More riffing on Nelson! Fraser, that is. His Telegraph article and subsequent Coffee House post on future spending cuts argue that the Tories are, defensively, planning to leave the NHS budget untouched (and international development!) and that doing so will require 10% cuts across every other department. Including defence.
Since most people would, I think, accept that the armed forces are under-funded and over-stretched as it is, imposing further cuts surely and necessarily demands a reappraisal of current commitments and future capabilities. But do we hear anything of that from the Tories? I’m not sure we do. Indeed, Liam Fox’s speech to the Scottish Tory conference suggested, as I wrote at the time, that Tory foreign and security policy was, essentially, much the same as the current ministry’s – only with more money being spent. Furthermore, if Fox’s absolute commitment to replacing Trident is honoured then, one imagines, other areas of the defence budget are likely to be squeezed still further. How sustainable is that?
So, then, will the Tories advocate withdrawal from Afghanistan? Or, to put it another way, in this New Age of Austerity, what the hell is Tory defence policy? For that matter, what’s Tory foreign policy too? What, to put it yet another way, is the Tories view of Britain’s place and role in the world? And, of course, these three questions cannot be considered seperately.
One rather gets the impression that, perhaps understandably, the Cameroons concentrate on domestic issues to the exclusion of these other issues. Granted, this is not where the election will be won and lost, but it is something a Conservaative government will have to deal with once it’s in office.
That is, it seems improbable that existing British defence commitments – to say nothing of planning for future crises – can be met from existing resources, let alone survive a 10% cut in the MoD budget.