What would Clement do?

A Labour blog that witters on about Clement Attlee. Hurrah for The Major!

Archive for the category “Defence”

“COME IN G-GEORGE, YOU HAVE A BILL TO PAY…”

 Utterly disgusting. The best two words I can think of to greet the news that the few surviving Bomber Command veterans may well have to stump up from their pensions to pay for a memorial that was only completed and opened this year. Imagine the outcry if The Commonwealth War Graves Commission sent The Royal British Legion a bill  for the Menin Gate? 

Surely if the Tories had not botched the Rail Franchise to keep Virgin out, there would be a little money to spare here? Why do we have a department for “Heritage” – one that along with the tourist industry, is never backwards in promoting a rosy view of the Second World War, and Churchill nostalgia. And let us not forget that our politicians are never shy of invoking that “wartime spirit”, or wrapping themselves in the Union Flag for cheap gain. Quite frankly, this stinks.

Bomber Command was, certainly for those who flew, perhaps the deadliest posting in the British forces between 1939 and 1945. Over fifty-five thousand young men died in the bomber offensive against Germany, out of a total of around 120,000. With their comrades in the U.S. Eighth Air Force, they made a huge effort towards the defeat of Nazi Germany. Along with the Bevin Boys in the mines, and the Fourteenth Army in Burma, they were largely forgotten when peace came.

Bomber Command waged a war that most of us would prefer to forget – Area Bombing, which meant the indiscriminate bombing of industrial centres through Germany, causing truly horrific civilian deaths. At the time, questions were asked in Parliament, and public protests were issued against the policy – which contrasts with the enthusiastic public reception given to film showing the bombing of Poland in Germany, where terror was promoted as a wonderful weapon. Let us be clear, the bombing of Dresden was no less an atrocity of war than Coventry, or Rotterdam, or Guernica come to that.

The bombing offensive did probably shorten the length of the war, and it did disrupt German war production. The figures will be argued over till the cows come home, but it is significant that Germany moved a large part of its fighter force home to protect the Reich, and built many more fighters than bombers from 1942. This increasingly meant that Allied forces, East and West, could gain the vital air superiority needed to win on the ground.

This was a battle of attrition, with airmen from Australia, Canada, India, the West Indies, and of course from the occupied countries as well as Great Britain. Arthur “Butch” Harris frequently overstated the results of the campaign, and time and again, young men were ordered into the face of a well organised flak and night fighter defence. Yet these airmen did not falter, orders were orders, and they did their duty, incurring heavy losses in the air, and untold anguish once the war was over.

Because of the controversy and revulsion over Area Bombing, once the war was over, no campaign medal was struck – uniquely for both world wars. Arthur Harris resigned in disgust, and the only memorial to those 55,000-odd men was in Ely Cathedral – out of sight, out of mind.

 Until this year, the fallen of Bomber Command had no memorial in London, and it had to be paid for by public subscription. And of course, when the funding fell through, the bill still had to be paid. So who should pay? Well, by the inaction of the British Establishment, it looks like the pensioners who are fast dying out. Only the most cynical of Tories should fail to feel burning shame…

VOTE LABOUR TODAY

Today is polling day in local government across the UK.

Here in London, we elect our Mayor and the GLA, & across the country you get a say in how your local services are managed.

Please remember the awful example of Tory-run Suffolk, where the council is trying to destroy jobs, and make the council “virtual”. The former Chief Executive was payed more than the Prime Minister! In fact, you will find that amongst the unelected Chief Executives, those with huge pay-packets tend to be employed by Tory councils.

After a campaign best described as one huge dirty trick, Mr Johnson and Mr Livingstone will have to wait for the votes to be counted.

The choice is clear – vote Boris for ineffective, though amusing government. Cutting Police numbers, stockpiling Plastic Bullets, ignoring inner London, cutting transport projects. Rambling on in a funny way. Denying the importance of investigations into the corrupting influence of Murdoch. Denying growth. Pressing for tax cuts for his friends and masters. Earning £250,000 outside of his actual job – paid ultimately by tax exiles. His utter incompetence in dealing with the RMT – after all, we have had many more tube strikes under Johnson in 4 years than we had under Ken in 8.


Brian Paddick, Jenny Jones and Ms Benita cannot win, but they have all raised serious points along the way. Johnson will ignore everything they have said once in City Hall, and carry on with Coleman, Malthouse et al.

For Lib Dem, Green and independent voters, the second choice is clear – it must be Ken Livingstone.

