But if the Conservatives thought they had stumbled across a sure-fire criticism of Labour’s way of war, in The Times, ex-soldier, author (and, I will wager, future MP) Patrick Hennessey asks the public not to lay off the “MoD desk-jockeys.”
'The MoD deploys civilian staff into operational theatres. They work incredibly long hours facing similar conditions to many of the troops, who receive the tax-free operational bonus of more than £2,000 regardless of whether or not they find themselves on the front line. While appreciated by the military personnel they serve with, these men and women receive little or none of the recognition that soldiers do.'
His views are backed up by a former high-ranking official, Kevin Gamble, who notes that MoD civilians include “doctors, dentists, nurses, teachers, lecturers, policemen, security guards, Royal Fleet auxiliary sailors, intelligence analysts”. Many of these people would be considered essential frontline servabts if they worked elsewhere in government. Seeing them as bonus-craving, army-destroying time-wasters is wrong.
In fact, if the MoD axed its entire civilian workforce it would save no more than 2.7 billion pounds in pay pensions and other costs. By comparison, armed forces' costs amount to 8.9 billion pounds.
While the MoD is clearly in need of reform, and the public can be counted to react in a pavlovian way to the juxtaposition of the number of civilian employees and military personnel, this is hardly the zero-sum issue it is made out to be. Nor is it a major strategic concern for UK defence.