Putin would be delighted to have Labour’s legion of peaceniks in power

Article published in The Daily Mail, 3 July 2024. © Richard Kemp

It is no exaggeration to say that Britons today are living through the most dangerous geopolitical period since the Second World War.

The threat is all around us: from ever-multiplying jihadi terrorism, a resurgent Iran, a muscle-flexing Russia waging its unjust war in Ukraine and even from China, which only two months ago GCHQ director Anne Keast-Butler warned posed a ‘genuine and increasing’ cyber risk to the UK.

It is against this bleak and unsettling backdrop that, if the polls prove correct, Sir Keir Starmer will be appointed our country’s new prime minister on Friday.

It is a prospect that profoundly alarms me.

As the Mail reported on Tuesday, former Ministry of Defence chief Dr Rob Johnson has just issued a devastating assessment of our ever-depleting military capability, warning that a country once renowned for its might is now so short of infrastructure, personnel and weapons that we are, as Dr Johnson put it, unprepared for a ‘conflict of any scale’.

What a terrifying prediction that is — a state of affairs that, I believe, would sharply deteriorate under a Labour government.

Nor is this just my view as a former commanding officer who saw action in some of the world’s fiercest warzones, but one shared by many senior military figures, both retired and operational, with whom I speak often.

The numbers speak for themselves: When I joined the army in 1977, it boasted a regular fighting strength of about 150,000. Today, those numbers have diminished to less than half that at around 73,000. As Dr Johnson made plain, it is not just people we lack either: we are desperately short of ammunition, ships and aircraft too.

Yes, it is only fair to point out that successive governments from both sides of the House have presided over this diminishment of our military might, initially prompted by the collapse of the former Soviet Union in 1991.

As a decade of relative peace and prosperity followed, nobody questioned our shrunken capacities.

But the world of quiet diplomacy which Tony Blair — the last Labour leader to be elected — inherited in 1997 did not last long. The devastating Islamist terrorist attacks on the US in 2001 heralded the start of the war on terror, joined in time by other multiplying threats from across the globe.

Yet politicians did not reinvest in our military in response. We fought long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan while simultaneously diminishing our forces.

Not even when Putin launched his terrible full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022 did we recognise the error of our ways.

We have heard much from politicians warning of the threat posed by the Russian leader’s grandstanding, but the Government has still not — to put it bluntly — put its money where its mouth is.

Nonetheless, we cannot accuse the Conservatives of sidelining defence. In March, Rishi Sunak pledged new funding for our nuclear deterrent, and the Tory party election manifesto states it will increase defence spending to 2.5 per cent of GDP by 2030 to secure British interests. In contrast, Labour has made no such specific pledge in its manifesto beyond a soggy promise to do the same ‘as soon as possible’, accompanied by an assertion of its ‘unshakeable commitment to NATO’.

Yet earlier this year Shadow Defence Secretary John Healey committed the party to a defence pact with the EU — which would mean an almost certain weakening of the crucial North Atlantic Alliance.

It is not just lack of commitment to defence by Labour that should concern us, but the toxic ideology at its heart.

The reality is that while Sir Keir has adopted policies calculated to appease centrist voters — hence his important proclamation in the Mail in April that ‘security would always come first’ under his leadership — a core cabal of his party are ardent peaceniks, who prefer to base what passes for their ‘foreign policy’ on pacifist dogma rather than the national interest. Look no further than the party’s former leader Jeremy Corbyn and his despicable anti-West, anti-Semitic rhetoric.

This is the man who was pictured only six years ago making the salute of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, an organisation described by a government enquiry as ‘counter to British values and democracy’.

Yes, Corbyn has since been expelled from the party, but Starmer has failed to purge similar belief systems from Labour. Take Afzal Khan, the Labour candidate for Manchester Rusholme — who was forced to apologise in 2019 after sharing what appeared to be an anti-Semitic conspiracy on social media.

Or Naz Shah for Bradford West, who was suspended in 2016 after claiming Israeli Jews should be ‘relocated’ to America and posting an article that likened Zionism to the Islamist terror group Al Qaeda.

Are we to believe that, once Sir Keir is given the keys to Downing Street with an unprecedented majority, those set on letting our military waste away will remain quiet? Let us not forget that — in common with every Labour manifesto since that of Ed Miliband in 2015 — Sir Keir has committed to recognising the state of Palestine should he become leader.

It is insulting to Israel and would only to lead to a deterioration in the all-important relations between us.

We depend heavily on Israeli weapons, as well as intelligence — I have personal experience of the regularity and frequency with which we have exchanged life-saving information. All of this would be imperilled under a Labour government.

As for Russia, last week Rishi Sunak warned that ‘Russia does not want [the Tories] to be re-elected.’ I would go further: Putin would be delighted to have Labour in power. I do not believe for a minute that Sir Keir is a Russia appeaser, but he will not be as robust a cheerleader for Ukraine as either Sunak or, particularly, Boris Johnson — and Putin knows it.

The fact is that defence is simply not in Labour’s DNA. In fact, in sections of the party there is an ingrained hostility to the military.

How else to interpret the fact that the party intends to repeal and replace the legislation designed to end the legal pursuit of British soldiers over incidents that took place decades ago, and which effectively gives an amnesty to the IRA and loyalist terrorists who killed thousands?

Whatever your personal stance on this — and I for one find it horrendously unjust — the consequences will be clear.

Our armed forces already have such a desperate recruiting problem that, earlier this year, the then Chief of General Staff Sir Patrick Sanders called for the country to train a volunteer ‘citizen army’, ready to fight a land war.

Why would anyone want to fight for a country that allows them to be hounded by the courts decades later?

Voters — understandably concerned about the cost of living, schooling and the state of the NHS — should think about this as they head to the polls.

Even in these dangerous times, defence is often not at the forefront of their minds. It should be.

If we cannot properly defend ourselves, then we cannot defend everything else we hold dear.

Image: Wikimedia Commons