General Dannatt denies that he’s been in cahoots with the Tories. He gave a lecture last night and said:
“[David Cameron] put it to me that he was concerned that his defence team – at a time when defence was really important, and Afghanistan was really critical – lacked expert understanding.
"And would I be prepared to advise his team, and, if the Conservatives win the election, would I be prepared to take a peerage and maybe join his ministerial team… it was a recent decision and indicates that there was no long-term plot."
Only a bolus of ministers, who believed they could smear a General who was renowned for his frugality over expenses, could be preposterous enough to suggest that Dannatt was a Tory mole all along. And I welcome David Cameron’s acknowledgement that he requires expert advice on Afghanistan. However, the party politicisation of a senior officer is a cause for concern. I agree with Daniel Korski that Dannatt’s decision places his successor in an awkward position: it is undesirable that General Richards will have his card-carrying former boss breathing down his neck. This turn of events will lead to suggestions that officers who disagree with the government are motivated by partisan concerns; their expert criticism could be dismissed. The situation in America is a case in point. Certainly, distinguished British soldiers have become distinguished statesman in the past, but the examples of Wellington and Kitchener are so removed as to be irrelevant. Soldiers have to be partial to the army and nothing else; Dannatt’s saving grace is that he plainly is, and will castigate the Tories if they don’t accede to his demands.