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The Quiet Rise Of Philip Hammond

Last Updated: Friday, July 6th, 2012

The Army 2020 strategy announced this week was trailed in advance, but leaves questions trailing in its wake too.  Is it right to spread the pain of reducing numbers by merging battalions rather than effectively closing regiments?  Will the territorial army be able to fill the fighting gap in the way that the Government suggests?  Is it credible to assert that the army could in future repeat the role that it fulfilled in Iraq and is still fulfilling in Afghanistan?

It also raised a big political question as well as lots of policy ones.  It is an enquiry packed with emotive power, namely: how can the Conservative Party – the party traditionally associated with strong defence – sack soldiers on this scale and, arguably, run risks with our defence and national security?  Yet Philip Hammond, the Defence Secretary, managed to pull off his announcement without – so far – unleashing a major and very personal backlash.

On the face of it, this is surprising.  A former army officer would be best placed to announce a major reduction in the size of the army, on the general principle that a doctor finds it easiest to speak with conviction about the health service, a teacher about schools, and so on.  Mr Hammond is a dry-as-dust businessman who has no obvious feel for the traditions and culture of the armed forces.  So how has he managed it? I think that there are four main reasons.

* There is no money.  This puts the point rather starkly, but the context of the Defence Secretary’s announcement was the wider squeeze on public spending.  Even the large group of Conservative backbenchers with army experience, many of whom have reservations about the plan, accept that post-Afghanistan the army cannot escape the consequences of the financial squeeze unscathed.

* Liam Fox’s inheritance.  Dr Fox began the work of re-ordering the Ministry of Defence which Mr Hammond is seeing through – a new major projects board (intended to deal with the MOD’s procurement problems), joint force command structure and devolution of budgets plan.  Mr Hammond’s predecessor stirred up the Department with his energy, and a torrent of leaks followed in his wake.  His successor has calmed it down while seeing through most of the original plan.

* Public weariness with war after Iraq and Afghanistan.  There is no evidence that voters believe that either of these wars were won in the sense that the first Iraq war was, let alone the Falklands.  Both have been controversial – the first from the start, the second from about the time the Helmand operation.  The corruption of the Afghan Government, the persistence of the Taliban, the steady return of bodies to Wootton Bassett – all these had fed a sense of war-weariness.

* The army bought into the plans.  General Sir Peter Wall, Chief of the General Staff, was wheeled out in the Times to defend the Government’s plans.  He seems also to have decided that the army should engage with the plans in order to shape them.  A big planning role was played by Lieutenant-General Nick Carter, a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, who recognised that the army could not escape the consequences of the £38 billion black hole in the MOD’s budget.

Mr Hammond was fifth from top of the last ConservativeHome Cabinet league table.  His gradual rise in the table has taken place more or less in tandem with a cautious expansion of his right-of-centre Tory views.

The Defence Secretary was been very cool about gay marriage in an interview, and accounts have begun to appear in the media of his Euro-sceptic views being voiced in Cabinet meetings.

The former Shadow Chief Secretary has also been touted as a replacement for George Osborne at the Treasury.  This almost certainly won’t happen in this Parliament, given the latter’s closeness to the centre of the Cameron project.

His rating could reasonably be expected to take a bit of a knock in the next survey, but the quiet rise of Philip Hammond looks set to continue.  MPs and party members respect the one of the only two Tory members of the Cabinet with real business experience.

By Paul Goodman

  

HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE WEEK ON CONSERVATIVEHOME

Luke Tryl: Tackling homophobic bullying is essential to Michael Gove’s education reforms  “With action being taken on so many fronts to transform our schools, we all might be forgiven for overlooking the sixth bullet of Section 26 of the Coalition Agreement. This announced the Government’s commitment to support schools to combat homophobic bullying. This commitment has the potential to have just as transformative an impact as many of the Government’s headline school reforms. Importantly, the pledge was not simply a sop to the party’s Liberal Democrat coalition partners; anyone who saw Nick Gibb address Stonewall’s Education conference last year, or heard his response to a Parliamentary debate on homophobic bullying last month will be in no doubt that this a key priority for both sides of the Coalition.” – Read more: http://is.gd/zAoaTa

