By Paul Goodman
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Former army officers are well represented in the Conservative Parliamentary Party (two Commons Cabinet members, Iain Duncan Smith and Andrew Mitchell, are among their number), the Royal Navy and the RAF are less so. Philip Hammond's thoroughly-trailed Commons statement on the coming reduction in the size of the army was thus certain to get the rough ride from the Tory benches that Matthew Barrett reported earlier on this site.
I am not sure that Downing Street was right to guide the Defence Secretary towards spreading the pain by disbanding battalions rather than merging regiments. Taking the latter route is never popular, but it is not exactly novel. The regiment in which my uncle served – he and his father were both professional soldiers – was merged into the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters, and then into the Mercian Regiment. It is only one of many examples.
Patrick Mercer, who served with the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters, has expert knowledge of the regiment's history, and sometimes visits the spot at Anzio where my uncle was wounded: he raised concerns about recruitment in the Commons today. Tim Montgomerie tweeted earlier the more general argument that planning for the smallest army since the Victorian times along with the biggest tax burden since the Second World War "isn't convervatism".
The first part of Tim's statement obviously applies if one believes that a Conservative Government should spend money on the army because that's what Conservative governments do, or because we should be preparing to fight major wars abroad, or because one can't know what future threats to national security may arise – or for a combination of all three reasons. Bernard Jenkin has summarised the case for that last one one on this site here and here.
Mr Jenkin was responding to my case for a further scaleback in spending on the army – see here and here. I believe that there is no utility in spending to counter threats that can't be described convincingly, or to fight liberal interventionist wars abroad following the experience of Iraq and Afghanistan. We are no longer an imperial power. That has implications for our defence policy (we need to spend differently) as well as our European one (we don't need to find a substitute for empire by staying in the EU, at least as presently constituted.)