Last Tuesday I and many others packed into the Shadow Cabinet room alongside veterans and the Shadow Defence team to witness the launch of Labour Friends of the Forces (LFotF). Quite beyond simply offering service men and women party membership for £1 or engaging better with their families, LFotF represents an important cultural shift in how we
as a party engage with and think about the military.
At the launch former paratrooper and LFotF patron, Dan Jarvis MP, spoke of the need to bust ‘…the myth that…the Tories were the party of defence’. I feel that there is another even more important myth to bust, that Labour and Labour values are somehow incompatible with our military and those that serve. As someone who considers himself on the
moderate left of the party I don’t see LFotF as a shift to the right, but actually an affirmation of core Labour principles.
In a post-Thatcherite age of unashamed, and often selfish, individualism what can be more commendable than the doctrine of ‘service before self’ – indeed, dare I say the ‘s’ word – what can be more socialist than putting society and the greater good before one’s own wellbeing? Labour values of community and public service seem far more compatible with our troops’ ethos than the dog-eat-dog, ‘put yourself first’ culture that is so ingrained in Tory policy.
Just as the Tories are letting down our emergency services and schools, so too are they damaging our military. Nurses, policemen, teachers and soldiers are all bearing the brunt of cuts that, not only show a lack of appreciation for their service, but damage the very fabric of our society. Labour members must show our forces the same solidarity we show other public sector workers.
We knew the Coalition would come after the schools and hospitals so in some ways the treatment of our forces seems worse given the Tory claims to be their natural friend.
Some friend: 17,000 service men and women are to lose their jobs by 2015. An extra 5,000 soldiers face coming back from Afghanistan to find they have been made redundant. A number of RAF personnel supporting the NATO mission in Libya were informed of their redundancy there and then. A leaked MoD memo revealed disgusting plans to sack those who had
returned from war injured or disabled. Within the last week the Coalition has only just u-turned on the decision to axe the chief coroner after a relentless campaign from the Royal British Legion and the Labour Party.
We have aircraft carriers without aircraft, a navy that can no longer defend our seas and an army that will be at its smallest in over a century. Little wonder RUSI stated that our military capability has been seriously compromised. But to top it all, like many of the Coalition’s austerity measures, the military cuts aren’t even cost effective. Cuts
have led to an increase in spending for military equipment projects by £466M. It’s hurting but it isn’t even close to working.
Liam Fox clearly had other things on his mind than the welfare of our troops or the UK’s ability to protect itself. Philip Hammond is proving equally lacklustre.
Labour, with its plans for sensible spending but commitment to public services should be the natural home for our forces. The Tories have treated those that serve us best the worst; from our military to our NHS. We are the natural party for the latter, let’s endeavour to be so for the former as well.
Some associate a support for military personnel as a support for militarism. But a commitment to our troops is no
more a commitment to MoD policy than our support of nurses is for Lansley’s NHS plans. I was steadfastly against the Iraq War yet have nothing but respect for our troops who had no choice but to serve. Blame government for military mistakes, but don’t blame the forces for doing their duty. At the launch I met with soldiers who were Labour to
their core yet had been made to feel unwelcome by some in the party. This cannot continue. One can be pro-service without being pro-war. Supporters and detractors of individual wars, or even war in general should be able to join LFotF in good conscience.
Remember also, the make-up of so many of our forces. The countless ordinary soldiers and sailors who hail from working class backgrounds, solid Labour families and constituencies that remain consistently loyal to the party. It is time to show them that the party is grateful for their service and grateful to the families of those who have made the
ultimate sacrifice. How many others are there who agree with so much of what Labour stands for yet feel we are not a party that is comfortable with them, a party that cannot say thank you. It is critical that now the Tory myth has been exposed Labour proves itself to be a true friend to the forces. Voters should know that the Conservatives are the party that cannot be trusted with the welfare of our troops or the security of our country.
All wings of the party should feel at ease in affirming themselves as members of Labour Friends of the Forces. Just as I stand in solidarity with the unions so too do I with our troops. My own Labour values were critical in my decision to begin the process of joining the Territorial Army. When the time comes I hope I can serve my country with the same devotion to duty that our troops have consistently shown. A devotion to duty that is not at odds with the culture and core beliefs of our party but far rather reflects the same sense of service and community that has marked our movement for over one hundred years. Everyone in Labour should be a friend of the forces.