A few weeks ago, Boris Johnson posed a question in his residents’ survey for the Uxbridge and South Ruislip constituency. ‘Which issues are most important for the country as a whole?’ Fifteen subjects were offered for consideration. Not one mentioned defence or security, despite the threatening global scene.
There is an election in May. The major parties are competing in the great NHS give-away whilst showing every sign of wishing to bury defence until well after the election, using the expected Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR-15) as the convenient touchstone for evasion.
Yet it is highly likely that this review will either be pushed into 2016, or again prove unfit for purpose. Consider the view of Sir Peter Luff, the former defence equipment minister, in a recent article:
‘The coalition plans to cut defence spending still further… despite the world being more dangerous than it has been for decades. At a time when we should be more open than ever with the British people about the scale of the dangers we face, a behind- the- doors SDSR, driven once again by the importance of the deficit reduction, risks the state turning its back on effective security almost by accident.’
So who will speak for defence in an election year?
Take the Conservative party. In September, the Prime Minister used the Nato summit in Wales to chide Britain’s European allies and set the challenge to achieve defence budgets equivalent to the Nato minimum of 2 per cent of GDP by 2020. Yet many experts already suggest that by 2018 Britain will be heading in the opposite direction, spending only 1.7 per cent of our GDP on defence. Will Cameron raise the subject? Philip Hammond, the last defence secretary, left the MOD with major capability deficiencies and two consecutive years of underspend, £3.4bn