We learn today that George Osborne will say in his Budget that he’s using the fines he’s collected from bankers to build a memorial to terror victims. I find this juxtaposition rather odd: why link terrorism to banking? Why not just be honest: that any memorial will be funded from the the same tax pool as everything else? But moreover, I do wonder where this memorial will go. We’re told that the Chancellor will consult with the relatives of the victims before agreeing a location. These memorials do serve a purpose: they become part of the world our ministers operate in; part of their daily lives. Most politicians will know every memorial in Westminster – who they commemorate, and why.
You can see what has given him the idea. In his short walk from Downing St to the Treasury, Osborne passes a massive monument to the victims of the Bali nightclub bomb (pictured, above). But nowhere in Whitehall can you find a memorial to the soldiers who put gave their lives fighting the wars on which government has embarked since 2001. In many cases, these soldiers perished because the Treasury failed to finance the military properly and had servicemen and women travelling around Iraq and Afghanistan without the proper body armour. Or in trucks waiting to be blown apart by roadside bombs, rather than the far safer helicopters funded by the Americans.
Wouldn’t it be better if the Chancellor had to walk past a recent war memorial every day, and made a mental note to himself to make sure that the military is properly funded in future? At a time when almost no one in the Cabinet has any military service, there is a risk that the whole game of war becomes abstract to them. They can argue, for example, ‘Let’s bomb Syria!’ without thinking that such an operation needs a follow-through, that this will be expensive – and, if they fail to fund the military properly, it will be lethal.
I’d feel happier if Osborne used the extra money moving the Bali nightclub bomb somewhere less prominent, and replaced it with the Iraq and Afghanistan memorial being proposed. He has already offered to match donations towards it with taxpayer cash, but it needs a proper location. It needs to be a memorial that Treasury ministers would walk past, and reflect upon, ever day. Lest they forget.