Category Archives: Austerity

First impressions of soldiers on our capital’s streets

I knew that at some point I would be referring to this blog to talk about the deployment of British soldiers in London. I wanted to wait until I had spent a reasonable amount of time in the capital in order to appropriately communicate my thoughts on their presence and what it means for public policy.

Yesterday (Sunday 28th May), I got my chance. I spent what was quite a lovely, if not rain-soaked, afternoon with a female friend in and around Westminster. Originally, we had planned to go on the London Eye, but since the weather made this a little implausible, we headed for the National Gallery and dinner instead.

Before meeting, I walked to Whitechapel via Buckingham Palace Road and The Mall, having been re-routed to London Victoria by limits on Southeastern train services. I got to examine our ‘Paras’ stationed in strategic locations, most notably either side of the front face of Buckingham Palace, at gated side entrances and exits, outside Downing Street and around Westminster Palace.

I was interested in taking a look at this intriguing new development because I wanted to gauge, firstly, whether the introduction of the British Armed Forces to the streets of London would make me, a Londoner, feel safer in the city that I love, and secondly, what kind of impression it would give of Britain’s security and counter-terrorism efforts.

The answer to my first question came very quickly. It did not make me feel safer (and that is not to say that I felt particularly unsafe to begin with). Terrorism is a distant, muted fear in the back of my mind when going about my business in busy commuter and tourist hotspots, but I am usually able to effectively repress any needless overthinking or stress.

I spent some time watching every soldier I spotted. Most appeared utterly bored by the whole ordeal, as I would imagine is the overriding emotion after standing in the same spot watching people for hours on end. Others were entertaining themselves through mild conversation with accompanying police officers (it might be worth asking why we didn’t just reverse cuts and invest in more officers to begin with).

Please don’t think I am attacking individual Paras, but what struck me most was how static and distracted they seemed. They are exceptionally well trained and will, I’m sure, give their utmost to protect citizens in the likely event of more jihadism. But they certainly didn’t make me feel any safer.

If anything, the presence of troops stands as evidence of the now blatant failure of deep cuts to police budgets. This has been made exponentially worse by a sizeable increase in the UK’s population and alterations to the national terror threat level.

French troops were deployed on the streets of Paris many moons ago and we can hardly assert that incidents of terrorism are less likely to take place, if we have been paying attention to anything over the last two years. Any reasonable betting man will also conclude that more attacks are on their way, whether London is cluttered with British Army regiments or not.

Furthermore, what of Manchester? Or Birmingham? Or other major British cities otherwise excluded from the nation’s Westminster-dominated political consensus? Will they be supplemented with soldiers that make them look as vulnerable, violent and incapable of civil defence as the more corrupt corners of Africa and Eastern Europe? I hope not. There are better solutions available to us.

I do think that most of the support their mobilisation this week received was down either to tribal, instinctive support for the country’s foremost line of defence, or to the fact that most people consider soldiers to be exotic and a rare spectacle, which I think explains the craving that many have to take pictures with them and attend various community events and displays.

As a patriot, I admit to sharing in the glamorous appeal that the British Armed Forces retain. I have huge admiration for their skill and bravery. Just not for the decision to station them in predictable and already robustly defended parts of the capital.

Military presence, despite the talent and authority of the individuals on guard, has the ironic effect of making the country look a little weak; frightened into action by jihadists the government isn’t strong enough to take care of by itself.

It violates the country’s most profound value: liberty. Historical accounts tell me that we were once a free, calm country and one not easily panicked at home, but increasingly we seem troubled and unfree. I think this is worth pondering.

Deportations are in order where legally possible, prisons and mosques are in need of thorough combings in the search for radicalising forces and the long, slow path back from the perils of multiculturalism must too be forged. Soldiers, though, could well prove to be a non-answer to a very complicated problem.

And when terrorism once again meets the streets of London, perhaps even Westminster, you’ll see what I mean.


Britain is leaving the EU, and she’s taking Gibraltar with her

During last year’s referendum, Remain voters were unfairly labelled as unpatriotic. I preferred not to charge those on the other side with this accusation, as I believe that patriotism can be expressed in various forms.

But I am dismayed by festering support amongst Remainers for Spain in its quest to power share over Gibraltar. This is a fundamentally un-British stance.

It is perfectly reasonable to oppose Brexit, and indeed to dread the magnitude of negotiations ahead, but to side with a potential opponent over territory belonging to the United Kingdom must be avoided.

Part of the problem here is that I don’t think the future of Gibraltar was as prominent an issue as it perhaps should have been during our country’s EU debate. Why it wasn’t remains clear: it simply doesn’t affect that many people, but it does raise wider questions about the impact of a breaking of political union on geo-political disputes.

Remain voters may point to a Spanish claim of sovereignty over Gibraltar – or at least calls for joint control – as evidence that Brexit was a mistake, but in actual fact, this is a poor excuse. Spain’s use of Gibraltar as a bargaining chip in Britain’s exit talks was to be expected, but ultimately is nothing more than political opportunism.

Spanish protests of this kind are nothing new. In 2002, residents of Gibraltar (who I remind readers are culturally and officially British) overwhelmingly rejected joint-control. I wonder if, should they intensify, NATO will step in and try to broker a deal between Spain and Britain, who have been officially allies since 1834 and cooperate extensively in military endeavours.

The EU may have said that decisions affecting Gibraltar must be run past the Spanish government, but the people of the rock have themselves made it clear that they seek to live under British rule, and subsequently, the UK government has the right and responsibility to protect them at all costs.

