One of the things that will show us what kind of Prime Minister David Cameron will be, is what he does with the defence budget. It raises two fundamental questions. First, is Cameron committed to Britain remaining a frontline nation? We believe, for reasons we set out in our editorial this week
, that it is imperative that we do remain so. But it is hard, if not impossible, to see how this can be done without increasing the defence budget: as the last few years have shown, you shouldn’t fight wars on peacetime budgets. Second, it will show whether Cameron is prepared to look at public spending from first principles. Any assessment of public spending that started from the question of what should government do rather than what does government do, would lead to more money for defence.
Today, Cameron said that the equipment problems in Afghanistan were not about money. He has a bit of a point. The Tories have been talking about the helicopter issue for, literally, years now. But the government did nothing. But expanding the army, which is needed if we are to have more boots on the ground on a long term basis, would cost money and require a bigger defence budget.
A commitment from Cameron to find more money for defence would go a long way to showing that he is up to the task that will face him if he wins the next election. But as long as the Conservatives refuse to pledge themselves to boosting the defence budget, it will be hard to be confident that they are the change that the military and this country’s security needs.