– A vote for Ken Livingstone is a vote for fair fares on London Transport, investment in infrastructure, creating jobs. It is a vote for a City Hall that will strive to unite Londoners, not divide them. It is a vote for substance over style. Restoring the EMA Londonwide, a lifelong dedication to London, a proven track record spanning over thirty years.

Of course, the national issues matter – Economic mismanagement, making us pay for the Bankers’ mistakes, pasty taxes, the amazing inability to read a calendar. Cutting too far, too fast, leading us back into recession. Gutting the armed forces, trussing up the NHS to sell off to their mates. Student Fees.Oh, and should I mention Murdoch???

Today you get a voice. Today, just for once, shout “ENOUGH!!!” And vote Labour.

 

Buenos Aires and Whitehall…

After Margaret Thatchers memorable turn as Meryl Streep in “The Iron Lady”, there was a predictable flurry of Falklands-related guff, from both Buenos Aires and Whitehall. Events today, with the riot outside the British Embassy show that the war fought thirty years ago is still alive for many, even those not born at the time.

  Now I believe that it is vital that those of us who consider ourselves to be part of the sane British Left to address this issue, and to reiterate the point made by the late Michael Foot in 1982, namely that the right of the Falkland Islanders to national  self-determination is paramount. They have an unquestionable right to be British, and to the protection of the British Crown. The Islanders have no wish to be part of mainland Argentina, which for all practical purposes is as distant as Southampton to them.

Lets look at the underlying forces at play here. A Peronist Government, forced by the economic crisis to make vastly unpopular cuts in Argentina has played the only card it has left – the Malvinas. In Whitehall, the ministers of an unpopular Coalition, also embarking on a harsh and unwarranted cutback/privatisation programme cannot be indifferent to the possible patriotic side effects of “standing firm on the Falklands”. After all, last week they tried petrol panic and pasty eating as diversions. In the real world, neither government has the forces to hand to either invade or re-take the islands.

However, once the diplomatic sphere is included, things look grimmer for Britain than in 1982. Virtually the whole of South America agrees with Argentina that these rocks, first settled centuries ago by the British, are really part of Tierra del Fuego. The U.S. State Department, true to form, has no fixed view, but would like to see negotiations, no doubt with a resolution that would favour her South American ally. US foreign policy has long regarded the break up of the UKs remaining dependencies as a good thing.

Spain will predictably side with its ex-colony. France? Well lets just hope that whoever wins the election there can be as steadfast as Mitterand was in 1982. China and Russia are always ready to humiliate Britain, and India could go either way. I should think that most Arab states would back Argentina post Iraq.

Altogether not a happy picture for the Islanders, and one that would take both careful Diplomacy and decent Defence spending to reverse. Unfortunately neither looks likely until we kick this Coalition out. Camerons Defence Review is sending William Hague naked into the conference chamber – never an appealing thought.

As we remember those who fought and  gave their lives fighting against a Fascist Junta thirty years ago, let us remember that their sons and daughters may well have to do the same.

Island of No Return – Revisited?

“Digging all day, digging all night,

To keep my foxhole out of site…”

In a month that I suppose we shall be naming “Maggie Memorial January”, it is perhaps sadly fitting that Argentinas claim to The Falklands is back in the news. Unfortunately, almost thirty years to the day since the invasion a Mr Cameron, who does Prime Minister impressions, has decided to rattle his trusty, rusty sabre at Mrs Kirchner, his counterpart in Buenos Aires. (Rumours that Madonna is already angling for the Film rights would be anyones guess…)

Well, we can only hope that cool heads will prevail, and while all this may blow over, it will probably not disappear for ever. It may be all good nostalgic fun for some, but history reminds us just how deadly these games can be.

“Pick up your feet, fall in, move out,

We’re going to a party way down South…”

The Falklands War is a huge part of the Thatcher Myth – itself the cornerstone of modern Conservative identity & thought. Just for the hell of it, lets take a look at some of the myths that The Immaculate Mis-Conception was built upon…

Myth One : Only Mrs Thatcher and her Tories were patriotic and brave enough to take on Galtieri and take back the Islands.

A downright lie. During the emergency debate in the Commons on 2nd April 1982, Michael Foot said:

“The people of the Falklands have an absolute right to look at us at this moment of their desperate plight… They are faced with an act of naked,unqualified aggression, carried out in the most shameful & disreputable circumstances. Any guarantee from this invading force is utterly worthless.” 

