A Critique of Liberal Democrat Defence policy, Part 3

This is the third of a series of three posts. The first part can be read here and the second part can be read here.

The following is a critique of the defence policy outlined in the Liberal Democrat Manifesto published for the 2019 General Election and presumably still extant at time of writing (June 2020).  Manifesto commitments are reproduced verbatim followed by my commentary.

Page 91: A Secure Defence in the 21st Century (continued)

  • Support the Armed Forces Covenant and ongoing work to support veterans’ mental health.

Comment.  The Armed Forces Covenant is advisory only and unenforceable.  We should commit to embedding it in law.

  • Improve the quality of service housing by bringing the MoD into line with other landlords, giving tenants the same legal rights to repair and maintenance as private tenants.

Comment.  Agreed, most important.

This defence policy manifesto extract seems to have been written in a void outside the context of current defence developments by somebody/ies who has/ve no idea of defence and security matters.

The problems with the UK’s armed services are clear to see. A huge hole in defence spending, ageing, obsolescent, and lack of equipment across all three services, a real problem with recruiting and retention (retention particularly) and an unrealistic over commitment of scarce resources. This toxic combination can result in low morale were it not for the high standard of training and leadership that the armed forces continue to enjoy.

It is my view that the party’s defence policy should be redrafted to incorporate the following pledges:

  • A firm commitment to increase the percentage of GDP spent on defence and security to 2.5% immediately and 3% in due course (5 years?)
  • A firm commitment to embed the Military Covenant in law and make its provisions enforceable through the courts as required
  • A commitment to set up a representative body for servicemen and women from all three services, separate to the chain of command, as other countries round the globe have done
  • A pledge to take veterans’ affairs seriously and to set up a fully staffed Department for Veterans’ Affairs in Government. Palming off veterans’ care to the charitable sector just won’t do any more.
  • A radical shift on policy on the nuclear deterrent and nuclear disarmament, with the abandonment of the renewal of the SSBN fleet after the current Vanguard/Trident D5 combination becomes obsolete around 2035-40, effectively delivering unilateral disarmament and a lead to the rest of the nuclear armed powers and at the same time removing an immense burden on the defence budget
  • A thorough review of armed services personnel’s pay and conditions of service, with a view to introducing, inter alia, better pay, better housing, better health care, better families’ services, and guaranteeing a job for everyone leaving the services after 9 years’ service or more



* Stuart Crawford is a freelance journalist of several years (and many publications) standing and a party member.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Trident is a pointless waste of resources, where much of the next £100billion+ of public money it will cost will be vanishing over the Atlantic.

    The concept was primarily that of an independent nuclear deterrent but it is anything but independent. It is an addendum of the U.S arms industry and it cannot even be reliably targeted by the UK. Our submariners can fire them into air and request a target but it is up to U.S forces to decide where they go, or whether they fall back into sea to pollute the oceans. Nor is it relevant after the end of the Cold War.

    Once this new programme begins, it will be difficult to end it, yet the SNP have long pledged to scrap Trident and they presently have 54% support for Separation. I would suggest that English support for it would plummet if it should have to move to another deep water harbour such as Portsmouth and there are few other options on the medium sized island

    Trident does not make the UK safer. The UK is probably the most targeted piece of land per square mile on earth as a result of present policies, which I would hardly call appearing to be safe

    As if these were not all good enough reasons to scrap it and spend the money on real problems here on this Island, the probability is that the subs have already been noise profiled and can be tracked and located when need be by any adversary. The world is probably too small to hide them.

    I am not suggesting we get rid of nuclear weapons entirely in. one go, but the renewal of Trident is a enormous waste of money and it is retained purely for UK political prestige and to justify staying on the UN Security Council.

  • Peter Chambers 27th Jun '20 - 9:11pm

    > Improve the quality of service housing by bringing the MoD into line with other landlords

    There might be a problem with that:
    The MoD does not own that housing, and in 2021 a rent review is due. Planning for that might be a priority.

  • I’m not convinced that the 2% rule/guideline is useful at all. It seems that the two easiest ways to meet our spending commitments are to enter a serious recession or start reclassifying some expenditure – I think that military pensions and military R&D already contribute.

    I’m very curious about the idea of guaranteeing all service-leavers a job. How can you do that? What specific problem is it trying to solve?

  • Peter Hirst 28th Jun '20 - 1:50pm

    What is our armed forces for? Certainly not protecting us from aggression. That is better done by treaties and other organisations such as NATO. They play an invaluable role in helping with natural disasters, logistics and acting as a lever of diplomacy.

  • Peter Hirst

    “What is our armed forces for? Certainly not protecting us from aggression. That is better done by treaties and other organisations such as NATO.”

    Only a Lib Dem could have made that statement. The whole point of our armed forces and NATO is to protect us from aggression.

  • Laurence Cox 28th Jun '20 - 4:12pm

    @Matt Burch
    In America, you will find many equal-opportunity employers adding M/F/D/V to their job adverts: https://work.chron.com/m-f-d-v-stand-end-job-description-10093.html

    It is something that I think we could usefully add here. I don’t think that we need to limit it to those with over 9 years’ service, who are more likely to be from the officer class.

    Incidentally, I also dislike the practice of including pensions in defence spending as the much larger defence forces in the past have created pension commitments that are much larger than the pension commitments being created now by current personnel levels, but that’s just the way NATO allows its states to account for defence spending. As an MoD civil servant many years ago I was told in my acceptance letter that my salary would be reduced in lieu of paying pension contributions (an early example of salary sacrifice).

    @Peter Hirst
    NATO does not have any armed forces of its own; everyone is from the armed forces of a NATO country (even if seconded to NATO). We don’t want to be like Germany, which is widely seen as a free-rider on NATO, spending only 1.2% of their GDP on defence.

  • Peter Chambers 1st Jul '20 - 8:13pm

    Another thing to consider in defence expenditure is cleaning up (disposal) of the old nuclear vessels left at Devonport. Fully funding that seems to have been deferred for many years. That cannot come out of the present MOD budget as the sum is too large.
    If we want to re-build credibility as a party for government we should have worked out policy saying “we do these things not because they are easy but because they are hard” like Kennedy.
    I see that there is an online consultation on policy. I hope that defence is amongst the next batch of topics.

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