Secretary of State for Defence Michael Fallon’s speech at the Royal United Services Institute Land Warfare conference yesterday took an unexpected turn as he sidetracked from the important subject of Army cuts onto PC quotas and minorities in the forces.
Speaking about the forthcoming Strategic Defence Spending Review (SDSR), a now five-yearly process in which incoming governments decide which parts of the armed forces they will keep and which they will unceremoniously throw on the scrap heap, Fallon started promisingly by praising the army in upping their productivity. Reflecting the diminished military role for Britain’s armed forces and their new role as the acting arm of the Department for International Development, Fallon spoke of the army’s experience taking on the Ebola virus, and the humanitarian crisis in Nepal.
Acknowledging the new, ‘soft’ army, Fallon said:
“In the days of Waterloo, the Army was all about war fighting. Today we expect our Army and our soldiers to be frontline ambassadors as well as fighting forces, wielding soft, smart as well as hard power.”
Barely pausing to take breath, the minister then moved on to pet projects in the armed forces – increasing diversity. Telling the army they had to work harder to recruit more minorities and women, Fallon said:
“…the Army of course doesn’t just need to tap the talent within it, it must attract it from without.
“Careers must be determined by ability. Again we’re seeing progress. You’ve set up a Forum to reach out to potential Muslim recruits and promote mutual understanding with our Army’s Islamic advisor… Women are now piloting Attack Helicopters and, in the case of Brig Sharon Nesmith, commanding their own Brigade.
“Last weekend the largest contingent of soldiers marched at Pride, supported by Commander Land Forces and the Army Sergeant-Major – as the Rainbow Flag flew over MOD.
“Fifteen years ago it was an offence to be gay in the Army. Today Stonewall ranks the Army 46th in its top 100 list of gay friendly employers. But, when the proportion of women in the Army is just 9 per cent, while the proportion of ethnic minorities 10.2 per cent, we still have some way to go”.
Back in the real world, the Ministry of Defence has already been asked to make another £500 million in savings before the SDSR has even got underway, while other departments like education, health, and international development enjoy ring-fenced spending.
Follow Oliver Lane on Twitter: Follow @Oliver_Lane or e-mail to: email@example.com