Labour Must Be Honest About Its Past and Future Relationship With Our Armed Forces

Sam Eccles discusses the need to reexamine the relationship between our armed forces and the Labour Party. 

On Friday the 8th of May, the country came together to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day. But whilst this was a time for celebration, it was also a time of  reflection. In our time of need, our armed forces have always been there to support and protect us, as they are today in playing a key role in tackling the impacts of the coronavirus.

But in recent years, our servicemen and women have too often been neglected by the government. However, the Labour Party cannot afford to pretend it too has not fallen short in its commitment to our armed services under its previous leadership.

But as we enter this new decade, under fresh leadership, now is the time to reforge Labour’s strong and historic ties to our military and security services and reverse the damages inflicted on them by this government.

For example, in a Commons Library Briefing published last month, it was reported that in London “the proportion of rough sleepers with experience of serving in the armed forces has remained constant at around 6-7% in recent years”.

Last year Tory Housing Minister, James Brokenshire, announced a mere £1 million to be shared between ten combined local authorities and the Greater London Authority to support such vulnerable veterans. The failure by the Conservatives to tackle this ever-present issue of the homelessness of veterans lays bare its negligent and disgraceful decade-long record.

But the Tories’ attitude to the military persists. For example, the Defence Secretary Ben Wallace revealed last month that of the 13,000 UK military personnel absent from work due to Covid-19, only 131 had been tested. With the Government committed to an Integrated Review of security and foreign policy, now is the time, as RUSI points out, to consider a doctrine of enlightened self-interest with NATO still at the heart of our approach.

Sadly, the Labour Party’s position on security and defence has recently been found to be less than credible. It undermined Britain’s own security services in suggesting sharing evidence with Russia following the Salisbury novichok attack of 2018, and failed to state it would be prepared to use and properly renew Trident. It’s a system on which so many British jobs depend and more importantly, with the USA currently ambivalent about the nuclear umbrella over Europe, on which we rely even more for our own security.

Being credible on defence is important in many constituencies with armed forces,  like Portsmouth and Plymouth, where the Party has had to work so hard to convince voters. But it is also a crucial issue for the wider country too.

In the 2019 general election, Labour lost its seat in the constituency of Barrow and Furness for the first time since 2010. It is an area that for so long has been deeply connected with Britain’s defence industry, that understands the vital role it plays for our country and on which so many of its jobs depend - including Trident.

This sad loss underlines the need to understand how important the role of defence and our armed forces are to constituencies across the country if the Labour Party is to overcome the Tories’ 80-seat majority in 2024.

Our country cares deeply about the role our defence and security services plays in both protecting us and providing for our economy. But if the Labour Party wants to be a government for the whole country, and win the next election, it must rediscover its longstanding relationship and commitment to our armed forces and the security of our country.

Sam Eccles is Youth Officer for Hammersmith CLP and an active member the Young Fabians.

He tweets at @Samuel_Eccles

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