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The only cuts worth backing

The words of General Sir Nicholas Houghton, Britain's chief of defence staff, have a hollow ring to them

The words of General Sir Nicholas Houghton, Britain's chief of defence staff, have a hollow ring to them.

He sounds the familiar refrain of senior military figures that Britain's armed forces risk being "hollowed out" as a consequence of reductions in service personnel.

The army is scheduled to lose 20,000 soldiers and the navy and RAF 6,000 and 5,000 respectively over the next six years.

These are just about the only public spending cuts that the Morning Star supports.

General Houghton contrasts this perceived parsimony to the expenditure being lavished on the "exquisite technology" of Britain's burgeoning armaments budget.

But his solution is to raise the spending on personnel, not to slash it on military hardware in keeping with the staffing reduction.

Yet barely a week passes without fresh revelations about the escalating costs of what government ministers, armed forces chiefs and media pundits like to call "military kit" (a cosy expression for machinery designed to kill human beings in large numbers).

The latest scandal is the news that the bill for two aircraft carriers being built for the Royal Navy has risen to more than £6 billion.

This represents an increase of more than 50 per cent since the last Labour government signed the contract with BAE Systems five years ago.

Apparently, the original estimates had failed to take account of inflation and VAT.

No doubt all those involved in such an enormous, expensive exhibition of incompetence have since gone on to receive promotion, honours or a fat retirement pension.

The price will, of course, be paid by taxpayers rather than by contracted suppliers.

This reflects the privileged status enjoyed by arms companies and other guzzlers of public money, whereby end prices are worked out on a "cost plus" basis which guarantees a generous profit regardless of rising costs.

The aircraft carriers affair is only the latest in a long history of inefficiency, greed, corruption and jobbery in Britain's armaments industry.

Back in the 1950s, under US pressure, a Tory government contracted the DeHavilland company to build the Blue Streak nuclear bomb delivery system.

Much public money was squandered before the project was abandoned and the firm's successor nationalised to form part of the concern that was later privatised as BAE.

Since then, the arms scandals have come thick and fast, from the rampant profiteering of the Ferranti Bloodhound affair in 1964 to Tony Blair's decision to cover up the corrupt dealings of BAE Systems with the Saudi Arabian dictatorship in 2007.

The sleaze-ridden swamp that is Britain's military-industrial complex is compounded by the revolving door by which key personnel travel from top posts in the Defence Ministry and the armed forces into plum jobs with the arms producers, while staff are seconded from the latter to weapons procurement and export agencies within that very ministry.

But more than a heavy, cleansing dose of nationalisation is needed to put an end to this racket.

Britain must also drop its costly and sometimes brutal pretensions to be in what Gen Houghton boasts is the "Premier League of smart power."

The next Labour government should commit itself to a genuinely independent foreign policy for Britain, based on promoting peace, social justice and solidarity instead of militarisation and war.


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