Perhaps the message is finally getting through, however it remains to be seen whether or not anything substantial will be done. Well done Libby! From The Times November 6, 2007 We sent them. We must treat them right Britain has failed in its duty to the Armed Forces Libby Purves I am developing a habit of hanging around in the evenings buying unsolicited beers for soldiers. Not, alas, in a low-cut top and fishnet stockings, but online by laptop in front of the TV news. The habit is fuelled by a small brewery near Bury St Edmunds, run by former soldiers, and its Buy the boys a beer scheme for the Royal Anglian Regiment. You pay for a number of bottles and get your name and message printed on the label. Some just write Welcome Home, some are jokey It's beer, it's warm, you know you're home. Some are macho, some worried, some patriotic or political You are lions sent by donkeys. So far 1,500 pints have gone to Battalion HQ; 50p a bottle goes to a memorial and hardship fund. Well, it isn't the town parade that Sir Richard Dannatt asked for, but it's a beer. And even I a ranting opponent of the Iraq war feel a need to offer a drink to those returning from thankless wars. All the more so as yesterday's Demos report bleakly lays out the withering of the military covenant between Britain and her Armed Forces. Its argument has two parts: one (Demos being a leftish think-tank) argues for restructuring because response to 21st-century challenges is hampered by tradition and hierarchy. Personally, I reckon that if a bit of tradition keeps the poor sods' morale up, bands and badges should stay. The other part argues that recruitment is damaged not only by lack of public understanding but by deficiencies in pay and conditions, like ever shorter breaks between operations. The report's author says that the remoteness of these wars causes civilian opinion to prioritise other public services such as health and education. With obvious results. Some Demos recommendations raise an eyebrow: notably that we put conditions and accommodation above the acquiring of high-tech equipment. I doubt that many soldiers would give up night vision goggles and accurate guns to get a better bathroom. But most conclusions are obvious: public understanding is deficient, and the implied military covenant which promises fair treatment to troops in return for their forfeiting other rights and facing danger is tattered. There is one other recommendation I will come to later, but I may need a beer myself before I can face even thinking about it. Stick with pay and conditions for the moment. The Ministry of Defence says it keeps these under constant review, but there are painful areas of meanness. Any number of recent reports confirm it, as does the Royal British Legion hardly a nest of troublemaking lefties launching a Broken Covenant campaign. Let the Defence Secretary protest all he likes, the stories keep on coming. Horribly wounded soldiers are put on general NHS wards, alongside people ignorant of or hostile to their work. A lad whose jaw was smashed by a faulty missile-launcher blowing up in his face was not even X-rayed, left four weeks untreated in pain and on his way back to Afghanistan told to keep to soft food. Territorials come back from awful tasks to no help at all. Family housing is often horrible. And The Sunday Times reports that the private insurance scheme recommended to soldiers going into battle is doubling its premiums to nearly £1,000 a month's pay after tax for some. They need to go private because the State pays so little for life-changing injuries; a third of them do so. The scheme meanly insists that they pay a 12-month minimum even though tours of duty last six. The Army's personal services chief, Brigadier J.H.Gordon, is reported as saying that the private insurers have suffered substantial losses owing to the present level of combat injuries and deaths. Ah. That explains it. Strip this back to the bare bones of morality: either we send soldiers to war and treat them right, or we do neither. If we do, we owe them the best priority treatment if they are hurt, higher than that offered to civilians whom nobody has shot at but who just fell over drunk or drugged. We owe them decent pay, accommodation, equipment. We sent them. If they were sent against our will, not in our name, if the war is unpopular and unsuccessful and ill-judged, this duty does not reduce. We elected a naive, vain and unreflecting prime minister and a timorous Parliament. If we resent the cost of war and would prefer it spent on health and education, we will have to do better next time and throw out governments that make such decisions, pour encourager les autres. If we think that, on balance, the good new Labour did outweighs the bad, fine. Keep them. But it doesn't let us off paying properly for those our chosen leaders ordered into the filth of war. Which brings me to the other Demos recommendation: that we should have wider debate about the financial cost of overseas deployments and the benefits to UK security [and] give priority to counter-terrorism, national disasters, and protection of the UK. Tony Blair did not. He did not want debate, but did not understand what he was doing (remember the 45 minutes and the admission that he never even asked whether these were battlefield or long-distance weapons?). In small, telling asides he often revealed that he has no understanding of Service life. There was laughter at a recent Forces fundraiser after his statement that he would be delighted if his children went to serve in Iraq. It is not a word Service families use. Proud, admiring, apprehensive... not delighted. The laughter arose from the speculation that he actually said he'd be delighted if any of his kids got a job in Tie Rack... OK, he's gone. But he leaves us a debt that we must pay even if it damages domestic priorities. There is no choice.