Friday, 12 March 2010

Tory Generals... the Politicisation of the British Military

Vernon Bagdanor Professor of Government at Oxford University and a Fellow of Brasenose College is David Cameron's old tutor. He is one of Britain's foremost constitutional experts and has written extensively on political and constitutional issues.

Professor Bogdanor has an article on Times Online warning against the creeping politicisation of the military.

In the wake of Gordon Brown's appearance before the Chilcott Inquiry, he points out that, if our troops have the wrong equipment in Iraq and Afghanistan, then the generals must shoulder their share of any blame.

He also decries the increasing identification of recently retired, and even serving, generals as Tories.
General Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank, a former Chief of the Defence Staff, who has chaired the Conservative Party’s Way Forward Defence Study, said this week that the plight of British forces was “dire”.
General Sir Richard Dannatt made outspoken criticisms of defence policy during his tenure as head of the Army. In May 2009 he declared that the defence budget was “unbalanced” and “heavily skewed” towards high-tech expensive equipment irrelevant to the conflict in Afghanistan. Shortly after he left the Army, in August 2009, it was announced that he would become a Conservative peer with the possibility of a ministerial post in a Conservative government.
The UK has very strong tradition of military political neutrality. Not so long ago the names of the Chiefs of Staff and other senior military personnel were unknown to the public. Now they are adopting increasingly prominent public positions and, worse, becoming politically active, even while still in uniform.

I find this development worrying: the separation of military and political power has always been a great strength of the British way of working. In countries where the military take too close an interest in politics, the stability of the state can be undermined. Even the USA, which has a strong democratic culture, there is a strong sympathy for campaigning generals which would not be considered in the UK.

Of course generals must be strong characters and express their views robustly. But, for the health of the state, it should be behind closed doors and seperate from political partisanship.

It's not surprising that many military men have a political position, or even that they are (small or large c) conservatives. It is, to say the least, disappointing and even concerning, that a number of them feel compelled to adopt overtly party political stances: it is not in the interests of the forces or of the country.

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