He was praised by Tories for having “spoken for the nation” (Hansard).

It was an alliance of Labour, Liberal and backbench Tory MPs that had prevented a 1981 Govt. measure to “lease back” The Falklands to Argentina, against the wishes of the Islanders themselves.

It was in effect two Tory measures that encouraged the Fascist junta in its belief that Britain would not fight. The 1981 Immigration Act took away full British Citizenship from all inhabitants of all UK Dependencies ( this measure was aimed at preventing mass immigration from Hong Kong before the Chinese takeover), and then there was what the ever amusing Alan Clarke described as “that fucking idiot John Nott and his spastic “Command Paper”  which is effectively running down the entire Royal Navy to keep the soldiers in Rhine Army happy.”

“…I never thought that I would be

Fighting Fascists in the Southern Sea…”

Myth Two: The Argentine invasion was a completely unexpected bolt from the blue.

Bilge. In 1977, Labour PM James Callaghan sent two Frigates and a Nuclear Sub to the South Atlantic with the minimum of fuss, to deter Argentina from invading. No war in 1977, but when intelligence sources repeated similar warnings in early 1982, they were ignored . this came out in the post War inquiry.

Far more worrying were the attempts by the Tory Govt and some of its MPs to sell arms and Naval ships to a military dictatorship which whom we had a long-standing territorial dispute. Around a year before the invasion, one junior Minister described the Argentina of torture, rape and “disappearances”, of baby snatching and electrodes, as ” allies in our common struggle against Communism” (by the by, Niall Ferguson stated on channel 4’s “Ascent of money” that these deaths were “worth it”)

“…Saw one today, and in his hands

Was a weapon that was made in Birmingham…”

Myth Three: Maggie (& Britain) stood alone, although Reagan supported us from a distance.

In fact, the first nation to wholeheartedly give their support was France, then run by Socialist President Mitterand. French help was vital – they supplied us with technical data and purchased numbers of both Super Etendard fighters and Exocet Missiles sold to Argentina, and, with co-operation between MI6 and their French opposites, they managed to prevent any spares for these reaching Argentina until well into 1983.

Despite the Maggie/Ronnie romance, the USA vacillated – after all, they did not want war between two of their favourite allies. Eventually, they came down on our side, but it was a close run thing.

Within the Cabinet, there were initially deep divisions as to whether we should go to war at all. It took The First Sea Lord barging in uninvited (in Full dress Uniform, no less) to finally swing the decision to liberate the Falklands. Up to this point, all that had been decided was to telephone the Americans.

“I wish Kipling & The Captain were here,

To record our pursuits for posterity…”

Myth Four:  Margaret Thatcher won The Falklands War.

No, it was won by the Servicemen and Merchant Seamen who fought, bled burned and died down in The South Atlantic.

This maybe just history, but with the next round of Defence cuts touted as reducing the Army by anything up to 8 Battalions, to no fixed-wing Aircraft Carrier until at least 2015, & further cuts to come, no wonder that the C-in-C of the 1982 Task Force, Admiral Woodward has said that “practically nothing” could be done to retake the Falklands today.

Argentina is designing and building new Amphibious ships, and upgrading its war fighting capability, given the parlous state of our defences, and the prospect of oil, Gas and Mineral deposits, maybe Cameron should be doing everything in his power to avoid his own “Falklands moment”.

After all, it would be tragic indeed if the Tories managed to lose the Falklands twice…

(Song lyrics by former Private Billy Bragg)

FOR THOSE IN PERIL ON THE SEA…

After the news last week from the Italian coast, perhaps minds have been concentrated on maritime matters, at least a little.

 About 20 nautical miles off the Dutch coast, a Naval scandal has erupted, and surprise surprise, only Private Eye seems to care…

Under both National and International Law, both Merchant and Naval ships sunk during wartime are designated War Graves. HMS Hood, The General Belgrano, ships sunk at Jutland or Sole Bay, it is all the same to the Law…

On the 22nd of September 1914, three British Light Cruisers, HMS Aboukir, Cressy and Hogue were sunk in quick succession by the German Submarine U-9, shocking The First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill and ushering in a new age of Naval Warfare. The wrecks are the only marked grave for some 1459 RN Seamen and Marines.

Currently, a Dutch salvage firm is cutting up these graves for scrap – mostly for low background radiation Steel, Bronze and Copper. At the moment, neither the Dutch nor the British Governments are doing a thing about it. It appears that these wrecks were sold (yes, SOLD) to a German company back in 1954, within living memory of their sinking.

