It has already been labelled the most hotly contested and unpredictable election in living memory but with less than a month to go the swords have already been drawn between the major parties. The British armed forces will surely be watching the election closely as it wonders just what the future holds for it. Given the current coalition’s government unwillingness to confirm whether it will spend the NATO-required 2% of the GDP on defence many in the armed forces feel they are falling far down the list of political priorities.
So just what do the main parties have planned for the defence and security of the United Kingdom post-May 2015? One topic that has become hotly debated is the decision on replacing Britain’s fleet of four Trident nuclear missile submarines.
The Conservative Party are clearly thinking of the strategic picture with the promise of guaranteeing the introduction of a second Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier. The party also remains committed to fully replacing Trident in order to maintain an effective nuclear deterrent. This has become one of the rallying cries of the Conservative approach to the future strategic position and have attacked both Labour and the Scottish National Party for their opinions on the matter. With greater emphasis on reserve forces such as the Territorial Army the Conservatives plan to create a new award for personnel giving service in the reserve forces although just what that reward will be has yet to be defined.
The Labour Party, despite claims to the contrary by the Conservatives, remain committed to a replacement for Trident but believe that their solution would be the more cost effective option. They want a minimalist approach to replacement by acquiring only three new submarines to replace the four Trident-capable Vanguard-class submarines currently in service. Three has long been seen as the bare minimum the country would need to maintain a credible nuclear deterrence but imposes many restrictions on the force such as training and refit opportunities. The Labour Party also plan to conduct a Strategic Security and Defence Review to fully assess the effectiveness of the armed forces following the coalition’s own review in 2010 which saw the most crippling defence cuts the British armed forces has seen since the end of the Cold War. Riding on the wave of the current popular support for veterans they would also plan to introduce a bill to make it illegal to discriminate against or abuse members of the forces past and present.
The Liberal Democrats have an opinion on Trident – scrap the whole nuclear deterrent altogether. By their estimate this would free up around £100bn which could be better invested in economic recovery and public services. Even “old-school” thinkers on defence would find it hard to argue against the enormous saving especially at a time when criticism over public services is at an all time high in the UK. Like the Labour Party the Liberal Democrats are also interested in supporting ex-forces personnel especially those suffering from mental health problems as a result of their experiences in combat. The Liberal Democrat’s potentially most far reaching promise is to integrate defence and security spending which could see future defence programs having a homeland security role as well.
UK Independence Party
Nigel Farage’s controversial United Kingdom Independence Party has clear outlines for what it would like to do for service personnel past and present with promises to introduce new measures to guarantee jobs for ex-service personnel who have served over 12 years or more. They also want to introduce a points system that would benefit service personnel looking for council housing and introduce a national service medal. As for the larger strategic picture UKIP would adopt an almost isolationist policy with regards to military intervention by declaring that Britain would no longer send troops to foreign war zones. As for Trident, Farage has said he would not scrap the nuclear deterrent but has not given any further details.
What I want to see happen in the next government
Long time readers to Defence of the Realm will know that I try to take an objective look to all my articles especially news articles and keep personal opinions for my monthly SITREP (with varying degrees of success if I was honest). That being said I am a firm believer in democracy and as such I believe I have a right to publish my own biased views with regards to defence within the term of the next elected government.
- I do believe Britain needs to replace Trident and maintain a credible nuclear deterrent. Ideally I would like to see four vessels acquired to replace the four currently in service but I personally can’t see that happening and whether Labour get in or not I foresee there only being three new vessels.
- An immediate decision on a replacement for the Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft.
- A complete reassessment of the F-35 acquisition, its expected service life and whether it can meet its current and future requirements.
- More efforts to be made to encourage young people to join cadet organizations and use these organizations to give them more opportunities for the future in either the military or in civilian life.
- A complete assessment on the role the armed forces could take with regards to counter terrorism within British territory.
- Any British citizen who leaves the country to fight or support on behalf of a foreign power/terrorist organization automatically surrenders their rights under British citizenship.