for strategic manouvre.
Here are three defence projects Corbyn might want to consider.
The transformation of the Territorials into the Army Reserve reflects the increased demand on the Reserves for intervention in rapid deployments abroad. The increased frequency of climate based crises at home, and the nature of the countries in which interventions are made abroad, suggests that Labour could reasonably make the case for a new Territorial Engineers Brigade, whose role would be to deploy either within the UK or overseas to provide infrastructure maintenance and creation in times of emergency. Bulldozers not bombs would be an interesting way of both spending foreign aid and winning friends,and might shorten the current long leadtimes to repair flood and landslide damaged roads and railways.
To support such interventions the Navy would need the capacity to support landings in frendly but disrupted areas, and to provide medical evacuation and support. The removal of HMS Ocean from the fleet in 2018 makes clear that the Conservatives do not value this role; given how cheap Ocean was this provides a perfet dividing line between Labour and the Conservatives on a non nuclear defence issue. Proposal number two therefore would be that Labour would commit to a naval support group of two Ocean type helicopter platforms with built-in amphibious landing support capabilities, and a supporting hospital ship.
Proposal number three would be similarly provocative; it would be that the RAF Reserve would take responsibility for coastal search and rescue around the UK coast from the Coastguard, as it previously did in some areas, and would take over responsibility for providing the police and air ambulance helicopter service throughout England and Wales, using a mix of whole time and reserve pilots in civilian standard aircraft. The organizing logic behind such a change would be to provide the RAF Reserve with a trained pool of pilots used to search and rescue missions who could be deployed in support of the Rapid Intervention Group outlined in points one and two.
With the greatest of respect to Corbyn and his team, that’s how you identify dividing lines and policies that make your key points about the waste inherent in Trident, while making clear you take seriously the defence of Britain and its interests. And as a bonus, Corbyn may need reinding, but Kevan Jones won’t, that HMS Ocean was built at VSEL in Barrow, just as her replacements could be. Peace might even break out in the Labour Party.
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