Those within the military, industry and all who are concerned that our nation needs to spend more on defence will have welcomed comments made to the press over the weekend by Secretary of State for Defence Ben Wallace that UK spending on military defence will double from its current level to £100 billion by 2030.
Of course, I admire the ambition and believe that, following decades of manpower and equipment capability cuts which have left the UK but a shadow of what it needs to be, the need to rebuild and strengthen defence capability should be nothing less than blindingly obvious. How many times have you heard me say that honesty and integrity should be at the heart of defence strategy and policy. To that I would now have to add credibility and affordability.
You may rest assured that I will, as I have always done, follow closely the course of defence politics and the now perceived change in attitude and approach as outlined by the Secretary of State for Defence closely over the coming months and not least, the Downing Street led update of the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy that Prime Minister Liz Truss has asked Professor John Bew who is now the special advisor for foreign affairs and defence to conduct and that I believe he has been requested to report by the end of the year.
But why is it that I am left underwhelmed by all this – believing as I do that we must live in fear that once again fine words and rhetoric will be defeated by events – not in this case a change of situation in regard of the level of increased threats that we face of course, but in terms of pure undiluted economics?
It is of course right that our prime minister should say as she did at the United Nations in New York last week “we will ensure that the UK maintains our position as the leading security actor in Europe, so that we are ready to stand up for peace, prosperity and freedom across the world – just as we have done in Ukraine”.
But in the politics of today and having little more than two years to achieve what is perceived by many as being nothing short of a miracle required to rebuild the national economy following Brexit, Covid and the impacts of huge rise in energy prices that impacts on just about everyone not to mention the massive impact all this has in relation to huge increase required in borrowings, the corresponding increase in national debt and negative impact on the pound sterling, bringing voters on-side to believe that doubling spending on defence by 2030 and that even if that was to occur, would take many years to filter through to provide real underlying benefit to the defence and security of the nation, is hard to comprehend.
It is easy to give but very much harder to take away. With vast sums required to fund the NHS, welfare, education, energy, transport and various other government departments along with paying the huge increased costs of rising debt in order to fund and attempt to subsidise the rise in energy costs and inflation as a whole, I find it hard to perceive that unless we are really challenged by our would-be enemies, that the public will be onside supporting a huge increase in defence expenditure. I sincerely hope that I am proved wrong but, in any event, if Liz Truss fails to win the next General Election which must be held at the latest by very early 2025, the notional promise and intention of raising defence spending will undoubtedly fall by the wayside.
For someone who is most usually an optimist to write in such terms is not something that I enjoy. I can only say what I believe and I fear that we are in danger of kidding ourselves into a belief that we can in the space of five or ten years reverse and change policies in regard of defence that have left us in such a weakened position. Thus, I must choose the path or realism and experience and present a view that warns to be careful of what you might wish for and that it is probably best not to expect too much.
Despite what I have said above it would be remiss of me to ignore some of the central changes that have occurred in relation to defence and security issues since Liz Truss became prime minister. I have already mentioned the Downing Street led IR update review but I have not mentioned that Tom Tugendhat, former chair of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee is now Security Minister. I welcome that appointment and particularly that, as an Army Reservist, he brings in a close knowledge of defence.
Liz Truss has appointed Sir Tim Barrow, a former Second Permanent Secretary at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as National Security Advisor. He succeeds Sir Stephen Lovegrove who is himself a former Permanent Secretary Defence and is the PM’s Defence Industrial Advisor. The latter is I believe a completely new post and is based on the intention of the Truss administration to increase defence spending and equip the military for its increased range of challenges. The latter may be considered an interesting appointment of a man who, some would say in his past appointment as Permanent Secretary, was more used to saying no than yes. Nevertheless, he is well respected.
Of Royal Air Force Diversity and Inclusion Policies
As I have implied above, trust in those who lead and decide is always the most important element for people particularly in relation to policy change and ambition.
Trust may well have been the underlying issue at the Chief of the Air Staff’s Leadership Conference last week and if so, the latest evidence broadside provided by Tim Davies, a former RAF Tornado GR4 pilot and later, a Qualified Training Instructor on the Hawk T2 at RAF Valley before he left the Service – s://youtu.be/PB7w9pwpbRE and the leaked email that he presented stating that during 2020/1 all candidates joining the Royal Air Force and reaching the minimum entry score are treated as equal as opposed to being chosen on merit may not make good reading for the Chief of the Air Staff facing serious challenges in relation to diversity and inclusion policies adopted in 2019 and that subsequently led to the resignation of a senior RAF Officer.
I have already written my view on this in a piece earlier this month and to which I might add, I received a quite astonishing response of which I would say was all but 100% supportive. My bottom line is that discrimination of any form is unacceptable but that ‘merit’ is and should always be the absolute priority.
There has subsequently been an internal Army led inquiry which reported to the Air Force board on the issue of whether or not the RAF had unlawfully prioritised women and ethnic minority candidates over white males and which has been described by some as being little more than a cover up.
Being wilfully blind to merit scores above the minimum threshold set is, as far as I am aware, illegal under the Equalities Act 2010 which states that treating someone less favourably because of a characteristic protected by the law, in an area where the law outlaw’s discrimination (such as the field of employment), is unlawful. Positive Discrimination, which entails treating someone more favourably and which inherently means others are treated less favourably, is thus unlawful unless there is an exception.
In respect of ‘exception’ look no further than when in February 2019 the Chief Constable of Cheshire Police was found to have directly discriminated against a heterosexual, white, male applicant on the grounds of sexual orientation, race and sex by misapplying the provision under section 159 of the Equality Act 2010.
For the record Section 159 provides that employers, and the like, may treat someone more favourably with regard to appointment or promotion if that person has an underrepresented protected characteristic and doing so helps to overcome related disadvantage or low participation by persons from that group – but only if:
- that person is as qualified as the candidates from the over-represented group
- the preference for people from that group is not automatic
- doing so is a proportionate means of overcoming the disadvantage or low participation
No matter if they have now been subsequently revised or not, there remains significant doubt that policies of diversity and inclusion adopted by the RAF seemingly at the expense of everything else, were both wrong and unlawful.
We must of course await the findings of the non-statutory inquiry that was launched into the resignation of the officer in charge of recruitment and we are left to live in hope that the various emails, some of which have been made public, are all passed through to this inquiry and are used as evidence. However, I note that Tim Davies amongst others has expressed stated fears that some material evidence may well be being stopped from getting to the inquiry and others have suggested (unverified by me) that a three line whip has been sent out from the top that is effectively a gagging order preventing serving members of the RAF speaking out.
What Tim Davies has now put out into public domain is utterly shocking and make no mistake, this is not an issue that can easily be swept under the carpet because it impacts not only on those seeking to join the RAF but on all those who are within the service today and on where it could ultimately impact on their personal progress and potential promotion in the future.
We can I am sure all agree that policies of diversity and inclusion are important and that they should, where practical and sensible, play a part in promoting a more diverse range of people into the military. But in the military, this must never be done at the expense and importance of merit being seen as the primary objective for excellence and advancement.
CHW (London – 26th September 2022)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785