Few doubt Trident’s capability – they doubt those in charge of it

To all intents and purposes, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) should be inline for a bumper next few years. Following the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), the plans Secretary of State Sir Michael Fallon (knighted in David Cameron’s resignation honours list) laid out should begin to take shape.

For the Army, continuing investment in a massive relocation programme has seen the start of building work right across Salisbury Plain, preparing accommodation and infrastructure to house the thousands of soldiers and their families relocating from Germany. Indeed, a November newsletter reported that “82% of troops based in Germany at the time SDSR 2010 have been relocated”.

The Royal Air Force could expect to do well out of the next few years. A new military flying training Private Finance Initiative (PFI) is beginning to take shape, ready to make use of brand new aircraft for its first students in 2019. The RAF will also regain a maritime surveillance capability in the coming years, with the delivery of its first P8 Poseidon, as well as boast to the UK’s drone fleet. On top of that all, despite President Trump’s best efforts, the UK will form its first operational F35 Lightning II squadron in 2019 as the Tornado is slowly wound down from its long term deployments in the middle east.

The first of the Royal Navy’s two new aircraft carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth, will be delivered and will begin sea trials prior to its first deployment next year. Upgrade contracts have been announced for the Fleet Air Arm’s Merlin Mk2 fleet to be fitted with Crowsnest radar, replacing capability currently provided by the venerable Sea King Mk7. The transfer of the RAF Merlin fleet into the custody of the Commando Helicopter Force has been also been a success, maintaining a rotary winged naval heavy lift capability with a first class, familiar airframe. And of course, Trident is to be renewed; or is it?

To the men and women of the armed forces, to journalists and commentators, academics and to Joe Public, it seems like the MoD, after years and years of poor leadership, ineffectual procurement plans and mismanaged finances, could have finally got itself into a strong position. Alas, it was all an illusion, thanks to the UK’s Nuclear Deterrent.

One of the first acts carried out by Theresa May’s fledgling government back in July was to win a vote on the renewal of the UK’s nuclear deterrent. Yet now, the Sunday Times reports that a Trident missile suffered a major navigational error during a training exercise which took place prior to the vote, calling into question the wisdom behind the decision and angering Trident’s growing band of critics. The Prime Minister quite embarrassingly refused to answer any questions on the subject.

One of the UK’s largest employers (when you include the three services and vast numbers of civilian staff), one of the largest government departments by budget, the organisation tasked with keeping the nation secure and our overseas interests safe; despite this vital task and stats in its favour, the Ministry has always been racked with problems. Just when it looked like it had the next three or four years sorted, with an upgrade programme and developments in military capability that would allow the UK Armed Forces to keep pace with an ever changing global situation, thanks to catastrophically bad management, the MoD again looks about as competent and in control as a US President with a twitter account.

Would this incident, if it had been reported at the time, really have influence the outcome of the parliamentary vote? On balance, probably not. However, to focus solely on Trident is to misunderstand the issue with this alleged fiasco.

Yet again, the Defence Ministry has made a rod for its own back and, yet again, interested onlookers are sighing with despair. The list of crises the MoD has apparently shrugged off is growing, from false predictions and cancelled programmes in the late 1950s, the Westland Affair during the Thatcher Years through to the procurement cock ups of the noughties.

To add insult to injury, on Monday 23rd January Sir Michael Fallon faced an urgent question in the House of Commons. Numerous times, MPs stood up to ask him whether this was a cover up, who ordered the news blackout and why was this story kept from parliament. Each time, the Secretary of State rose to his feet and responded by claiming such details were beyond the remit of what he can discuss about the submarine fleet.

At the same time, CNN reported that a US defence official had given them a blow by blow account of the incident and had explained the missiles apparent trajectory of veering towards the US as part of a self destruct sequence if the missile malfunctions. By not commenting on this incident at all, even in the face of facts presented by multiple sources, has created a vacuum that has allowed that ever present political poison, speculation, to develop. Speculation that has yet again put the MoD to shame.

It is a damning state of affairs when we have to rely on the officials of a foreign power to provide us with updates on our own defence issues, when our own defence ministers can’t be trusted to tell the truth, nor balance the books or secure key equipment; will it ever change? I’m afraid to say that the existential crisis of the Ministry of Defence looks set to continue for the foreseeable future.

Don’t be fooled by the party conference – the Lib Dems aren’t on the rise

This week was Freshers’ Week at my University and, on Friday, they held the ever important Freshers’ Fair. I had the pleasure of attending as Station Manager of Stag Radio, fighting for sign ups with the sports clubs and the other societies. Alongside them, were external organisations; some very commercial, like Dominos, others more charitable or political like Unison or the local branch of the Liberal Democrats. I would like to draw your attention to them for the next 500 words or so.

It is party conference season, and despite the on going in fighting in the Labour party in the run up to the leadership election that confirmed a tory government at the next election, the Lib Dems enjoyed a considerable amount of air time. Tim Farron gave a rousing speech to the membership, unveiling policies on tax in support of the NHS, SATs test in primary schools and, quite surprisingly, ending ‘Blair-bashing’.

