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Labour and the Military Relationship

by Barry
Jim Murphy MP and Sophy Gardner

Sophy Gardner and Jim Murphy MP – Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

Being ex-Military myself, I have often come across people who assume I’m a Tory voter, because the military is seen as the ideological military  home, However this isn’t really the case.   This blog post I have shamelessly copied from Shiftinggrounds.org explains it in a much better way than I can.  It is written by Sophy Gardiner, who is one of the Shortlisted Candidates in the Gloucester Labour Party Parliamentary Candidate selection and really gets to grips with the Forces from a Labour Perspective, and for me, the views on the human element are key.

Defence and the military–by the Left and of the Left

There is an assumption that the Tories speak for the military. Tory MPs and spokespeople have a habit of assuming that they understand the military and defence issues better than other parties. Partly this is because there are more Tory MPs with military experience than in the other parties. This is a source of continuing frustration for those within the military who have minds of their own and would prefer to be respected for that. Thankfully this is continually challenged by Labour’s Shadow Defence Secretary, with his proactive campaigning for the military from a Labour perspective, through Labour Friends of the Forces and initiatives such as the Veterans’ Interview Programme.

There is an assumption that military personnel are naturally on the Right. But military personnel have political views from across the political spectrum, just like the civilian population. They come from all backgrounds and regions of the country; this is true from the most junior to the most senior levels. There are Labour members and supporters within the military at all ranks, but regular service personnel are not permitted to take any active part in the affairs of any political organization, party or movement or to participate in political marches or demonstrations. Also precluded from Trade Union membership, the real views and politics of military personnel inevitably (and understandably) remain uniquely opaque, but that does not mean that soldiers, sailors and airmen are without beliefs, values and views on politics.

Service in the military can be seen by the Left as incompatible with the representation of pacifist and pro-disarmament campaign groups which also sit on the left in terms of public thinking. Yet military service is about serving one’s country – sometimes about making the ultimate sacrifice for one’s country – and about working within local communities. Nothing in this is inherently of the Right. This desire to look outside one’s own individual needs and rights, to serve communities and country are thoroughly compatible, in fact perfectly in step with Labour’s values of working for the greater good and subsuming individual needs for those of the wider community.

Serving in the military and seeing the human cost of warfare at close quarters is the best education in taking great care in the use of hard power – we have seen the damage at first hand.

Strategic Defence Reviews are Strategic. Inevitably, any review of defence strategy is often blighted by inter-Service concerns over the distribution of budgets and an inherent wish to promote and defend one’s own. This is not the best route to excellent strategic thinking. Post-Afghanistan, Britain’s interests should be shaped by our position as a maritime nation and away from the urge to deploy land forces in large numbers to distant interventions. Yet, our maritime capability, and the supporting air and space power to enable reach beyond our shores – and defend the UK and our overseas territories – has suffered in the costly but necessary support to our land forces in harm’s way in Afghanistan. The last SDR has not positioned us strategically for a post-Afghanistan defence posture.

It is true however that opposition is more difficult when it comes to decisions about Defence. Opposition is no fun, we know that. In Defence, this is made more difficult because the opposition has less access to changing dynamics in diplomacy and inter-governmental dealings – because of the classified nature of some of these interactions and their personal dimension which is only accorded to the government in power. Additionally, it has been tacitly accepted for some time, that when hard power is deployed in the form of military capability and personnel, support must be given or we will somehow be ‘letting the troops down’. The military understandably prides itself on being able to cope (see the Olympics) and will play down the hidden strain that filters down from overreaching activity.

So while robust scrutiny of proposed use of military power is actually very much in the interests of the military, it is hard politically for the opposition to provide. This last assumption, then, is correct, but is an assumption not about the left or right, but about the differential in power between Government and opposition.

The Military welcomes Armed Forces Day but not necessarily in its current format. A small point, but Armed Forces Day was conceived as a way for ‘the nation’ to thank our service men and women for their service. In many cases, this manifests itself in invitations by local councils and communities for service personnel in uniform, marching or parading in the local community, but this just puts more strain on an already stretched body of people. Many in the Armed Forces would prefer some kind of acknowledgement in terms of a thank you from local communities and businesses – maybe a day when Armed Forces personnel are offered discounts from local businesses or prioritised access to local services.

This is not a priority compared to proper implementation of the Military Covenant, on which our councils and councillors are now working. But perhaps it illustrates that direct dialogue with those of us, ex-serving, able to speak up politically, will help get ground truth across to our Labour leaders – at local and national level. Through Labour Friends of the Forces, we are finding routes to serving and ex-serving personnel from all the Services; and that can only be better for Labour and a One Nation future.


The Original article is here : http://shiftinggrounds.org/2012/11/defence-and-the-military-by-the-left-and-of-the-left/

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1 comment

Kate March 29, 2013 - 1:31 pm

I can’t say I’d ever thought about the difficulties faced by having a defence position when in opposition and those are really interesting points.

The armed forces day to be based on discounts / rewards etc is a really good one. I think a large number of organisations would buy in to this and I can see why this would feel more of a thanks than parades.

I regularly visited bases like Deepcut and played with a TA band in Newport. I have also toured including performing in an International Military Tattoo in Canada.

I do believe military officers tend to be on the right wing side of politics – from the many I’ve met I’ve yet to meet a single hard left officer, but have met a huge number of very right wing individuals.

There is often a sharp contrast between the politics of those high up in the forces and those at the bottom. Grass roots recruitment in the forces often thrive in areas with high BNP & EDL type movements and not traditional right wing voting areas. The divide is further felt where military children have issues moving from school to school whilst officers tend to not be affected as they can afford private school education. I know one School (not local) that is particularly suffering from the fall out of such a high catchment of a group of children that are not diverse in background. This tends to reinforce the divide between experiences of those at the top of the forces and those at the bottom.

As a Chartered Accountant from Mid Sussex I regularly get my political beliefs prejudged. I was even asked to be on a Tory leaflet without actually being asked my political views. Even if most Chartered Accountants are right wing…I’m not. Therefore I don’t pre judge anyone’s political views on the basis of career choices / backgrounds etc as I’d be a complete hypocrite.


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