A blog by Luke Akehurst about politics, elections, and the Labour Party - With subtitles for the Hard of Left. Just for the record: all the views expressed here are entirely personal and do not necessarily represent the positions of any organisations I am a member of.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Congratulations Luke - it looks like you are on the up - this is the first decent blog you've posted in several months.

While all the equipment you've noted is indeed important to the only credible global security role GB can now play - i.e. rapid deployment in cases of pending humanitarian disaster (Iraq and Afghanistan should NOT be included in this category) the broader debate of defence spending will inevitably come into play towards the election.

No doubt you all utterly hate Eric Joyce amongst Labour ranks, (I met him a couple of times and he seemed a decent bloke)he does actually have a serious point. Labour has lost control of defence, but this is not because of defence but becasue of normative malaise at the FCO - a malaise that Brown has sadly deepened. No one wants to hear any more twaddle about defending 'homeland' security from terrorists - that really doesn't wash as Af-Pak connections will continue apace with Leics and Bradford whether we are fighting a war or not..

Thus before pinching the pennies we first need to have a very serious debate as to what role British armed forces could and should play. This is where Labour are most exposed due to ongoing commitments and where I suspect the Tories will hurt you, not on technical issues of which bits of kit get purchased or dropped.

The good news is that as yet, no single British politician has got close to filling Ming Campbells boots on foreign affairs in the last five years. Labour better hope this is still the case by 2010. On that note, someone should probably tell Miliband to start coming up with both interesting and genuine reasons as to why the Middle East, South and Central Asia are indeed important not only to the world, but to Great Britain. I fancy he'll spend more time eyeing the leader of the opposition role sadly...

1:41 pm, September 16, 2009

Anonymous ben said...

thats right....sign away the efficacy of the navy - one of the worlds three deep water fleets - and consign britain to third rate power status with zero influence in the world

and the jobs too

3:46 pm, September 16, 2009

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shadow Chancellor sparks fears over BAE Samlesbury jobs

5:21 pm, September 16, 2009

Anonymous tim f said...

Good post. Hopefully you'll be pleased to hear we've just finished a canvassing session using a script & delivering leaflets about this issue in one of the seats you mention. Actually, we've been doing that for a few months now, but Osborne's remarks yesterday meant we can be a lot more forceful about it, rather than just using language like "refused to commit to", etc.

8:08 pm, September 16, 2009

Blogger kris said...

Erm, nice try, but aircraft carriers, the eurofighter and the transport aircraft arent the tanks, body armour and supplies troops need.

Aircraft carriers, in particular, are more suited to the cold war than to post-modern warfare. Had you bothered at least to watch any of the recent carrier documentaries, you'd know that they've spent the majority of the war in training exercises.

Funny, but Obama's making similar cuts to the US defence budget. I await your criticism of him.

10:00 pm, September 16, 2009

Anonymous Tarquin Bovington-Holland said...

Aircraft carriers are the ultimate surface warship platform for force projection and indeed prestige projection. Osborne's stupid idea of cancelling them will leave an already emaciated Royal Navy incapable of being taken seriously on the world stage. This attitude is more typical of the 70s Labour Party than a Tory party which professes interest in our country's defence. If all we can hope to muster at a time of crisis is a few escorts and LPDs then we may as well pack up the RN and send what remains of our so called fleet to Davy Jones locker.

I well remember the sterling work done by our two previous 'proper' aircraft carriers Eagle and Ark Royal in the 60s and 70s showing the flag and enforcing a residual Pax Britannica. God forbid that we should in future have to call on India with their proposed fleet of six carriers to provide sea based air cover for our troops when no land bases are available. The head of the British army should reflect on this before joining the ignorant chorus of voices calling for the termination of the carrier project.

7:05 pm, September 17, 2009

Blogger Ravi Gopaul said...

I'm sure the RAF are lacking in a medium transport aircraft. The A400M aircraft would fill that gap.

This makes the tories claim about supporting the military rather hollow

11:37 pm, September 17, 2009

Blogger Jed Keenan said...

Just a technical point but an Aircraft Carrier is not really the expensive part of any Fleet. Cutting spending on the Weapons Platform or the Aircraft is the bit that does anything serious to the budget. Cutting the Queen Elizabeth Class costs jobs but not the top-end engineering positions involved in the Type 45 or the JCA; not that Osborne (38) isn't helpfully providing some cracking campaign material.

1:20 pm, September 18, 2009

Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is the Tory Party at its finest. For prevopus examples see Munich and South Georgian scrap metal dealers.

God I hate the Tory party.

12:44 pm, September 20, 2009

Blogger Merseymike said...

There needs to be significant and permanent cuts in defence, alongside a shift in foreign policy away from military intervention. It is not up to us or any other country to try and enforce a governmental system on another country.

Britain has no influence in the world other than when it attaches itself to the Americans' coat tails. Neither should it wish to have.

12:14 am, September 22, 2009


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home

Free Hit Counters
OfficeDepot Discount