The speech was actually well written and well received, with murmurings of support perhaps beginning to grow across the country. But then I saw how their polling numbers hadn’t changed and I saw them at Freshers’ Fair. I then realised it was all an elaborate ruse.

They had a stall, like every other invited group, from which to canvas and collect support. It was barren, with no interest being paid by the student population walking past. A Lib Dem member had fashioned a cape from an EU flag, advertising their Europhile credentials. But still no one, paid a blind bit of notice to them.

We ‘Millennials’ have a pretty bum deal. New stats released recently show that 30-somethings are half as rich as previous generations and we’ll be even worse, while crisis after crisis (Syria, ISIS, the Environment, Trump) continue to rock the world we are inheriting. We are accused of being soft, of having little stomach for a fight or being lazy. In recent times the Lib Dems were our only voice, standing up for young people with talk on educations and tuition fees.

Nick Clegg looked perpetually sad as PM; maybe now we know why?
Nick Clegg looked perpetually sad as deputy PM; maybe now we know why?

The Liberal Democrats in recent years have relied on the student voter, upon graduating and getting a job, buying a house, starting a family etc, becoming the social just voice of middle, pushing for liberal equality. Yet the students of today remember Clegg’s indiscretion. They remember the fee cap promise and now they are paying back the results of that falling through. It’s not just those immediately old enough to begin university; it is those younger Millenials who were still at school when the coalition government came to power, but were old enough to understand what happened.

Students, for the next parliament at least, will not embrace the Lib Dems as they once did. This means that the socially just liberal graduate will not embrace the Lib Dems as they once did. In essence, the core vote share of the Lib Dems has been dissolved away into nothingness for the next 10 years.

Could this develop into a more long-term problem? Young people who consider themselves ‘socialists’ never lived through the Thatcher years, yet are first to join in discussions denouncing her policy and leadership. In much the same way, the graduates of the future will look for someone to blame for their spiralling student debt. Unfortunately that someone will be the vilified face of Nick Clegg. Neither a speech by Tim Farron nor a stand at a Freshers’ fair will change that, no matter how hard the Lib Dems try.

‘Malcolm Tuckered’ – A tale of long lenses and documents on show

This week, Justine Greening, Education Secretary, looks set to bring about the return of the Grammar School. This idea was originally floated in the press following a photograph of a document carried by an unnamed official walking into Downing Street. Generally this kind of incident happens relatively regularly; civil servants, political assistants and MPs themselves seem to forget that the large scrum of photographers lined up opposite the black door to number 10 often carry lenses strong enough to see through a polly-pocket folder.

The offending document, hot off the press from the office of the top civil servant in the Department for Education.

Analysing the photo, it appears to me that whoever the person carrying this document is, they certainly seem to be trying to make the document far more visible to an onlooking photo journalist. Sound familiar?

My favourite political comedy, The Thick of It, has already satirised this exact situation. Series 4, Episode 2; Leader of the Opposition Nicola Murray is photographed holding notes from a meeting, outlining a policy that she hoped would bring benefit for ‘quiet bat people’. In the programme, this incident is all a ploy by the illustrious Malcolm Tucker to take Nicola Murray down from the inside, by alerting the press to her apparent stupidity at the helm of her party.

The image that brought down Nicola Murray, and eventually, Malcolm Tucker himself.
The image that brought down Nicola Murray, and eventually, Malcolm Tucker himself.

The plot by Malcolm backfires; on closer inspection by an inquiry launched following a political disaster, the photo incriminates Malcolm in having illegal acquired an NHS number.

Anyway, back to the real world. Grammar schools are a massively emotive issue, and there are arguments across the political spectrum both for and against them. Some argue they improve social mobility for pupils from right across communities. Others argue that they serve no purpose and are a relic of the past. It’s not limited to Tories voting one way, Labour voting the other. Imagine if someone working the Department for Education wasn’t too keen on the idea? A peeved civil servant? A grumpy political assistant? Or even a rogue MP?

One shuffled pile of paperwork to be taken to the PM’s office and suddenly an idea not yet fit for public consumption has been shouted out from the hills. I don’t think Justine Greening or Theresa May (definitely not Defence Secretary Michael Fallon) thought Grammar Schools would be on their to do list, but someone decided otherwise. Now Justine Greening stands before parliament, defending the government’s previously unknown plans to bring Grammar Schools back from the dead. Though despite unnamed attempts to scupper Grammar School plans, I don’t think this will develop into the ‘Quiet Bat People’ moment a conspirator might have hoped for.

It’s my birthday, so be nice!

The tax crusade begins and Ireland is the victim

The Republic of Ireland is a nation that I know and love. My mother was born there, my father’s family come from there and I am a citizen of the emerald isle. I often visit; for birthdays, weddings and funerals generally. Over my many years of visiting, I have come to know and appreciate the country’s main struggles and strifes.

