Andrew Murrison MD is MP for South West Wiltshire. A Royal Navy Surgeon Commander and Consultant Occupational Physician before entering Parliament in 2001, he was recalled in 2003 to serve as a battle group MO in south-east Iraq.
The Bill has been much improved along the way with valuable assistance from The Royal British Legion and the end product is something that this government can take pride in. David Cameron (who has written the foreword to Tommy) has ensured that the pledge he made on the flight deck of HMS Ark Royal in his "Ark of the Covenant" speech last year is being fulfilled, and has backed rhetoric with a range of welfare improvements in straightened economic circumstances since May 2011. His support has not gone unnoticed by the military community.
In my book I talk about the military covenant notion of "no disadvantage", the idea that service in the Armed Forces should not mean you get a raw deal in comparison with civilians. This operates at two levels. Firstly, disadvantage in accessing public service. We have seen this in Service children not getting the school of their choice when they move about a lot, and families finding that they lose their place on an NHS waiting list.
And there is a higher level of disadvantage – and one that government amendments to the Bill seek to mitigate – in admitting that we might offer extra entitlement to offset disadvantage, such as serious injury in the line of duty. This interests me as I have been asked to look at how military amputees might be managed when they become civilians with prostheses provided by the defence medical service that may not be routine in the NHS. The trick is to avoid health service two-tierism whilst observing the precepts of the military covenant.
The title of my book is taken from Rudyard Kipling’s 1890 poem Tommy, in which the eponymous squaddie catalogues the slights of an unappreciative Victorian public. More than a century on the public has not entirely changed its ways, and there have been too many instances of abuse of individuals and memorials, causing some to call on Parliament to write new offences into law.
Military service is unique. In no other trade or profession are practitioners required to close with and kill an enemy, potentially make the ultimate sacrifice and surrender rights that civilians take for granted. For all its slights and shortcomings, the public instinctively knows this and is perfectly capable of separating its antipathy towards two unpopular wars from its admiration of the men and women of our Armed Forces. This month the charity phenomenon Help for Heroes topped £100 million.
By 2015 we hope for a change in the battle rhythm. But when Tommy no longer commands airtime, the danger is the covenant will wither as it has in the past. That’s why an annual report on its health to Parliament, a central feature of the Armed Forces Bill, is so very necessary. The covenant will need constant gardening to hold the confidence of servicemen who have an endearing wariness of the grand designs of the military’s central bureaucracy and their political masters. For, as we learn from Kipling’s last line:
Tommy this an’ Tommy that: the military covenant by Andrew Murrison with a Foreword by David Cameron is published today by Biteback.