I have been away from my blogging desk for some time, but I must comment on the goings on in Iraq and Iran. Whatever way you spin it, the capture of the sailors and marines in the Gulf was a humiliation for Britain. Niall Ferguson has some apt comments here I suspect that the hapless Des Browne should and will carry the can for it. His career can be summed up by this quotation from HMS Pinafore:
When I was a lad I served a term
As office boy to an Attorney's firm.
I cleaned the windows and I swept the floor,
And I polished up the handle of the big front door.
I polished up that handle so carefullee
That now I am the Ruler of the Queen's Navee!
It was crass mismanagement to get captured in the first place. This is the second time that the Iranians have picked up hostages from Royal Navy personnel trying to intercept smugglers. Such missions must be conducted with sufficient force, and especially with enough helicopters.
Britain is trying to carry on a war on two fronts – Iraq and Afghanistan – with insufficient men and inadequate arms. Since it is the duty of the Minister of Defence to provide for his troops it is the Minister of Defence who must fall on his sword when mishaps like this occur.
Worse was to follow. The hostages were given permission to sell their stories to the highest bidder, in an attempt to counter the lying propaganda from Iran about how well they had been treated (they were captured in Iraqi waters by an act of piracy and far from being an act of generosity by the Iranian politicians, their release was a face-saving exercise when the Iranians came under international pressure). A sympathetic eye might regard this as a naïve attempt to influence the media by young civil servants, until we learn that the decision was made by the second Sea Lord, and that Des Browne was not around to approve it because he had left early before his Easter break – a habit that was not his alone, but commonplace in government offices and seen as a perk. I don’t suppose he will be paying back his salary for the half day that he didn’t work.
So Des Browne should go, but the guilt wasn’t his alone. Why were they short of helicopters?
You can do a lot without helicopters as this report from Basra demonstrates but if you read the comments that follow a recurring question is: why did they have to do it without helicopter cover? The answer seems to be in the hands of Mr Browne’s namesake Gordon Brown., the man most likely to be our next Prime Minister.
He has a reputation for sound financial management, but it may be that he has happened to be in charge through a period of long standing house-price inflation, which has put money without cost into the back-pocket of electors. This may keep the country happy for a while, but while many people are individually richer, money has not been spent where it needed to be. In today’s modern warfare that means helicopters.
I heard yesterday of a company that sells luxury items. They buy a particular item from their wholesalers for £3, put their own label on it and sell it for £75. You pay £72 for the label. Why don’t people buy direct from the wholesalers? Because it's the label they want.
The label that says, “World beating armed forces” isn’t cheap to print and can’t be bought by cheap media tricks. It is acquired through the blood and guts of brave young men and women. As we leaned in the First World War, it’s easily lost when they are led by donkeys.