Labour has a long history of standing four-square behind our armed forces personnel. From Clement Attlee’s frontline involvement in the Gallipoli campaign to Major Denis Healey’s ‘good war’ that culminated in him being the beach master at Anzio in 1944, the party’s military heritage is as rich as it is varied. But our recognition that to become the party of the armed forces we must work harder to welcome those who have served, was a driving force behind the formation of the Labour Friends of the Forces and saw Major Dan Jarvis become a Labour MP in 2011.
Labour governments have spent a greater proportion of GDP on defence, but this hasn’t always cut through on the doorstep and the party’s standing on defence has been weakened in recent years. This means that just 14% of voters think Labour is the best party on defence issues, and only 28% of our heartland voters believe Labour would protect the UK from global threats. If Labour wants to win back credibility on this crucial issue, it’s a long journey to rebuild trust by being united and putting protecting the public first.
Our new party leader recognises the challenges ahead and has said the first way to rebuild trust is to listen to people. As we celebrate Armed Forces Day today, we are delighted to lay another marker in the sand – the relaunch of Labour Friends of the Forces (LFF), and with it a bold package of commitments that will help the party listen and rebuild ties with those who have served and their families.
Armed Forces Day on June 27th, the brainchild of the last Labour government, is a celebration of our troops’ intrinsic value and ordinarily sees the presentation of medals to personnel along with commemorative activities. This year, announced by the leader of the opposition and with his full support, LFF is proudly making renewed commitments to serve the forces community and setting out the means by which it aims to achieve this goal. A timetable of eight events in just ten months spanning every region in the UK, cut-rate membership for forces affiliated personnel, a direct channel of communication to Labour’s defence frontbench and access to the continents’ leading defence minds form a bold new offer to LFF supporters.
Accompanying these new offers to LFF members is a reinvigorated set of objectives. A will to build the party’s relationship with serving personnel, veterans and their families; to nurture and identify future candidates from a military background; to improve the party’s understanding of issues effecting the service community; and to create a forum for training, discussion and development for the group’s membership. The fact that the leadership has thrown its full weight behind these aims only adds to the significance of the group’s ambitious new plans.
Why is it so important for Labour to show leadership on Armed Forces Day? Because the government is failing to do so. Troop pay increases have been delayed for a second year running, for the fourth consecutive year the ombudsman has found a vastly underperforming complaints system, and satisfaction along with morale has been declining for a decade as the armed forces continuous attitudes survey has revealed. And the current administration is not just failing the troops themselves. A decade of crude Tory defence cuts has left the army alone falling 8,000 personnel short of the government’s own targets.
These factors – alongside statistics revealing that between 2010 and 2015 Britain’s defence budget fell by £8bn with no real confirmation of when this will step up again – show this government’s lack of commitment to our service personnel. Adding insult to injury is the fact that all this is going on against the backdrop of our troops playing such a vital role in combatting Covid-19.
Our armed forces deserve so much more than dwindling troop numbers, incessant cuts to the defence budget and a decade of failure in addressing lagging morale. Labour knows this – and through LFF seeks to provide a forum to listen, and for tackling these issues head on. Against the backdrop of Covid-19, where our armed forces continue to go above and beyond in delivering for the nation, it is important that political parties deliver for them.
A decade of Tory defence decline presents an opportunity for Labour to return as the party to stand up for our troops once again. This Armed Forces Day, with the support of our new leader, we are delighted to announce a reinvigorated group rooted in our service communities, for our service communities – Labour Friends of the Forces.