Paul Goodman: If we don’t fight major wars outside the European theatre, why do we need an army of more than 80,000?  “[One can’t know what future threats to national security may arise]… Bernard Jenkin has summarised the case for [that view] on this site.  Mr Jenkin was responding to my case for a further scaleback in spending on the army.  I believe that there is no utility in spending to counter threats that can’t be described convincingly, or to fight liberal interventionist wars abroad following the experience of Iraq and Afghanistan.  We are no longer an imperial power.  That has implications for our defence policy (we need to spend differently) as well as our European one (we don’t need to find a substitute for empire by staying in the EU, at least as presently constituted.)” Read more: http://is.gd/dO3qOn

Jill Kirby: The disorder, infighting and confusion that is racking the Nursing and Midwifery Council  “Instead of concentrating on its most important function – that of upholding standards in order to ensure patient safety – the NMC has been distracted by tasks outside its remit, such as setting up a helpline, or advising on curriculum development. Its failure to monitor and grade standards among nursing training providers is singled out for particular criticism… A huge backlog of disciplinary cases has been allowed to build up, with 4,000 nurses under investigation and a further 1,000 cases waiting to be heard. All this despite the fact that in 2008 a previous investigation into NMC failings had led to the appointment of a new Council, Chair and Chief Executive, tasked with shaking up the organisation and speeding up disciplinary hearings.” Read more: http://is.gd/42qA2c

The Deep End: Secularism V Democracy  “Instead of allowing culture clashes to be settled at the ballot box (or through other public choice mechanisms) aggressive secularists would like to exclude certain worldviews from the public square altogether – the democratic equivalent of pre-match fixing…But in the end, there is no neutral worldview: Removing the religious elements of the British constitution is as ideologically charged as leaving them in. A politician who says nothing about his beliefs is making as big a statement as one who speaks of nothing else. A school syllabus that makes no mention of faith is as freighted with significance as one that does. In every case, a choice must be made, so let’s make it freely.” Read more: http://is.gd/U2Q6n0

Andrew Lilico: What an inquiry into the banking crisis probably wouldn’t tell us – six reasons why it happened   “The message should be that the key question for policy is not what happened in the financial crisis – the sort of issue that would inevitably be the focus of a public inquiry.  It is why it happened.  Why it happened is something that (pace the Turner Review) can be explained using the tools of modern economic theory.  We are now in the process of introducing very wide scale regulatory reform in response – some of which is damaging, but some of which addresses these problems directly. We don’t need more inquiries.  We need regulatory reform – and that is well underway.” Read more: http://is.gd/UwaxJN

Tim Montgomerie: Seven reasons why the Eurosceptic movement faces an uphill battle to win any referendum   “1: The British people tend to reaffirm the status quo in referenda. 2: The EU will probably give enough renegotiation to persuade some floating voters that the EU deserves the benefit of the doubt for a bit longer…3: All of the main party leaders will back continuing membership (assuming Cameron stays as Tory leader). 4: There is currently no Business-for-Sterling type campaign that will argue against the big beasts of the business world who will largely say we should stay as full members of the EU. 5: The Eurosceptic movement is quite balkanised with divisions even between Tory Eurosceptics on tactics and strategy — divisions between sceptics in UKIP, the trades union movement and, for example, the Greens are even greater. 6: Things that the Right worry most about the EU – like its rigid labour laws – are not necessarily unpopular with voters. 7: Scratch beneath the surface of a minority of hardline Eurosceptics as the “Pro-EU” campaign will do and there’s enough anti-foreigner mentality to destabilise the positive, internationalist case for national independence.”

Tobias Ellwood MP: The modern soldier is also an aid worker, a classroom builder, a fireman – as well as a fighter. As the transformation now sweeping the army will help prove.  “There are also major hurdles relating to civilian employers. For this radical new approach to work, whole units of reservists will need the freedom to train and be deployed routinely and from time to time at short notice  leave their work place for possibly for up to nine months. This demands the support of civvy street and may require additional legislation.

This transformation is likely to be the biggest overhaul the Army has experienced in decades and change on this scale will inevitably be bumpy. Yet with reservists playing a far more significant role in front-line operations, offering a wide range of cost affective niche capabilities, it has the potential to significantly increase the Army’s ability to fight the three block war.” Read more: http://is.gd/Syluo0

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