A mass of tweets in response to the Sky News report yesterday written by Deborah Haynes in which it was stated that the head of RAF recruitment had resigned – allegedly in protest at an ‘effective pause, on offering jobs to white male recruits in favour of a need to take on more women and those from ethnic minorities in order to meet “impossible diversity targets” is hardly surprising.
This is a report that says what a great many serving people within the Royal Air Force privately believe and that have been bottling it up because they know that without permissions, talking to the media is a disciplinary offence.
Denied as it later would be by RAF officials, I can confirm that Group Captain Lizzie Nicholl, a highly respected, determined and extremely knowledgeable Royal Air Force has resigned – this reasoned by what was alluded to in the Sky News piece and most probably, a lot more besides. This was a commendable decision and one made by a very passioned senior officer who had the interests of her people first and foremost at heart.
To that end, I dread to think of what Lizzie Nicholl has suffered as she struggled to do her job in the face of adversity in the form of stealthily deployed RAF policies from high and that they thought they could get away with.
I do not know Lizzie Nicholl but she deserves nothing but praise for what she has achieved and now done in her standing up against policies instigated by the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston. These are policies that even if I were to attempt to be kind I would have to describe as clearly wrong and being little short of an illegal campaign of institutional sexism and racism against white male officers.
Believe me when I say that I am very much saddened that I have to say something like this and never thought that the day would come when I needed to. It is also one that I know I speak for many members and former members of the Royal Air Force and who I well know share my fears.
After three decades of supporting the Royal Air Force in almost every respect, choosing my words very carefully and often unofficially fighting battles that needed to be fought and raised that, due to the politics of UK defence, others may well have been prevented from doing themselves and of my working closely with more former Chiefs of the Air Staff and their staff than I probably care to remember, it gives me no pleasure whatsoever to say what I and I know many others too have been bottling up for the best part of two years – that when it comes to morale, the Royal Air Force today is in a very bad place and that this is reasoned by the policies of one man and one man alone – Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston.
This is a story that was, at some point, bound to break and I am very relieved that it now has. That is not to say that the detail in the Sky News article is all necessarily correct but neither should that be taken as my denying that the vast majority of it, is true.
To confront the senior personnel officer with a string of what I can only describe as being illegal orders just beggar’s belief. And you may well ask why senior officers who have, no doubt, often been seen to struggle with the raft of ‘wokery’ policies now woven throughout the Royal Air Force failed to challenge and stand up and be counted?
Perhaps some did and that is why so many have either chosen to leave or found that their career paths had come to an end meaning that they had no choice but to leave.
What a pity that so many others who might have benefitted from listening to their people and how they felt failed to confront a diversity policies that I believe called from 20% of recruits to come from ethnic minorities at a time when this section of our community represents around 8% to 9% of the UK population. What madness this has been, what an impossible task however true it is that we need to encourage more women and ethnic minorities to join and to be a part of the modern-day Royal Air Force, to benefit from and to serve their country.
But you don’t achieve that by setting ridiculous, nay impossible targets and that ignore – nay ride over the prospects for those already in the Service. You achieve it in a phased and often unspoken way gradually and you ensure first and foremost, that none of your existing personnel are hurt in the process.
And did I confront the Chief of the Air Staff myself on the so-called ‘wokery’ issue? Yes, I certainly did. Knowing well of the discontent felt by an increasing number of serving officers some who I might add were being prevented from moving up the promotion ladder, during a dinner in the House of Lords last year I privately asked the Chief of the Air Staff this:
‘Was there any room left in the modern-day Royal Air Force for merit’?
I will not here and now repeat the answer that I received – that would be wrong. But I will say that it was answered with a large degree of anger.
The ‘wokery’ issue is one that has been festering like a volcano awaiting to erupt for the best part of two years. Now it has and we must await to see what happens next. There are those that believe the policy should be immediately scrapped and along with it, the current CAS.
However, I fear that unless he chose to resign – and I am hard pressed to remember if a precedent for exists for that – with the current Secretary of State’s hands somewhat tied with there being a moribund Prime Minister still in No 10, one who I believe is currently on holiday, I would suggest that even when he returns this weekend, it would be very unlikely that he would sanction change.
As I said earlier, whether all aspects of the Sky News article are absolutely correct I do not know. What I do know though is that I am glad that what is and has been a deep and heartfelt issue within so many members of the Royal Air Force cadre has now been exposed for what it is – a failed unworkable and very wrong policy and one that should never have been.
Not for now perhaps, but it also brings into question again of how Chiefs are chosen and indeed, what powers they have and should have. If nothing else, I for one hope that the Royal Air Force can stop looking back and move into the future with Ops, Capabilities and People – those that we have and those that air force chiefs should either be fighting to get and in respect of people, fighting for.
CHW (London – 17th August 2022)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785