Saturday, July 31, 2010

"Stick a Trident in it, this country is done"

Well, the British Summer has been and gone, so that's probably my last chance to use a barbecue reference. Work - new job - has been busy, so apologies for the lack of updates.

This last week, like so many others, has been bad news for defence. Nick Clegg announced four more deaths at PMQs on Wednesday, RUSI suggested cutting back from four Boomers to three and so dropping us to a fleet too small (9 boats) to sustain a submarine-building industry, and then on Friday morning it came out that George Osborne was insisting that Trident funding comes out of the MoD main budget.

The BBC were quick to jump on the story, questioning whether this will mean cuts to carriers or to JSF procurement, and they broadly supported Osborne's statement that "All budgets have pressure. I don't think there's anything particularly unique about the Ministry of Defence.". Really, George?

How many other departments have their staff being killed on a daily basis?

What's that? There are no IEDs in schools? No snipers in Whitehall? No insurgents ambushing doctors in hospital A&E departments? No landmines in police stations?

Defence is unique in that if you do it right, British citizens will die; and if you do it wrong, you won't have a country left to run.

That's not so say things are done well in the MoD, they're not. The procurement process is hugely inefficient and not fit-for-purpose, the tens of thousands of pen-pushers make the ministry top-heavy, and the budgets are too low in any case (2% of GDP is lower than other Western powers and a peace-time fantasy).

I had hoped that ousting infamous defence hater Gordon Brown would mean a change in the way things were done, even though I saw little evidence that they would be. Now it's clear that the Liberal Conservatives are no better. They live in the same centre-left puddle of "nice" middle-class Progressive soi-disant liberalism as New Labour and focus on the same populist demagoguery. Nobody values defence, because "the world is safe"; we have a few token wars thousands of miles away, but no "real threats". We have the luxury of being able to worry about how much aid we give away and what our carbon footprints are and how our eating habits will affect long-term healthcare provision. And so defence spending is always and ever a target for cuts to buy votes from the client state. A few people will wring their hands when Land Rovers are blown up and helicopters shot down, but then go right on claiming their "entitlement" to Tax Credits and congratulating themselves for being "a shrewd investor" by buying a house which is now bubble-valued at significantly more than they paid and demanding action on their "rights" not to have other people smoke or drink or eat unhealthy food.

So, Defence remains under attack from the Treasury, remains incompetent at procurement and remains right at the bottom of the ministerial pile. Useful idiots like Douglas Carswell and Lewis Page continue to attack the "cozy" (adversarial) and "protectionist" (largest open defence market in the world) industrial policy, encouraging us to take - with defence of the realm! - the sort of counterparty risks that the banks are being banned from taking. Liam Fox is a good man, but it now seems clear that he's on a hiding to nothing - rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic, in effect.

I left the defence industry when the bank bailout showed that some industries were more equal than others, and that defence wasn't something anyone actually cared about. I guess you could call it a Falling Down moment. I find it hard to express my feelings more succinctly than Michael Douglas' character:
I helped build missiles. I helped protect this country. You should be rewarded for that. But instead they give it to the plastic surgeons.
I wasn't the first to leave the industry on that basis and, from the sounds of it, I won't be the last.

It's going to take a while. Decades, probably. But then the UK won't have a defence industry (or any manufacturing at all, really), won't have a nuclear deterrent (or the seat on the UN Security Council that it buys) and so won't have any influence in geopolitics. So not much point in having a military, really - Belgium and Ireland have pretty much gone that way already. The UK will probably fragment along nationalist lines and will almost certainly be swallowed up into a giant Federal Europe. Citizens will be squeezed for ever-higher taxes to pay for the immense bureaucracy needed to keep the gravy train rolling, the make-work jobs and the "entitlements" of the populace and, just like the USSR, the continent-wide centrally-planned economy will collapse under its own weight. A gigantic public sector will pretend to work and the government will pretend to pay them, all the while sliding into oblivion.

Count me out.

Not today. Not tomorrow. It takes time to build a new career and a new life from scratch, but that's what I'm now working on. Where will I go? Not sure yet. The US or Japan are reasonably safe options; the BRICKs offer lots of opportunities.

- KoW

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Blogger richardwhiuk said...

'Defence is unique in that if you do it right, British citizens will die; and if you do it wrong, you won't have a country left to run.'

Curious attitude as to what the MoD should do?

1/03/2011 03:23:00 am  
Blogger The King of Wrong said...

What should the MoD do?

Protect British interests, number one being Defence of the Realm. This means being prepared for credible threats across the entire spectrum.

The problem is that's getting confused with "protecting MoD jobs", "protecting the electoral chances of Clydeside MPs", "adventurism" and spurious claims of international needs.

1/03/2011 07:38:00 pm  

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