Opinion: policy making is proving pointless

As the Federal Party prepares for the Spring Conference, in Nick Clegg’s homeland of Sheffield, Liberal Democrat policy making, now we are in Coalition Government, is proving pointless.

The award of a National Defence medal, to hundreds of thousands of veterans who have been prepared to put their life on the line to keep the Nation safe and secure, was the first policy motion approved by the Liberal Democrat Party since being in Coalition Government. A veteran’s medal fund ensures there is no cost to the public purse surrounding this policy.
A review of service medals was contained in the Coalition ‘ Programme for Government’ and is underway but all is not well. The review has been carried out with a lack of transparency and consultation and the message being leaked is ‘our service men and women will not be honoured’ as the medal is being obstructed in the depths of MOD.

The MOD’s position is that awarding a medal for solely being a member of the Armed Forces would devalue the British medal system and a veterans’ badge should be sufficient recognition.

It is difficult to understand how the award of a National Defence Medal, by Her Majesty to our veterans, who participated in the hazardous Berlin Airlift; or to the millions of National Servicemen who were compulsorily taken away from their homes, their families and their way of life; or recognition of thousands of service personnel involved in the Cold War which saw hundreds of them killed on duty and thousands injured; can devalue our medal system?”
Veterans fail to understand why they are being denied official recognition by the award of a National Defence medal when Her Majesty the Queen has awarded a defence medal to Australian and New Zealand regular and reserve forces together with their veterans. They also question the failure to implement a Liberal Democrat policy, approved whilst in Government, that costs the taxpayer nothing.
The National Defence Medal campaign is supported by service organisations throughout the UK, by serving and retired service commanders, by public dignitaries and veteran icons such as Dame Vera Lynn who question why successive governments have failed to institute a medal which appropriately recognises our veterans. In addition, a parliamentary Early Day Motion signed by 200 MPs representing all political parties, including 90% of Lib Dem MPs, supported the award of the medal. All have been swept aside.

The Nation should feel ashamed at the continuing obstruction of MOD to honour our service men and women who have kept us all safe and secure over the past 60 years; and we as Party members, must question whether Lib Dem policies, democratically approved at Federal Conference, are a waste of time and effort?

Colonel Terry Scriven (retd) is Chairman of Liberal Democrats Friends of the Armed Forces

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26 Comments

  • “The MOD’s position is that awarding a medal for solely being a member of the Armed Forces would devalue the British medal system”

    How typical. Perhaps the MOD could explain what Prince Charles has done to deserve all his medals. He struts around with more on his coat than tin-pot dictators such as the late Idi Amin used to display.

  • Grammar Police 7th Feb '11 - 11:09am

    I think this article has a rather sensationalist headline (and conclusion). We pass policy to reflect what we stand for – it doesn’t mean that we can always make it happen.

    It means that we can and should expect our MPs and ministers to fight for it. But they’re not always going to win. It’s also something we should be holding our MPs and ministers to account over.

  • “How typical. Perhaps the MOD could explain what Prince Charles has done to deserve all his medals. ”

    I never quite understood how Charles always seems to have more medals on his chest than Andrew – who has after all served in a full-blown war.

  • Just seems like another PC, dumb down everything attemp to me. I agree with the MOD.

  • There, you see: it’s not only on my pet topic that party policy is being ignored (see the discussion about policy and the parliamentary party below).

  • @Richard
    I served in the Royal Marines Band Service until 1997. In that time I served in the 1990 – 1991 Gulf War and received a campaign medal. I was also at Deal in 1989 when an IRA bomb killed 11 of my friends and colleages. Several more were so badly injured they were medically discharged. None received any visible recognition of their service and neither did the widows or nok of the dead.

    That is just one example. Giving these veterans or families a recognition of their service is not dumbing down but appropriate.

  • Shouldn’t this post have a different headline?

  • There’s dumbing down and not getting it right. Anybody killed in action or seriously injured deserves a medal of the highest order and have as much respect as I can possiblely give them.

  • On party policy; These are our long term aims. However we have to trust our leaders to negotiate and compromise to secure as much as they can, in the direction we want to go. Anybody who thinks we should have done it all yesterday has not got a clue about reality and how it works. It is always good to discuss and refresh policy. As we learn more our ideas evolve and if anybody thinks our understanding and policies can’t be improved should get into religion. The day we stop talking and strifing for our believes is the day we fail.

