Alex Massie

Tory Defence Meltdown

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How many Tory MPs came into parliament  - even this parliament - thinking they'd be asked to support a Tory-led plan to cut the army by 20%? How many Tory voters think this is where the public spending axe should fall? Precious few, I reckon. And yet, remarkably, this is what Liam Fox is planning. As I've noted before Fox is hoist upon his own petard having rashly promised 25% savings without (of course!) there being any impact on "frontline troops". Now there will be rather fewer frontline troops and Liam Fox appears to have been kippered by the Treasury.

Boosting the Reserve capability is a worthy goal, for sure, but it's not, or should not, be considered a replacement for the regulars. That is, this might sensibly be thought a Both/And matter not an Either/Or question. Even in astringent budgetary times. This will, apparently, be the eighth reorganisation of the Territorial Army in 20 years; let it therefore be the last for at least a decade.

If the last Labour government had produced these plans the Tories would have responded with a heavy artillery barrage. That would have been a matter of more than just the usual knee-jerk oppositionalism. Conscience, surely, demands they be more appalled by these plans because they're being announced by a Conservative Secretary of State for Defence?

As Matt Cavanagh says:

Liam Fox will use the Reserves Review to put a brave strategic face on the Army cuts, arguing that a more effective and more deployable TA will more than compensate. But the fact remains that once again it is money, rather than strategy, which is really driving the decisions. Reserves are far cheaper than regulars, and neither ministers nor officials have been able to find another way of making the sums add up.

Quite. This is not necessarily ignoble but the fact remains that if ministers insist upon slicing another 20% off the regular army they should perhaps admit that costs, not operational requirements or any consideration of future deployments, appear to be the reason for these latest "reforms". Trying to pretend that the army won't be much effected by any of this because the Reservists will step into the breach may be a case of making the best of a rotten job but it's hard to see why or how the public should swallow it.

All is well at the MoD and with Tory defence thinking? Aye, well, tell that to the Marines, though even they might not be persuaded that this is so simply because ministers assure us it must be.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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