He makes a good point: Why is Labour saying nothing about our Armed Forces? By John Keegan (Filed: 19/04/2005) Tony Blair has announced that the keynote of his party's election platform will be education. We have been here before. In 1997 when he came to power, the keynote was proclaimed to be education, education, education. Eight years later, after unrelieved reports of declining standards in schools and failures of achievement by schoolchildren, his announcement is less than inspirational. Announcements about his party's commitment to improvements in healthcare equally fail to inspire. The main news from hospitals is of dirty wards and the rise of resistant strains of bacterial disease. There is one sector of the public services with achievements to celebrate, but Tony Blair seems reluctant to mention them. These are the achievements of Britain's Armed Forces, which have served not only the country but the Labour Government well during its eight years in office. For a party which prides itself on its commitment to peace, New Labour has been remarkably bellicose. It has fought no fewer than five wars, in Bosnia, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Iraq, the latter a full-blown all-arms campaign. No other government since 1945 has such a record of war-making. Yet it has shown little concern for the welfare of our Armed Forces. Quite apart from the deficiencies in personal equipment suffered by our soldiers sent to Iraq, New Labour actually imposed a disarmament programme on our forces while they were fighting that war. That was unprecedented. Governments usually seek to strengthen the Armed Forces during armed conflict. The New Labour Government is the only one in British history which has sought to weaken our Armed Forces while they were engaged in action against the enemy. The blame for that is apportioned to the Prime Minister. Yet the real fault is that of the Chancellor. Tony Blair appears to be genuinely attached to the Armed Forces and to have concern for their welfare. Gordon Brown does not. Though acutely sensitive to accusations that he does not understand defence, he appears to share the Treasury view that the defence budget exists only to provide cuts to spend on other sectors of Labour's programme. How else to explain the decisions to reduce the strength of the infantry by four battalions, when the infantry in Iraq was grossly overstretched, to cut the size of the Navy's tiny escort fleet by six frigates when it could barely cover its commitments and to reduce further the number of combat aircraft available both to the Royal Air Force and the Fleet Air Arm? A particular concern, never addressed or even mentioned by the Prime Minister or the Chancellor, is that the operations of our Armed Forces, especially on the ground, are maintained by the commitment of our reserve forces to serve not only alongside but also within our regular units. The British contribution to the war in Iraq has been maintained only by committing about 30 per cent of the Territorial Army. It is not the role of the Territorials to make good deficiencies in the regular forces during times of general peace. The calls made upon Territorials, though cheerfully met, so interfere with their civilian occupations that recruiting is adversely affected. If Labour persists in this trend, it will end by doing serious damage to our reserve structure and also leaving our regular forces even shorter of operational manpower. There are other concerns over what is not said in the Labour manifesto. One looked for endorsement of its commitment to build the Navy's two new aircraft carriers, promised for 2012, the single most important element of defence policy in the coming decade. Unless the carriers are built and equipped, not only will the Royal Navy cease to be a credible operational force, its deficiencies will undermine the capabilities of the other two services also. Commitment to an expeditionary doctrine is common to all partners. Without the carriers that doctrine is worthless. Without a mention of the carriers in the manifesto, Labour's promise to deliver is hollow. Failure to mention the carriers is bound to arouse suspicion about Labour's real commitment to defence because of their enormous expense. Although the hulls are priced at only about Â£5 billion, equipping them doubles the figure. The cost of purchasing the aircraft to fly from them doubles the figure again. Even a pro-defence Chancellor might find the opportunity to economise on such a costly programme difficult to resist. To a Chancellor like Gordon Brown, who is tepid about defence, postponement or reduction of the carrier programme may be irresistible. There is a further anxiety. It is widely said that a vote for Blair is a vote for Brown, a future prime minister. Before 1997, Tony Blair had succeeded in conveying assurances that he would preserve the United Kingdom much as it was and, though he will leave the Armed Forces smaller than he found them, he has spared them destructive harm. Gordon Brown has not succeeded in assuring patriots that the Britain he wants is the Britain they know. His attitude to the Armed Forces is particularly disturbing. A vote for Labour will not therefore be a pro-defence vote, yet in a very dangerous world the pro-defence vote is a wise one. There is little or nothing that is wise about defence in the Labour programme, nothing about the strategic needs of the country, the collective needs of our Armed Forces or the individual needs of our wonderful servicemen and women. Old Labour, because of its association with the pacifist movement in times past, was always careful to demonstrate its pro-service credentials, which some of its leaders had earned on the battlefield. Clement Attlee had commanded a company at Gallipoli. New Labour is less careful of its reputation. Not only is that foolish. It bespeaks an attitude that is dangerous to the country.