  • Ernie Yeomans 7th Feb '11 - 2:50pm

    This is typical of politicians of all parties. Promise the earth and once in power forget all promises made.

    What really galls is the lack of transparency, refusal to take submissions from interested parties and refusal to listen to the voices of the people who put them in power.

    What ever happened to the free, frank and open review of the medal procedure and the Honours and Decorations Committee we were promised?

    The Senior Officers of all three services and the civil servants involved in the review will still get their OBEs, CBEs and knighthoods so why should they care about the veterans.

  • Remember NS, Porton Down, Nuclear Tests and countless other god forsaken places at the end of Empire, where men served but did not meet the criteria for medallic recognition albeit, some were on a war footing. H.M. The Queen is the fount of all honour and if it is good enough for our kith and kin in Australia and New Zealand, to receive a medal for service, then it should be good enough for us. I was proud to volunteer twice. RM & Queen’s 6/7(V)HSF. Successive ministers with the portfolio for veterans have egregiously diminished our service.

  • On the crude politics of it doing something popular that doesn’t cost any money would seem to be a bit of a no-brainer.

    There is a lot of evidence of long term psychological problems from soldiers returning from conflicts “uninjured” so the issue of those injured in battle isn’t just about those with physical scars.

    We do seem very poor as a country at recognising those who have served in times of need. Look at how long it took the (conscripted) Bevin boys to get the recognition they were promised when Ernie Bevin talked of them saying they dug the coal “with equal pride”.

  • The Govt/MOD need to stop making excuses to avoid authorising this well deserved medal. Money is their excuse. Show real integrity and authorise this medal immediately ! An `in principle` agreement is needed in the first instance, then the funding could be sorted out later without any obligation on the Govt.. Other countries, have recognised the huge contribution made by Veterans, our Govt shouldn’t see this as any undermining of the medal system, but an enhancement instead. What better way to honour the very people they are “supposed” to serve ! Grant the National Defence Medal with immediate effect.

  • @Richard
    I still believe you are missing the point somewhat. When you join the services you become a tool of the state, you agree to risk life, health and happiness to serve your country whenever ordered to do so(excepting the slim chance of receiving “bad orders” which can be ignored).

    I served in the Gulf War because my unit did, others would have done so, had trained to do so, and in many cases were on 24hour standby to go. It’s right that those that serve in conflicts receive a campaign medal. We should not mimic the US approach where medals are given too easily. you should also note that there is no “Purple Heart” equivalent for injuries and the Elizabeth Cross has only just been introduced for relatives of those killed. Relatives of those killed prior to 2009 must apply if they wish to receive one.

    Anyone who signed on the dotted line, and serves for an appropriate period of time, should have their willingness to risk all for their country recognised.

  • Yes, but that is recognized by the fact that they are ex- servicemen. Does a medal say any more.

  • Pete McWilliams 7th Feb '11 - 6:14pm

    What is at stake here are trust, values, morality, truth, respect, leadership and natural justice. Sadly, I see no evidence of just one of these virtues when it comes to veterans and the National Defence Medal (NDM). I see only mean spiritedness, deliberate obstruction, total disrespect for veterans’ opinions and feelings, phenomenal arrogance and a dismissive attitude. Let me explain why I see it this way.
    A view has been put forward that “there is not much support for the NDM”. My question and my challenge to holders of that view is PROVE IT. Show me clear evidence of the surveys you carried out among veterans and the responses. If you refuse to produce the evidence then please have the decency to admit that you have no evidence for such a view.
    Another view is that the NDM would diminish the value of existing medals. Recently, two Australian SAS men were awarded the Victoria Cross. They wear the Australian version of the NDM alonside the Victoria Cross. Are those of you who hold the “diminish” view seriously suggesting that their NDM diminishes the value of their Victoria Crosses? If yes, then why aren’t you openly objecting and making appropriate representation at the highest levels? You should if you genuinely hold that view. If no, then perhaps you could explain why you think their NDM does not diminish the value of an award such as the VC in the case of an Australian but a British version of the NDM if it existed would diminish the value of an award such as the VC in the case of a British citizen.
    Then there is that dreaded word “official”. It seems that “official” can mean anything our masters want it to mean to suit their own ends. My understanding is that HM the Queen’s approval is what makes medals official. The Veterans Badge was not approved by HM the Queen yet our masters insist on saying it is “official” recognition of our service. There are many other examples of the abuses and inconsistencies around the word “official”. I won’t even go into cases of politicians awarding themselves medals.
    Finally, to those who say that a medal should not be awarded simply for service in the Armed Forces, I say the following; you join up and you will quickly find out what the simply for service in the Armed Forces actually means. It means willingly giving up many important civil rights, having to live under two sets of laws (civil and military), getting inferior pay and conditions to civilian equivalents, and being willing when called upon to lay down your life in the service of your country.
    I have outlined above just some examples of inconsistent logic and fuddled thinking that makes a mockery of reasoned argument. But it goes further than that for me. It offends me and insults me. Why? Because it shows an arrogant and superior attitude as though my comrades and I are stupid and unworthy of the decency and courtesy of honest reasoned debate and honest answers to simple questions. Politicans constantly talk of respect and values in society and consider themselves leaders. A good start to leadership would be to lead by example. So, set the example, honour those that gave good honest service and who in any right-minded society would be considered role models.
    Pete McWilliams