Given the allegedly parlous state of History teaching in our schools (prop. a Mr Gove), I suppose that I should remind you all that in 1954 the Government was Tory, and the Prime Minister was… Winston Churchill.

When challenged by the Royal Naval Association, Archaeologists and Diving Associations, the MoD did nothing, and said less.When faced with a Freedom of Information Request from Andy Brockman, of Archaeology campaign group “Mortimer”, which wanted to know how many Royal Naval warships that might be considered War Graves under International Law currently had salvage contracts granted or sold, those men from the MoD said it would cost more than the upper limit of £600 to research.

At this point, Clive Efford, Labour MP for Eltham, asked Gerald Howarth, the Junior Defence Minister for answers about the 1954 sale, this is part of Howarth’s reply:

” We can hardly object to salvage as such, as it appears we knowingly sold them for the purpose back in 1954: we must assume the decision to dispose of the wrecks was taken by our predecessors in full knowledge of the facts & they acted in the public interest as perceived at the time… Notwithstanding (such a Sir Humphrey turn of phrase Gerald…) the unfortunate acts… we will request the Dutch Authorities to do whatever they can to ensure the salvors  treat the wrecks with appropriate respect & responsibility.”

I do hope that some Ministry of Defence official can remind Mr Howarth of the Joint Compassionate Casualty Centre, which currently repatriates the fallen from Afghanistan. It is not only responsible for current casualties, but also historic ones, & has been on hand at various archaeological and salvage operations, to ensure that the remains of the dead are treated “with appropriate & responsibility” as he puts it. Alongside the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, it would be in charge of the proper treatment & burial of the remains of any British Serviceman found abroad, whether found on commercial property or not.

Under the Geneva Convention 1949, it would also be the responsibility of the Dutch Government “to protect & maintain such grave sites permanently.”

In the past year we have seen the attempt to turn a War Memorial  in The City into a party venue narrowly averted. We now have the awful spectacle of a government and Civil Service that seems to have not a care for those who died protecting our liberties, as long as the bodies are out of site. How different from the annual orgy of false piety every November. How odd to see these who push and shove to get tickets to City Salute and the Army & Navy Game at Twickers.

How shaming to see BP buying their own Frigate to protect their fleet from pirates. And, more to the point, how on earth does this Coalition justify its 15,000 Service redundancies last year? They are not fit to look at the flag, they certainly are not fit to defend it. 

In Pearl Harbour, one could never imagine the above fate being endured by the USS Arizona, nor would the Menin Gate be plundered for stone…

 

Clem’s Christmas Roundup

It was (almost) Christmas Eve  babe,

and in the drunk tank,

an old man said to me,

” I could go nuclear…”

So time to take stock of the year, and consider the good and bad that we’ve been through…

First of all, losing the election has been a massive blow, yet Gordon Brown managed to leave office with more dignity and in better grace than David Laws did less than a month later. A fundamentally good man made way for a shyster.

The coalition was initially heralded as a “New kind of politics”, yet has settled down into the most radically conservative Government  since 1983. Everyone agreed that Ham Face and Little Nicky looked jolly nice on the lawn, giving civil partnerships a boost.

The Government decided that you and I would be better off with 50 less MPs, as it cost too much for us to have adequate representation. We all agreed that 50 less Coalition MPs would have been a good thing. the Guardian felt silly, and The Daily Mail  was grumpy, possibly that UKIP didn’t win outright. The Daily Telegraph did its best to bring the Coalition down by chatting to Liberal Democrats.Sales of Werther’s Originals plummeted in Tory seats.

The BBC found the correct term for a Conservative Culture Secretary. Jeremy should go far…

Liberal Democrats have been apologising to their best friends after admitting they don’t really like them, and apologising to the rest of us for making such a rotten deal. they still held on to the Ministerial cars though…

It was decided that not only would tuition fees have to treble, but that funding for Higher Education would be cut by 80%. A well organised, fearsomely armed group took control of the streets around Westminster – The Metropolitan Police.

The Duchess of Cornwall was poked with a stick, and (oh, the irony) went on to a Royal variety performance featuring 25 minutes of Les Miserables – featuring student revolutionaries waving flags – ” Did she hear the people sing…?” don’t worry Camilla old girl, they were French.

