From The Times November 24, 2007 Arms and the Man Brown must think again about the military Defence secretary was one of the great offices of state. Responsible for the security of the realm, for maintaining military vigilance and for equipping the British Government with the means to project power, the defence secretary presided over one of the largest and costliest government departments. Politicians of stature and calibre have occupied the office, including Michael Heseltine and George Robertson. Nowadays, the post is no more than a part-time job. Des Browne, the obviously under-utilised incumbent, has recently been given a second job as Secretary of State for Scotland. It is an appointment as crass as it is symbolic. At a time when Britain's Armed Forces are struggling with the biggest burden of operations since the Korean War, responsibility for their fate has been entrusted to a man potentially distracted by events elsewhere. Mr Browne would protest ? as he has done, shrilly, in response to the charge made by a former Chief of the Defence Staff ? that his duties in Scotland are light enough to enable him to carry out all his responsibilities at the Ministry of Defence. If so, the Scots would be rightly aggrieved that they now count for so little in Whitehall. But that, anyway, is not the point. It is the perception, within the Armed Forces and more generally in the country, that the Government does not take defence seriously that is so damaging. It is not simply Mr Browne who is perceived as semi-detached: the tone of indifference is set by the Prime Minister. The newly formed defence lobby group, including three former defence chiefs, clearly intends to make its collective voice heard. The criticisms made in the Lords by Admiral Lord Boyce and General Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank come a week after their warning that defence was dangerously underfunded and that spending should urgently be raised from the present 2.2 per cent of GDP to a minimum of 3 per cent. There is, of course, always the danger that the military will never be satisfied. Defence equipment is expensive, and the Forces' clamour for the best. They have, in the past, enjoyed a large budget and military men have found it hard to adjust to a political climate after the Cold War that is more questioning of their demands and more concerned to spend the peace dividend on schools and hospitals. But there is something very old Labour about the Left's scepticism. It is not simply the association with a class-based military establishment, jingoistic politics and a right-wing agenda; it is the belief that military activity is incompatible with social spending, overseas development and the needs of the global poor. Gordon Brown's views are moulded by such thinking, prevalent in his student activist days. As a politician he has shown an almost visceral dislike of those parts of government that the Left portrays as authoritarian: the Prison Service and the military in particular. As Chancellor, he rejected extra spending requests ? and today's overcrowded prisons are the result. Similarly, military matters have always evoked his white- tie antipathy. As Lord Guthrie remarked, Mr Brown was the only senior Cabinet minister who refused all invitations to Ministry of Defence briefings, except at the Rosyth naval shipyard, which is in his constituency. To hold such views as Chancellor is a disadvantage; to maintain them while Prime Minister is a serious problem. Most in our country appreciate the challenge of fighting two wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan, at the same time. There has been widespread anger at reports of faulty or missing equipment, of poor medical care and derisory compensation offered to the wounded. In fact, despite the outspoken remarks of General Sir Richard Dannatt, the present head of the Army, morale on the front line remains high. But it is on the home front where things are going wrong, and where there must be urgent improvements. Not only are numbers critically below strength ? the present total of 98,000 falls short of the 101,000 specified and is far below what is required ? but the need to improvise on a shoestring makes it almost impossible to provide the training, rotation, career opportunities and living conditions expected by those who sign up. The Government retorts that spending has risen throughout Labour's term. But a rise of 1.5 per cent in real terms is inadequate when the price of equipment is rising at around 8 per cent and the global demands on the Armed Forces are far greater. It may be tactless of the former generals to launch their attack when the Prime Minister is abroad. But the comic comparison with military coups elsewhere is less amusing in light of a free-spending government's failure to carry out one of its primary democratic duties: to safeguard the security of the realm.