Will Dr Liam Fox reopen the box One of the macabre pleasures that certain government ministers enjoy is listing which of their colleagues has the worst job.
Watching Liam Fox this week scrambling to defend the imminent sacking of 11,000 Armed Forces personnel some of them now in Afghanistan it is easy to see why the Defence Secretary is always near the top of that bleak purchase pandora online list. Sacking Servicemen and women is tough enough at the best of times, and these are far from the best of times. Barely hours after David Cameron said he was considering imposing a no fly zone over Libya, the Ministry of Defence began its redundancy programme with 1,000 Royal Air Force personnel, including 170 trainee pilots. It gets worse. Next Friday, as Mr Cameron arrives in Brussels to discuss the European Union response to the Libyan crisis, HMS Ark Royal, Britain flagship and last remaining aircraft carrier, will be formally decommissioned, two years ahead of schedule. That sad ceremony, like the redundancy programme, is the bitter fruit of last year Strategic Defence and Security Review. To call the SDSR controversial would be a grotesque understatement. Field Marshal Lord Bramall; Major General Julian Thompson; Admiral Sir Jeremy Black; Lord Ashdown the roll call of those who have criticised the SDSR is heavy with military honours. Yesterday, Sir Laurence Martin, a former head of the Chatham House think tank, said the review amounted to asset stripping Jim Murphy, the Labour shadow defence secretary, joined the chorus, calling for a reassessment of the assumptions on which defence policy has been based This wasn supposed to happen. The SDSR was supposed to prepare Britain and its Armed Forces for an unpredictable world, anticipating crises and equipping us to respond. The bedrock on which British defence stands is British foreign policy. Soldiers, ships and planes all exist to promote and defend our interests around the globe. So what is our foreign policy? If we had a working aircraft carrier, would it really be steaming towards the North African coast, ready to project British power and values into sovereign Libyan territory? Are we still that sort of country? Some of the public reaction to the Libyan crisis suggests that many people believe the answer should be yes. Mr Cameron vacillations suggest his answer is: not sure yet. The SDSR was also supposed to make the big decisions about the Services, their structure, size and mission. In fact, it deferred many major questions, launching a small armada of reviews, commissions and studies. One was a study of generation ratios, the way the Services produce deployable units. Today, an Army of 100,000 can sustain a frontline force of around 10,000 in Afghanistan. Improve the force generation ratio and you need a smaller standing Army, an outcome as financially attractive as it is politically toxic. Likewise the deferred decisions about which military bases around Britain will close: announcements are due later this year. A further review is considering the allowances paid to members of the Armed Forces, for everything from children school fees to living overseas. Yet another is working on thinning out the top heavy upper ranks of the three services, sacking the brigadiers, commodores and air commodores whose numbers have grown even as the Armed Forces have shrunk. The role and task of the Territorial Army and the other reserve forces are also being scrutinised. The TA has around 36,000 members but barely half are fit for frontline service. A much smaller, more deployable reserve could emerge, but only after another painful political backlash from the TA and its supporters. Financially, the entire SDSR rests on the assumption that the Ministry of Defence can deliver savings of 4.3 billion over four years. Each year, the MoD has to try to reconcile its annual income with its annual expenditure. Under Labour, almost every annual pandora beads online planning round ended with a decision to run an overdraft, overspending by eating into future years budgets. The cumulative result was the 38 billion hole in the budget that Dr Fox inherited. The current planning round, PR11, is coming to an end, with more cuts likely: an order for 12 new Chinook helicopters looks highly vulnerable. People involved in PR11 describe the process pandora charms pandora as predicting that the annual budget will effectively mean another round of cuts across the board. we get more money from the Treasury, a second SDSR is going to be necessary, says one senior source. it won be a where can i buy a pandora bracelet review that reinstates cuts, it will be a review that makes more cuts. The fact is this: we cannot afford the SDSR, so we will have to do another mini SDSR to make more cuts. Some officials believe Mr Cameron is politically squeamish about military personnel. Will he back more contentious cuts, or blink and order the Treasury to raid its reserve? And amid the gruesome budgetary pressure on the MoD and the Libyan crisis, is there any hope that the Ark Royal will sail again? Bernard Jenkin, a former Conservative shadow defence secretary, is among those who have suggested that there should at least be a plan for her restoration during the long wait for her successor, HMS Queen Elizabeth, due to enter service in 2020. Yet the chances of resurrection are almost nil. Already stripped of many vital systems, Ark Royal engines will soon be removed. The MoD is already actively considering outright disposal, with sale to a foreign government the first option. One alternative might be to convert HMS Illustrious, now a helicopter carrier, to support fixed wing aircraft. But even if that were possible and the MoD says it is not what would fly from her decks? The SDSR, after all, scrapped the Harrier jump jets that used to fly from our carriers. An exasperated Dr Fox dismisses the focus on carriers in the Libyan crisis as a herring He told The Daily Telegraph that air bases in Cyprus, Italy and Malta are far more relevant to any British response. will cover the gap until the new Queen Elizabeth class carriers are built by the use of basing and over flight rights around the world, he said. there is a requirement for fast jets in the Libya crisis, we would use our regional basing rights. No other country has seen fit to send an aircraft carrier to the region. But, like almost every one of his predecessors, Dr Fox is learning that the Armed Forces are at least as good at Whitehall warfare as the real thing. Each of the three Services has fought ferociously to defend its interests, often at the expense of the others: the venom of inter Service feuds and vendettas can make civilian politicking seem tame. One of the last decisions the review made was on the Navy Harriers. Dr Fox said the aircraft were deleted instead of the RAF Tornadoes because the Tornado offered capability in Afghanistan. It was very difficult decision he conceded. Yet some insiders are convinced the Harriers were sacrificed simply to keep the RAF happy and ensure that pain was evenly distributed across the Services. One of those involved in the review said: was depressingly simple really: because the Navy got their new aircraft carriers, they had to lose something else. That is precisely the sort of salami slicing that Dr Fox promised to avoid, yet it kept a fragile peace between the Services. Formally reopening the SDSR, or even quietly revisiting some of its decisions, could inflame inter service tensions. Friends say Dr Fox must tread carefully because, politically, the chiefs are nuclear armed. The top brass make little secret of their continuing unease; criticism from retired officers is often sanctioned by serving chiefs. The political impact of public criticism from a serving chief would be immense; a resignation would be catastrophic. The Armed Forces and their leaders have immense public sympathy. No matter what private exasperations ministers may have about the chiefs, none would risk his own position in a public confrontation. Mr Cameron knows that rows with the top brass destroyed Labour on defence. Under fire, would he back his Defence Secretary against the military? The question must haunt Dr Fox. Yet elsewhere in Whitehall, there is less sympathy. One senior government figure is scathing about Dr Fox management of his warring military tribes: just got to get a grip on the chiefs, bang their heads and keep banging until they start pulling together and shut up about the SDSR. So far, that just hasn happened. In his office on the fifth floor of the MoD, Dr Fox keeps the in tray from hell: a monumental overdraft and an unsympathetic Treasury; powerful, squabbling military commanders; a department famous for its lumbering bureaucracy; a boss desperate to stay on the right side of fickle short term public opinion; and lingering question marks over Britain strategy and role in the world.
And in the world outside his office, is that chorus of voices, louder every day, demanding he reopen the Pandora Box that is the SDSR. It would take a heart of stone not to sympathise. But then, no one ever promised that being Defence Secretary was going to be easy.
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