To mark Armed Forces Day, we’re reproducing this post from May 2011 on the need for a Department for Veretans’ Affairs:
David Cameron wants to enshrine the military covenant in law. This can only be a good thing. Putting aside questions as to what should be in such a covenant, and why it took the PM so long to announce this when he made a similar announcement a year ago, Labour should fully endorse the plans. But we should also push the Tories to go further. We should propose the establishment of a department for veterans’ affairs.
Labour’s reputation on the armed forces has suffered in recent years. Whether fair or not there is a public perception that Labour sent troops into battle without the appropriate equipment or necessary helicopter support. And yet when the Tories cut allowances to serving troops (as Bob Ainsworth noted here recently) or sack RAF pilots, there is barely a whisper of discontent in the media. The Tories present themselves as the party of the armed forces and they are taken at their word.
Pushing for a specific government department, with a minister and all of the visibility and accountability that implies, would show to serving and former service personnel (and their families) that Labour is serious about the problems that they face, and ensure that our service personnel receive the support and treatment they deserve. It shouldn’t be left to “Help for Heroes” – although they do amazing work – it should be the government’s duty to provide that level of support and care as a matter of course.
Those within the party who have misgivings about the party’s military entanglements could find much to support in a department for veterans’ affairs too. A government and a society that is more upfront about the sacrifices made to wage war – and the often horrific outcomes of those sacrifices – should be more circumspect about engaging in military action in future.
Providing our troops with a fair deal appeals to the vast majority of our nation – across boundaries of class, race, religion and geography – and it is ground that the Conservatives have decisively seized. This is our opportunity to say that Labour will be unflinching when it is necessary to send young people into combat, but we will be equally unflinching in our determination to see them taken care of too.