Tory defence cuts
It was interesting that George Osborne, who as far as I know has little track record of interest in or study of defence matters, chose to highlight three major defence procurement programmes as targets for cancellation yesterday – the A400M transport aircraft, Tranche 3 of the Eurofighter, and the CVF Future Aircraft Carriers. Cutting the aircraft carriers implies dropping out of the Joint Strike Fighter programme as well – no carriers, no need for planes for them – though I don’t know if Osborne knows that.
I imagine Liam Fox and other shadow defence ministers like Gerald Howarth, who I stood against in the Aldershot parliamentary constituency in 2001, will be fuming at the pre-emption by Osborne of the Strategic Defence Review they would want to run if they end up in the MoD after the General Election.
Is Osborne saying the Armed Forces just don’t need these capabilities or that cheaper alternatives would be sought? I can see you could buy off-the-shelf transport aircraft from overseas instead of A400M – though the reduced cost would be offset by the complete absence of any industrial or economic benefit to the UK – but aircraft carriers you either build or you don’t – no aircraft carriers means no air cover for land or naval operations any further away than our land-based aircraft can reach, so basically no UK involvement in any crisis at a distance unless a friendly country provides the air cover.
Will the US see us as carrying any diplomatic weight if our contribution to future military crises is limited by not having these bits of kit? What sort of “Special Relationship” will we be able to claim when Brazil and India are able to contribute carriers to coalition efforts and we are not?
The RAF won’t be happy to see two of their key programmes axed, and the Royal Navy faces basically becoming a coastguard if it doesn’t have aircraft carriers to provide air cover for its ships and the Army’s ground forces anywhere in the world. Seamen and airmen have votes.
So do the people who make aircraft and ships. What would be the impact on the UK’s recovery from recession of cutting three high-technology programmes and the skilled manufacturing jobs associated with them?
And what is the potential political impact of Osborne targeting these programmes for cuts?
These are the parliamentary constituencies in the Tory Top 160 target list that by my reckoning would see job losses if these programmes go:
· Portsmouth North – near to CVF production
· Clwyd West - near to A400M wing production in Broughton
· Bristol West – near to A400M supply chain in Filton
· Filton & Bradley Stoke - A400M supply chain
· City of Chester – near to A400M wing production in Broughton
· Stroud – near to A400M supply chain in Filton
· Bristol NW - near to A400M supply chain in Filton
· Pendle – near to Eurofighter production at Warton and Samlesbury
· Ribble South – near to Eurofighter production at Warton and Samlesbury
· Portsmouth South – CVF production
· Stevenage – missiles for the Eurofighter
· Rossendale & Darwen – near to Eurofighter production at Warton and Samlesbury
· Edinburgh South – near to radar production for the Eurofighter
· Blackpool N&C – near to Eurofighter production at Warton and Samlesbury
· Bolton West - missiles for the Eurofighter
· Bolton NE - missiles for the Eurofighter
· Morecambe & Lunsdale – near to Eurofighter production at Warton and Samlesbury
· Lancaster & Fleetwood – near to Eurofighter production at Warton and Samlesbury
· Barrow-in-Furness – CVF production
· Hyndburn – near to Eurofighter production at Warton and Samlesbury
· Lancashire West – near to Eurofighter production at Warton and Samlesbury
· Edinburgh N & Leith - near to radar production for the Eurofighter
· Chorley - near to Eurofighter production at Warton and Samlesbury
· Bristol East - near to A400M supply chain in Filton
Labour MPs and PPCs in those seats should be using Osborne’s statement as a key campaigning message. Tory PPCs in BAE Systems’ Lancashire heartland must be spitting feathers.
I’m fairly sure that if the case was explained properly the public would want more spent on equipping our armed forces at a time when they are in harm’s way in Afghanistan, not less. I think Bob Ainsworth got this wrong in his speech yesterday and should be making the case in Whitehall for the MoD budget to be ring-fenced from any coming spending cuts.
The unions ought to be exercised about this too. Watching TUC Conference you would think that trade unions only represented public sector workers, but Unite and GMB represent the highly skilled engineers and shipbuilders who will lose their jobs if these programmes are cut. They should be saying that there is no public service is more “frontline” than the defence of the nation, and on that basis it should not face cuts any more than schools or hospitals should.
Before the comments explode with accusations of bias, I’ll pre-empt them with a declaration of a prejudicial interest – I work, amongst other clients, for companies in the defence sector – though not the ones that are the prime contractors on any of the programmes named by Osborne.