Speaking of our allies, it was decided that the Royal Navy should specialise in becoming a landlord – renting out 50% of our carrier force to Les Bleus. Can’t see them defending the Falklands, but still, annoyed a few yanks…

Wikileaks told us what sensible people already knew, namely that diplomats don’t always like their hosts.

Julian Assange may or may not be someone that you would like your daughter to meet on a regular basis.

Once again, the world failed to find a collective answer to Global Warming, whilst we shivered a bit, and were given no credible answer as to why the country cannot deal with a little snow. Boris claimed to have bought the deserts of Araby, and then slunk off to cancel FIFAs bribe – sorry, all expenses paid stay at The Dorchester for the duration of The Olympics.

Gideon Osborne, The 14th Earl of Whyborn, sat on the Treasury Benches looking more and more like a pale evil toad. Dr Fox ( no, not that Dr Fox) let it be known that although he doesn’t like it, he was prepared to sell servicemen short. Again. The police warned that without constant pay rises and overtime payments, crime would rocket. Then proved themselves inadequate to their core task of keeping the Queens peace, thrice.

After a drawn out campaign, the much-vaunted David Miliband was done low by his supporters, notably Lord Mandy, who then wrote a rubbish book, and still has no inkling as to just how much everyone in the nation hates him. Tony Blair wrote nonsense, and we learned about both his sex life and his toilet regime. Lucky us. Mr G W Bush turned out the best book of all three, at least in terms of fiction and plot.

Ed M became our leader, and has scored a few telling points against Bullers Dave, yet the hardcore Blairites, after three years of disloyalty, have still to learn that unity cuts both ways. A few right wing placemen showed their true inclination was to power rather than principle.

Phil Woolas was finally ousted from both Parliament and from The Labour Party, after running a nasty smear campaign that really did us no good.

Charlie Kennedy proved top be correct when it came to the coalition, fat lot of good it will do him.

And the government Front Bench looked for all the world like the Thirteenth Earl of Whybourne from The Fast Show…”Me? With my hands on the public purse? With MY REPUTATION?”

The BBCs Nick Robinson, at last able to see his pals in power, looked on the verge of a massive orgasm every time
he reported for the News. Is he sponsored by Kleenex we wonder?

The Big Society turned out to be a big “fuck you” from Millionaires to the rest of us.

Pavement reformed and toured the USA and Britain, and The Pogues started a long fairwell tour – though Spider stacey hinted at this only being a break – please let it be so…

The Strategic Defence Review…

“Leaving aside the admitted expense of it, I can say that the Nation cannot choose between having an Army and not…”

– or something like that, the Duke of Wellington, circa 1842.

Hard times beckon at the MoD, where there will be even less tough,tough toys for tough, tough boys.

The Strategic Defence Review, part of the regular business of Government, kicks off amidst an atmosphere of panic and demoralisation in the higher echelons of both the MoD and amongst service chiefs. After years of overstretch caused by too many operational commitments abroad, and a continuing procurement policy that fleeces the state whilst delivering few bangs per buck compared to other western countries.

PROBLEMS,PROBLEMS…

And here is the problem, in an uncertain world, with new power blocks emerging, it is vital that our interests are safeguarded, and that international law is respected. We need forces that are well trained, well equipped and well led – not only for ourselves, but for the defence of Western Values in general. Those men and women need to believe that they will be looked after for putting their lives on the line. Already, front line helicopter numbers are set to be cut – at a time when such mobility is vital in Afghanistan.

In an increasingly unequal world, a GI-Bill style settlement for outgoing soldiers, airmen and sailors would be a vital step forwards. PFI has been a disgrace in MoD provision, and must be ended. We need to take a long hard look at priorities – we cannot uninvent the Nuclear bomb, but do we need Trident? Is it flexible enough? Can we defend these islands from threats? Or the Falklands? Are we kitted out for future threats most probable to occur?

NO, NOT THAT DR FOX…

Sadly Dr Fox(no, not that one), who may or may not still be at his desk today, is unlikely to look at cutting the long-term gordian knot of defence procurement. This review is most likely to leave all our conventional forces undermanned and under equipped for current operation, let alone any future entanglements. As the major Coalition partner is still profoundly Europhobic, we are unlikely to be furthering European Defence integration, whether via Nato or the EU – one policy that could very well reap definite dividends for not only the UK, but also France, Italy, Spain and Germany.

Once again, the Treasury will have its way, and we will be picking up the pieces for years to come. Not a solution that Major Attlee or Ernest Bevin would have welcomed…

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