“The first duty of Government is the defence of the realm”, reads the Armed Forces Covenant, which may go some way to explain the Tory revolt brewing over Prime Minister David Cameron’s refusal to guarantee defence spending.
The contention is over the arbitrary two percent figure required as a membership requirement for the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), a commitment that Cameron only made, and chided others for failing to meet, last year at the NATO summit in Wales. The vanguard of Tory rebels concerned with the defence of the realm is led by retired colonel and member of parliament for safe seat Beckenham, ‘Bob’ Stewart DSO, who has been conducting harrying raids on newspaper and television studios of late to get his message across.
Minded to tend his own resignation over the parlous state of the national defence, Stewart is concerned the fumings of one vocal back bencher will not be enough to catch the attentions of the largely non-service front bench, and he has so called on the top brass to go.
Encouraging the chiefs of staff committee – the body made up of the head of the armed forces, and the heads of the Navy, Army, and Royal Air Force to fall on their swords Stewart said: “Would it not be a seriously good signal if some of the people in uniform were to take their responsibilities towards some of their respective services more properly, and offer their resignation. the public would take notice.
“They should actually put their responsible to their people they command as their priority, rather than getting another star”.
The malcontents led by Colonel Stewart are now threatening a rebellion at next week’s commons defence debate. If they succeed in forcing a vote on the matter, it could create a split in the government, between the traditional Conservative party who see the importance of defending the nation, and the modernisers.
The Daily Mail reports the remarks of Sir Gerald Howarth, Conservative MP for Army garrison town Aldershot, who said of Cameron’s refusal to promise a sustainment of defence spending levels, which are lower now than even the 1930s: “But what they have to understand is that defence is part of the DNA of the Conservative Party. And that’s true even in constituencies which don’t have a garrison.
“And if people around the country do not see that is the case they will ask themselves what is the Conservative Party for?
“We are following through a Lib Dem promise to spend 0.7 per cent on aid but we won’t commit to defence spending. People are asking is this the right order of priorities?”