Fraser Nelson

Pledge-avoidance tactics

Pledge-avoidance tactics
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I went along to the launch for Cameron’s Military Covenant Commission, aimed at renewing the obligations that are owed to the military.  It’s a good idea and good box office – we had Falklands veteran Simon Weston and Frederick Forsyth (or “Freddie” as Cameron calls him) up in front of the cameras. Far better than the usual politicians. But Cameron faced the same line of questioning – if the military is his no1 priority, as he said, what will he do about spending?

Nick Robinson points out over at his blog that Cameron did not say the following words which had been scripted for him:

“Yet defence spending is at it lowest levels since the 1930s our troops are around 5,500 under strength and they are regularly sent into action without necessary equipment like night vision goggles and armoured vehicles.”

So why the omission? Cameron said, quick as a flash, that he cut himself short to give Weston and “Freddie” more time to speak. But a rather more obvious reason presents itself.   If the Tories complain defence spending as a share of GDP is the lowest since the 30s, it’s a clear implication they’d raise it. But when repeatedly questioned, Cameron said – basically – that the Tories would decide the budget only after deciding missions. So its entirely plausible that defence spending as share of GDP could go even lower, perhaps lower than any point since the 19th century, under the next Tory government.

It’s a lot harder to shy away from spending since Lansley’s outburst last week where he said he envisages health spending rising from 8% to 11% of GDP - not 14% like Switzerland (typically for Lansley that’s factually incorrect, Switzerland is 11%). Interestingly, when I asked him if he agreed with Lansley, he said there had been no real target set and that Lansley was just referring to Wanless. A gaffe like that wont be airbrushed out that quickly. So now Cameron faces a recurring problem.  Can he fly the flag without opening the nation’s wallet?

Written byFraser Nelson

Fraser Nelson is the editor of The Spectator. He is also a columnist with The Daily Telegraph, a member of the advisory board of the Centre for Social Justice and the Centre for Policy Studies.

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