Back in 2009, Labour tried to mothball the Territorial Army in order to save just 20 million pounds. To put that in context, over 10% of the total regular and volunteer manning of the British Armed forces was threatened for a saving of around 0.05% of the total military budget.
The situation was dire, with military out of control and with a budget “black hole” of £36 billion. Even without a huge deficit to worry about, something had to be done – but the choice of cuts was bizarre and displayed a fundamental lack of understanding of how the military, and volunteer reservists in particular, worked.
Labour did a partial U-Turn, but the damage was done: training was reduced and people left, in part simply because there was nothing to do any more. This wasn’t the only event that got me active in politics: I’d previously written letters to MPs as long ago as the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill, (As it then was) but it was only a few months after this that I stopped being a “mere” leaflet deliverer and joined the Liberal Democrats, so defence is something I still keep a close eye on.
The government is dealing with the black hole by cutting £5 billion from the budget, with just over 20,000 posts going – less than the total size of the Territorial Army. No, it’s not great and not something I welcome. And of course there is discussion and criticism from those who still have some credibility left on the issue. I’d be amazed if that was not the case.
But it’s hardly surprising that given what happened in 2009 and a complete failure to control military spending, Labour haven’t been as loud as they could be in their condemnation of the cuts – they lack the credibility to do so. The shadow defence secretary has trotted out the usual “too far, too fast” rhetoric but with little substance, as usual, to back it up.