The House of Commons saw something rather unusual yesterday – a Conservative front bench spokesman going out of his way to rebut the remarks of a Conservative backbencher.
Speaking in a debate on defence, Harwich MP Douglas Carswell talked about procurement:
"Labour came to power promising to overhaul defence procurement, yet according to the best-selling author Lewis Page, its defence industrial strategy amounts to business as usual. The defence industrial strategy is more about industry than defence. It does more to safeguard the interests of selected contractors than the interests of the armed forces. The DIS is good at putting large amounts of public money on to the balance sheets of a few contractors, but that is about all it is good for. The DIS talks about best value for money, and improving delivery and costs, but all the evidence shows that the DIS promises things that are almost by definition mutually exclusive. We cannot both shore up our defence industrial base and provide our armed forces with the best value kit in the world; it is a logical impossibility.
"The DIS is, in reality, a corporatist, protectionist racket. Lobbyists for the DIS on the political left justify it as a means of preserving jobs. The same arguments once trotted out to justify Government subsidy of British Leyland are used to legitimise squandering our defence budget. To those on the political right, the fig leaf justification is about something called sovereignty of supply. The same arguments were once trotted out to justify the corn laws."
Shadow Defence Minister Gerald Howarth is also MP for Aldershot, an Army town. In his closing remarks he said:
"As far as the defence industrial strategy is concerned, I am afraid to say that I fundamentally disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich. He is entitled to his view, but I have to put on the record that some of the things that he said about buying off the shelf are not the policy of the Conservative party. The policy of our party is to ensure that we have sovereign capability over key equipment, such as the joint strike fighter, and his suggestion that the whole procurement programme is a corporatist, protectionist racket is very wide of the mark."
With whom do you agree?