Monday, 26 May 2008

The Armed Forces- Why can't we get the Labour message over?

Last week saw the publication of the Independent National Recognition of the Armed Forces study by Quentin Davies MP. This saw some excellent initiatives and also highlighted what this Labour Government has already done for our Armed Forces. The report makes 40 recommendations, the key ones being:

  • Greater encouragement for the military to wear uniforms in public where circumstances and Service rules allow;

  • Creating a British Armed Forces and Veterans Day;

  • Supporting extra Local Authority engagement for Homecoming Parades;

  • and Strengthening cadet organisations by expanding combined cadet forces in Comprehensive Schools and introducing a Cadet Ambassador in London to encourage schools to get their pupils involved in cadet forces.

Now I agree with all these, the Cadet issue has already been raised by Gordon Brown and I see it as a good idea- as long as the funding is there and some of the NUT do not get too upset! The uniform one is a funny one, much was made of the instruction by senior RAF officers for their personnel not to wear uniform in Peterborough- now as an ex soldier- we actually like to get out of our uniform after work, but it would be great if you could stay in uniform just to pop to the bank at lunchtime, but also as an ex Sergeant Major- you do not want to see soldiers in some sort of half uniform/half civilian shirt which is what we have at present in many garrison towns.

The report also highlights what has already been done and what is already in the pipeline- again, much as been made by the Tories about the state of Married quarters, but it was the Tories who sold off the Married quarter estate management! Secondly, times have changed and many servicemen now look to purchase their own homes much earlier. What this Government has already done for servicemen and their families includes:

  • Labour agreed one of the highest pay rises in the public sector for all servicemen and women following on from last year's 9 per cent pay rise for the lowest paid private soldiers. For those on operation abroad we have introduced a tax-free monthly bonus of almost £400 and have extended council tax relief.

  • Over the next ten years the Labour Government will invest over £8 billion on improving our armed forces' accommodation. This will lead to a further upgrade in accommodation after years of neglect under previous Tory governments

But why can't we get our message over? the Tories and Cameron came out with a Military Covenant Commission, who we have not been heard from since it's launch but who got far more press than Labour did last week with the publication of Independent National Recognition of the Armed Forces study. Was it because the Tories had a famous (if right wing) novelist on their commission or because they had a famous ex soldier in Simon Weston- or was it because our study was led by a Labour MP who jumped the Tory ship? What ever the reason is, we need to get it right, as an ex soldier I know the Tories did little for us when in power but you can't expect many ex Generals to say that once they are out of the Army and looking for a directorship at some bank/ institution. The treatment of our Armed Forces is an important matter to all the public- much can be learnt from the poem"Tommy Atkins" by Kipling on how not to treat your Armed Forces and maybe we should remember the Labour poster from 1945- that helped us to that great election win!

Lets us again make us the party that both servicemen, their families and the general public know look after their armed forces the best. As the reports states:

"Our Armed Forces are the best in the world, putting their lives at risk to protect Britain and promote peace around the world."

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