Article published in The Daily Mirror, 25 April 2018. © Richard Kemp
The British Army is shockingly undermanned as a result of years of savage defence cuts by successive governments. They know they can get away with such irresponsibility with electoral impunity. But their attitude is short-sighted.
The armed forces serve two purposes. The first is to show strength and resolve to defend ourselves at home and overseas and stand by our allies when they are threatened. This is a deterrent against aggressors. Strong deterrence reduces the likelihood of war. If our forces and the resolve of our politicians to use them is weak it makes war far more likely. Short of war the Salisbury nerve agent attack — the first such strike anywhere in Europe — shows us the liberties Putin is ready to take with a country he sees as weak.
The second purpose is to do the actual fighting. History shows us that if the forces are under-manned and under-funded that leads to unnecessary casualties and failure. British governments too often hope they will get away with keeping their fingers crossed that we won’t be seriously threatened before their term is up. British soldiers are the ones who eventually pay the price for such neglect with their blood.
One example of under-funding is the government’s disastrous recruitment programme, outsourced to Capita. Everyone — including many serving officers — recognise that this has been a disaster but don’t have the funds to deal with it. I know first hand how appalling it has been, having spent many frustrating hours trying to help potential recruits to penetrate the bureaucracy of the civilianised recruiting system — and often failing, despite my own experience of the military system.
The consequence of all this is the undermanning we see today which represents a political betrayal of our army and our country by those we elect above all to ensure we are properly defended.