  • Recognition should be given to those who `step up to the mark` and offer themselves in the defence of our nation. They don`t offer their lives by joining the armed services for the poor pay or the poor conditions, but for pride, cameraderie, and a willingness to defend our way of living which we so much cherish. These people are a breed apart, and very distinct from those who choose not to defend our nation, but instead spunge off it, use it, and abuse it, and wouldn’t fight for it even if they conscripted. The Govt., should officially recognise these special people, and give those men and women formal medallic recognition. The National Defence Medal is an ideal proposal. For those who fight for it, life has a flavour the sheltered never know !

  • Andrew Suffield 8th Feb '11 - 8:33am

    I don’t think many actual veterans really care about this stuff.

  • @Andrew Suffield
    Amongst my friends both ex-service and those few still serving you would be wrong. Most have seen those who for some reason or another (often injury) leave the service with no official recognition of their service. There is also a feeling that some form of recognistion of injury on duty such as the US Purple Heart would be appropriate given the numbers of significatly wounded returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

  • Andrew Suffield 8th Feb '11 - 9:38pm

    My observation is mainly that most veterans regard the value of any decoration to be inversely proportional to the number of people it is given to, and hence that those given to everybody are about as valuable as their boots. That doesn’t mean it has no value, but it does mean they aren’t going to be very impressed by it.

    Injury on duty is a somewhat different animal.

  • Alistair Rae 9th Feb '11 - 3:10am

    Wouldn’t we be better spending our time on some credible and coherent defence policies rather than the nonsense that we have at the moment?

    Shouldn’t we be thinking about how and why we use the military, what tasks we expect them to carry out, where we expect them to operate and how we interoperate with our standing and ad hoc allies? Instead we tinker with the pay system and talk about tea and medals for all…

    Of my various medals I already have one that means nothing more than I was in the service at the time it was struck; Queens Golden Jubilee. I don’t really want another one. I prefer that my medals actually represent the campaigns that I’ve served on.

  • Pete McWilliams 21st Feb '11 - 5:55pm

    Full respect to everyone but I disagree with Alistair and Andrew. The NDM in one context is a mere bauble, a piece of metal hanging from a bit of coloured cloth. In another context it is much more than that. Political masters have a duty to their citizens and their country to set the values that it wants society to live by. The message I am getting is “serve your country to the extent that you are prepared to lay down your life for your country and you will be abused, abandoned and despised but should you gamble on the stock exchange or lend money recklessly and bring the country to the verge of economic collapse, you will be supported and even rewarded at citizens’ expense.” That is a perverse moral and value system. Those who hold such morals and values no doubt wonder why society is breaking down ( the BigSociety and all that nonsense). In this context, the NDM would be an official symbol in recognition of the best of human values. It would send a powerful positive message instead of the wretched messages our current political masters are sending out to society. Why would anyone want to behave responsibly when you can be unpunished and rewarded for doing the opposite? Pastor Martin Niemoller’s words about the rise of Nazism in Germany in the 1930’s and the citizens’ failure to speak out against Nazism are perhaps appropriate; “First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.” Think about that and speak up now before it is too late.

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