It is good to read Shadow Defence Minister, Toby Perkins reported this morning as having suggested that the ‘final analysis’ [of Jeremy Corbyn’s ridiculous notion that we could send our Trident nuclear submarines to sea without the need to carry warheads] of the Labour Party defence review would not support the [above] idea and that he [Perkins] had not seen anything that might lead him to change his mind over supporting renewal of the Trident system’.
These are the views of someone who is clearly rationale of thought and that understands what retention of deterrent capability, whether conventional or nuclear, means and how important this is in the overall concept of UK defence capability. Whether we like it or not, Labour’s view on defence is important for all of us and anyone that thinks that just because the party outside of Westminster has chosen a leader who is most probably unelectable due to his dangerous anti-establishment views would, in terms of defence at any rate, do as well to look beyond the present rather unfortunate and regrettable period that the Labour Party is going through and into a future without Jeremy Corbyn as leader.
It is right that Labour should hold a review of defence just as it should look in rather more detail than it seemingly has at all the various policy decisions that impacted on its defeat at the General Election last year. In the end it is the electorate that will decide whether Corbyn’s ridiculous views in relation to the nuclear deterrent together with the other damaging views in relation to UK defence and national security are acceptable or not but in the meantime we must be under no illusion that public perception, not just in terms of nuclear deterrent capability but also in the role that we should play on NATO and elsewhere, is further damaged every time Mr. Corbyn talks about defence.
Appointed by Corbyn I believe because she seemingly agrees his views that Trident submarines might be better sailed devoid of carrying nuclear deterrent capability Labour’s defence review is now hands of the new Shadow Secretary for Defence, Emily Thornbury MP. I know not where this will end or even when except that in the case of the latter before the part conference in October. What if anything Ms. Thornbury knows about defence I have not a clue although I doubt it is very much. But for all that what she and Mr. Corbyn say in respect of defence, however abhorrent and lacking either reason or sense, will I fear be taken on board by some Labour voters simply because they will not necessarily been given the proper facts or that they fail to understand the impact of what such dangerous polices might mean.
Those of us that believe in the maintenance of strong defence may at the very least be thankful that Corbyn’s original choice to conduct the review of Labour defence policy, the former Labour Mayor of London, Mr. Ken Livingston, has been slapped down by the Party following crass remarks he made suggesting that one of the things [the review] would look at is if Britain should withdraw from the pact with America, Germany and France, a reference that many took to mean not only the role that all three nations are playing in the battle against Daesh in Iraq and Syria but also, far more fundamentally, his questioning of our continuing membership of NATO.
Neither Corbyn nor Livingstone have, or indeed ever had, any credibility on defence and arguably, in the minds of some I suspect, on little else either. But it is no use the rest of us laughing off the insanity of what both men have talked about just because we know that such views find little support amongst other Labour members of the House of Commons and even less with most on the Conservative Party.
As a nation it is true that we are still very supportive of defence but we cannot afford to ignore the growing body of opinion that would have us spend less on defence than we do now, that would scrap our nuclear deterrent capability, that would have us withdraw from the world and play a very much smaller and far less significant role in world affairs so that we can presumable pour more money down the drain of the NHS and other government departments. That is not just talking about a minority of Labour MP’s, Liberal Democrats and no doubt for other reasons, members of the SNP as well, it is also an electorate that sometimes doesn’t understand why defence needs to be the number one priority of government.
No one is expecting that the Labour defence review will do anything but support what Corbyn has already stated in public but be under no illusion that every time Corbyn opens his mouth on the subject of the nuclear deterrent capability further damage will be done to how the rest of the world perceives the role that the UK wishes to take in the world. Jeremy Corbyn would have been more than content had we not chosen to support our NATO allies in Syria and Iraq in the fight against Daesh and more fundamentally, having questioned our continuing membership of NATO he has sowed seeds of doubt as to the UK future credibility as a whole.
Air Training Corps at 75 – Venture-Adventure
Hosted by the Royal Air Force Museum, I had the great pleasure last evening of attending the launch of the 75th anniversary exhibition in celebration of the Air Training Corps. A really nice event it was too and it had followed a special service attended by the Honorary Air Commandant of the ATC, the Duchess of Cambridge, to commemorate the importance and value of what the organisation has done for so many young people since it was formed in its present form in 1941.
As a member of the Air Training Corps (492 Squadron Hall Green, Birmingham – now the squadron of nearby Solihull) between 1964 and 1967 I make no apology is saying that I learned an enormous amount as a member of the ATC during my years of membership. For a start I learned to shoot 0.22 and the veritable Lee Enfield 0.303 calibre rifle with seemingly great aplomb. Our squadron which was then based at Cateswell Barracks, Hall Green was an old Army Barracks until it was sold off by Roy Hattersley in 1969 shortly after I had left as being surplus to MOD requirements. Through this wonderful experience had the pleasure of representing at cold, wet, damp and miserable Bisely rather too often for my liking in those day but my goodness, what fantastic experience I gained. We learned how do Morse-Code, how to handle and operate radio equipment, navigate, learn about aircraft markings, ranks, flags, parachutes, hill climbing and so on. I well remember doing all the training necessary to do a parachute jump although sadly, the need to represent the squadron shooting prevented me from ever doing a live jump. We did our drills at RAF Cosford and RAF Gaydon and if you were lucky you got to fly in a glider and in the odd Chipmunk too. I had my fair share of the latter but my own reward for all the shooting that I did was to spend three weeks at RAF St Mawgan in 1966 flying every hour of every day mainly on the fantastic Avro Shackleton aircraft and on Westland Whirlwind helicopters too.
Happy days they were too and whether it was practical knowledge learning, adventure training shooting, gliding, flying or working on the general syllabus parents could be guaranteed that those who joined the Air Training Corps and worked hard to achieve could not have been served better by the volunteer officers who supported the squadrons giving their own time freely. Encouraged to look at the huge variety of skills and professional work available within the Royal Air Force I am told that about one third of cadets go on to join the RAF today. That is truly fantastic and it shows that the ATC still has a very valuable part to play within in the UK air power component.
Having acquired a copy last evening I can recommend the book published by Ray Kidd OBE published in 2014 and entitled Horizons – The History of the Air Cadets – proceeds for which will I understand all go back into the ATC.
A final word of thanks must go to the Royal Air Force Museum both at Hendon and Cosford locations for the valuable support and recognition that both have afforded the Air Training Corps over the years not just in recognising the history but also in the important work that the ATC still performs today. The Exhibition that opens at RAF Hendon today will be on throughout the summer period. It is well worth making the effort to see.
CHW (London 8th February 2016)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS