For a while the Tories had hoped they could get away with dodging questions on defence spending until after the election. Even as the pressure within their own party for a commitment to the 2 per cent of GDP set by Nato, ministers were either saying they didn’t want to ‘pre-judge’ the Strategic Defence and Security Review, or trying to turn the question round and ask whether Labour was going to match the current level of spending by this government. Neither was a satisfactory answer, but ministers rather have the impression that with just weeks until Parliament dissolves, they needn’t worry too much.
Of course, they reckoned without someone picking up on the conversations that are taking place in private, and the Sun has done that today, with an exclusive that George Osborne has told Cameron that spending will fall below the target. Tory MPs including Defence Select Committee chairman Rory Stewart are rightly uncomfortable with this, with Stewart saying this morning that this was about the UK’s credibility.
Last summer the government faced criticism for not appearing to have a strategy for tackling Isis. This past fortnight, it has faced criticism for being so noticeable by its absence in talks to resolve the crisis in Ukraine (though yesterday David Cameron insisted to the Liaison Committee that it was important to not be ‘precious’ about these things. It is probably unfair to say the government doesn’t have a plan any more. Instead its plan appears to be for British defence capability to reduce at a time when many think this country needs a loud voice in the world.
The era of stable government is over
Join us on 23 March for a Spectator discussion on whether the era of stable government is over with Matthew Parris, James Forsyth, Jeremy Browne MP, Vernon Bogdanor and Matthew Goodwin. The event will be chaired by Andrew Neil. In association with Seven Investment Management. For tickets and further information click here.