Defence, Defence, Defence.

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The Tories are ahead in the Guardian (+3) and Ashcroft (+6) polls this morning. The voting public’s top four priorities are the NHS, jobs, prices and wages, immigration and education. Tackling the deficit comes fifth.

If only Labour were brave enough to ‘weaponise’ defence.

Leave aside for a moment the cost of engaging ISIS and dealing with the problems largely of our own making in Iraq and Afghanistan. There is probably no getting away from them.

But the ridiculous £100 billion plus cost of Trident, a nuclear deterrent that deters no-one and that we would never use is avoidable.

Maybe we want to maintain a deterrent of some sort, maybe not. That’s separate argument. But a submarine based system that requires a fleet of ships and planes that we no longer have to support and protect it is not the only option. Not the cheapest option. Maybe not the best option for a (small) nation like Britain.

Here’s an article from the Guardian (once great newspaper) from December 2014. It explains how even after spending £20 to £30 billion on the Eurofighter / Typhoon it’s unable to do any more than follow Russia’s bombers along the Channel. It could not ‘engage’ them as it can’t yet carry the latest Brimstone air to air missiles. This also means we are spending other billions to keep ageing Tornados in the air to fight ISIS. Whatever you call it, the Eurofighter / Typhoon is no bird of prey. It’s an expensive lame duck.

And then we have the aircraft carriers. Two of them at a cost of over £6 billion. Both of them pretty useless without any planes to fly from them. When they do get planes they will be American Joint Strike Fighters at a cost of £15 billion plus. That’s slightly cheaper than it would have been because we’ve opted for the vertical take-off version rather than the catapult version – because that would have added another £2bn to the cost of the ships. Unfortunately this version of the plane cannot fly so far or carry so many weapons. It’s wings are clipped.

Labour’s long been scared of talking itself into the corner where it can easily be painted as being soft on defence. The Tories and other voices on the right, in the military and its supply chain (no self interest there obviously) owned the debate throughout the Cold War and since. Here’s an example, an article from The Spectator (great magazine) from February of this year by an Air Chief Marshall and a Vice Admiral arguing for defence to be ‘weaponised’ in this election because they do not think we spend enough.

But what exactly is Labour scared of? It’s pretty clear (see above) that the Tories are proposing ongoing austerity whilst continuing to spend regularly and heavily on runaway-cost defence projects that don’t necessarily do much to meet our real defence needs.

Defence does not even make the top ten of voters’ concerns in this election. If we match NATO’s 2% of GDP target we will be spending 25p on defence for every £1 we spend on the NHS.

I don’t think an everything-including-Trident on the table defence review that defines this (small) country’s real, current and future defence needs and funds a military capability to meet them need scare the voters.

I think the idea that there might be significant savings to be made, money that could be spent on other things or used to reduce cuts elsewhere could be attractive to many voters. Many Green and Lib-Dem vote-wasters might be persuaded to support Labour on this promise alone.

Today’s polls suggest Ed needs all the votes he can get. He should weaponise defence. We spend – and waste – too much on it.

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