Britain’s continued claim of sovereignty over the territory of Gibraltar has absolutely no bearing on whether or not she is a member of the European Union. Spain surrendered the territory in 1713 under Article X of the Treaty of Utrecht; a ceding of land that Remainers will be happy to note was legally binding.

For the record, I don’t think there will be an outbreak of war and I hope that there isn’t, but one cannot rule it out. These are, after all, extraordinary political times to live in. We saw in Ukraine only a few years ago what can happen when the European Union meddles in complex disputes between competing or historically intertwined European nations.

Of course, war is not ideal, but there is no better reason to go to war with a country than if that country decides to threaten the territorial sovereignty of another. If Argentina sent battleships to the Falkland Islands, I would expect a swift and aggressive military response.

I believe that Theresa May is willing to orchestrate a similar sort of response to that of Thatcher’s in 1982. She seems to me to have the necessary grit to stand up for British interests abroad, even if her government insists on extending its current policy of shredding our armed forces (and particularly our navy) into embarrassment.

In the event of military conflict, or in presupposition of it, serious manoeuvring of our naval fleet may have to take place. We don’t have the impressive arsenal that we once had. I don’t think a British response would be quick or orderly, and our nuclear weapons certainly won’t deter the Spaniards from making moves.

But make no mistake: Britain is leaving the European Union. And she’s taking Gibraltar with her.


Here’s what really ought to be in Hammond’s Autumn Statement

I look forward to Phillip Hammond’s autumn statement next month. It will, I’m sure, be refreshing to hear a chancellor who isn’t George Osborne promising to meet targets which aren’t possible in order to stabilise an economy which isn’t actually all that strong at all. If his comments at Conservative Party conference yesterday are anything to go by, then we should all hope to receive a dosage of clarity in the political fog in which we now live. Pleased so I was, also, to hear of support for renewed public spending; a term wildly misused and, in practice at least, lop-sided thanks to the frontrunners of the previous government.

Fresh faces inside Number 10 will bring new direction and focus to British government. The unique political situation ahead, namely Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, presents Hammond with the opportunity to scrap ludicrous pre-referendum economic targets and install newer, more realistic ones. The Treasury has pledged new funding for tech innovation, the biomedical catalyst fund and, thankfully, the building of new homes. Brownfield sites will at long last be pushed forth as centres for new house-building projects in a belated attempt to try and stunt the growth of rapidly-expanding housing bubbles (more on this another time).

These new measures are welcome, but one vital public service, ignored it seems since the London riots of 2011, has been left by the wayside. Earlier this summer, police figures were quietly released and jumped on by the BBC. They were shocking, even for those of us (like me) who do not necessarily relish the prospect of increased public spending. Figures such as those that follow will undoubtedly put the issue of cuts to policing into perspective. Sources are provided both here: http://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/SN00634/SN00634.pdf and here: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/544849/hosb0516-police-workforce.pdf

As we can see, in 2003 there were 110,910 frontline police officers, compared with just 106,411  in the year ending March 2016. A reduction of four and a half thousand is magnified by the notable increase in the population between the provided years. ONS estimates show that the UK’s population in 2003 lingered around the 59.7 million mark. By 2016, it had reached more than 65 million. An increase of almost six million people combined with a decrease in the number of frontline officers cannot be considered much of a success, and with the scent of Osborne-induced austerity still lingering in the air and a general public becoming increasingly frustrated with less than proactive police forces, I don’t know how inadequate funding can realistically be continued.

I am distressed that even a severely weakened and distracted Labour Party didn’t make more of an effort to draw attention to them. Writing as somebody who is related to police officers from two different police forces, I have seen for myself the effect that the cuts have had on individual frontline officers. The numbers highlighting sick leave are staggering, but not altogether surprising. They suggest to me that in all the babbling about crime figures and whether modest decreases justify piercing cuts to police forces, a more physical and emotional price is being paid by those serving on the streets. If you speak to police officers, most are one or more of fatigued, suffering from mental breakdown, demoralised or in chronic muscle or joint pain. It would seem reasonable to me to suggest that due to a sharp decline in the number of frontline officers, most still serving feel overworked and stressed as a result. This BBC report http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-37530914 into the current state of officers in Scotland is particularly eye opening.

But the effects of the cuts aside, it now seems most opportune to try and undo some of the damage done to our police forces with autumn’s upcoming statement. I don’t think policing will feature in the budget, but I consider it to be a top priority for the government. Cuts to police budgets have failed officers, the public and left trainees without employment hopes. Austerity has always been a disaster in the past, and is likely to be just as harmful in the future. Notice that it hasn’t brought about the recovery it was predicted to after the coalition government was formed. Notice also, that it tends to be supported by the rich, not the poor. You don’t have to be Left-wing to oppose austerity. I oppose it. Firstly, because it encourages economies to shrink (remember that national debt is relative to GDP), secondly, because it is grossly unfair to workers on the lower end of the income scale (particularly those who work in public services, who end up losing their jobs) and thirdly, it has had a crippling effect on fellow European Union members. Has austerity actually worked anywhere?

Philip Hammond is in a unique position as British chancellor. He is arguably under less pressure than any chancellor in recent memory. Despite crippling austerity measures, Osborne’s recovery was the slowest on record, and the public are fully aware that an EU departure will present bumps in the road to come. Here lie Hammond’s excuses in the event of economic failure. Even the opposition party back his plans to increase borrowing and ditch budget surplus targets. All the stars have aligned for Mr Hammond to really make his mark on British politics.