Ed McGuinness

Keir Starmer is dangerously naive about the army

(Credit: Getty images)

Keir Starmer has vowed to create a ‘squaddies tsar’ if he wins the election. This ‘Armed Forces Commissioner’ would represent the military and their families and sit outside the military chain of command. But it’s here that the problems start.

The Labour leader says this issue is personal to him because his uncle served aboard HMS Antelope in the Falklands War. But Starmer could do with turning to another military reference point – the 1998 film, Saving Private Ryan – to appreciate why such a ‘tsar’ could cause trouble.

‘I don’t gripe to you, Reiben,’ captain Miller explains as his soldiers traipse through the French bocage. ‘I’m a captain. There’s a chain of command. Gripes go up, not down. Always up.’

The exchange in Spielberg’s World War II epic illustrates the importance of the military command structure and why it only works when there is trust and good leadership.

Such an overseer creates a moral hazard for military leadership

This relationship would be left exceedingly vulnerable if Starmer’s plans for a ‘Squaddies Tsar’ come to pass. On the face of it, the proposal seems rather sensible. Why not have somebody who can represent soldiers’ concerns to the highest levels of government and deal with failures within the services on their behalf? However, it belies a fundamental lack of understanding about how our armed forces and its oversight works. This is concerning for a contender who hopes to exert control over the most potent and direct arm of the state.

Military effectiveness relies on trust. As an officer in the British Army, I relied on my soldiers implicitly and they relied on me. That trust is built on foundations of shared training and competence, butm more importantly, on a shared understanding that servicemen and women can rely on each other for support on, and off, the battlefield.

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