Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Liberals Rules the Waves - Restoring the Primacy of the Royal Navy

It is interesting to note the Defence policy briefing for the LibDems is a sole one-sheeter and moreover it is only half-full..(or half-empty).

As we all know the party conference in September in Glasgow distilled our policy on the Trident issue:

So even on this score the policy briefing for PPCs on the site has not been updated!

Not having a more fleshed out Defence policy would appear to be a major flaw in our policy mix. While some activists just don't care (or can only get hot and bothered selectively, such as on Trident) the policy area is a large one, budget-wise, and too important to be left by default to the Tories. We might also note that the best they could do in the space was serve up the disgraceful Liam Fox and his amanuensis (or was it really the other way around). Defence is a matter of importance to a large niche of the population (not least of which being current and former service personnel) and these also happen to be voters. 

The party has not always been such a blank slate on Defence and indeed the last First Sea Lord who was a Liberal MP was Winston Churchill, in his Liberal manifestation. As nature abhors a vacuum and seemingly no-one else in the party cares about foreign relations (with Ming Campbell exiting the stage) or defence, I shall boldly step into the breach. As the sphere has so many moving parts and because my particular area of interest is naval policy (and the party holds the Navy seat, par excellence, in Portsmouth South), I shall focus my thoughts on this area alone. Never one to do things in half-measures, the proposals here will be broad brush mixed with the highly specific and possibly annoying to the existing Whitehall defence establishment, but most certainly NOT annoying for RN personnel, past or present. We are not pitching for the support on Whitehall mandarins but for the rank and file (not to forget the Brass either).


The Royal Navy has been continuously undermined since the early 1960s. The premise that Britain's colonial empire was gone (which it wasn't) gave open slather to those who hoped for savings by shrinking the naval establishment. First to go was independence of the service in 1963 and after that it was easy to pick off stragglers and critics. By attrition, the number of vessels and personnel was shrunk and the number of bases and facilities dwindled. It was a "frog in the boiling water" situation where the Royal Naval  "powers that be" found themselves reduced to a mere shadow of what the Premier Service had once been and all in the name of economy. The post-Colonial rationale for a smaller force was only partly justified for it should be remembered that the Royal Navy became the feared force it was well-before the whole colonial push of the 19th century. 

The relevance of having projection on a global stage (and this is easier to do with a navy than an army) was brought home to me by the nonsensical claims, post the Syria vote, that Britain was irrelevant on the global stage and "had no reach". Besides being just not true, it displayed a lack of imagination in the way that the navy could be used to punch above its weight. It also failed to grasp that the Royal Navy could be used as an instrument of liberation from the deep-fried, overwrought and just plain tired Special Relationship. When it comes down to it the US may have a way larger navy these days but Britain has some very strategically located naval bases (and the potential to create more) and it also has its Commonwealth membership that makes British vessels more welcome in more places than the US ever could be. 

So here are some sound-bites to start with that I shall elaborate upon over coming months and that shall hopefully spur some debate:

Re-establish the Admiralty

Re-establish the First Lord of the Admiralty as a civil ministerial title

Separate Naval Intelligence (Room 39) and locate it in Gosport

Boost ship and crew numbers

Establish a naval base at Port Stanley

Build (or acquire) a New Britannia - firstly as a marketing and image tool with the Royal Yacht function being an added bonus

Build a naval training sailing vessel

Support Trident - as a means of liberation from the Special Relationship rather than to fend off some imagined lingering "Soviet threat". 

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