I think there is a misconception that Ireland is a slightly more rural looking version of the UK. We speak the same language, and it is so geographically close, you could be forgiven for thinking that these days there is little difference between the two. But again, these days it is easy to forget that the northern counties of Ireland, and Northern Ireland itself, were a war zone not so long ago.

Then of course, beyond the many massive cultural differences, the thing that probably sets Eire and the UK apart, is economics. The Republic of Ireland, despite years of EU investment in infrastructure, is a poor country in comparison to the UK.

Perhaps that slightly rambling introduction might leave you wondering what this article really has to do with anything. Well, Ireland’s fight to rebuild and inject some life back into the Celtic Tiger was sent back to square one this week, thanks to a body that has often been the first to come to Ireland’s aid.

The European Commission has ruled that Ireland must claim €13 billion in tax back from Apple. Across Europe, many see this as a victory against multinational companies abusing tax policy in order to maximise profits. But strangely, despite a possible €13 tax windfall, the Irish government will not be popping the champagne corks anytime soon. In short, this is a disaster for the Republic.

In recent years, Ireland has hit tough economic times, and as a country they have been hit hard by job losses and a lack of business. To combat this, the Irish Government have made a concerned effort to reduce tax levied on large companies in order to encourage large firms to set up shop there. They didn’t just set up shop; Apple, Intel and Google have all based their European headquarters in Ireland. This has brought a much needed economic boost and the results were almost starting to show. Foreign investment was the main factor in a massive 26% jump in Irish economic growth last year.

Yet suddenly this week, all of this has come undone. The European Commission has taken issue with Apple’s Irish tax affairs, and it is clear that they will not stop there. As they slowly take apart Ireland’s attempts to attract foreign investments, the EC could single handedly be responsible for the flight of the multinationals that have been slowly bringing Ireland back to life.

In the past few years, we’ve seen a European migrant crisis, European security disasters and Brexit. Now add to that list an effort to send an EU country backwards in its attempts to boost its own economy and it does make you wonder; maybe the Brexiteers were on to something after all? 

 

Labour’s answer to #sadmanonatrain breaks an illusion

Jeremy Corbyn never seems good at taking pressure from the press. Over the past few days, his bubble has once again burst, and once again Jezza proceeded to just get a bit angry when people kept asking him about sitting on the floor of a train. As it happens, Virgin Trains now find themselves in a bit of trouble for releasing the footage that fuelled these questions.

On a weekly basis, the wheels seem to be coming off poor old Jeremy’s wagon. But despite accusations of support for the IRA, making friends with Hezbollah, or generally being quite far on the left (check out this Spectator blog, it lists them), the bus keeps on rolling. Yet I wonder whether this might be slightly different.

Corbyn has ignited political passions and sparked a revolution (known as Momentum, to you and I). He has sold himself as a principled man, who stands for honesty, integrity and justice; you’d be forgiven for thinking that these values had evaporated from the British political zeitgeist.

Yet suddenly, Richard Branson has released CCTV from one of his trains. The train, allegedly so crowded as to be standing room only (amateurish commuting really, if he wants overcrowding Jeremy should try the West Country),  was so busy he had to sit on the floor. Once there, Jeremy filmed a video, making a point about overcrowding and a need for re-nationalisation of the railways. But, and here’s the big ‘shock horror’ moment, that fateful CCTV video suggested the train wasn’t overcrowded at all

This man who has portrayed himself as a pillar of honesty amidst a murky grey sea of lies, darned lies and expenses, was apparently no better than the rest of them. Not great timing, considering the upcoming leadership elections, but this is just the latest in a long line of issues cropping up in the run up the ‘Smith vs Corbyn’ showdown. There have been accusations of lunacy, discrimination, betrayal and some rather odd policy ideas (plus Ice Cream?).

Anyway, Corbyn’s campaign team seemed rather nonplussed by the incident swiftly labeled #traingate, thought their initial attempts at explanation were a little, uh, odd. “Children are small, they might have been hiding behind the chairs,” they exclaimed. “There were bags on the seats,” they cried.

Too polite to ask someone to move a bag perhaps? That would be music to the ears of Mrs Cameron; perhaps the incumbent Labour leader has suddenly become so British that he’s bound to be found learning the national anthem soon enough.

 

 

 

Want economic growth? You need STEM!

 

You would be forgiven for thinking that A Level Results Day (Today, 18th August) was all about teenagers finding out whether or not they need to take out £40,000 (possibly more) of student loans to fund a degree. What we often neglect to remember is that these bright eyed and bushy tailed graduates to be, or more specifically their degree subjects, matter a great deal to the future success of our nation. This has never been more true, especially considering the UK’s recent decision to leave the European Union.

The United Kingdom has always been at the forefront of engineering innovation. Manufacturing is the back bone of a strong economy; powerhouse giants like Rolls Royce, Jaguar Land Rover, Dyson, all need technology minded graduates. Yet with ever increasing numbers of students heading to university, these big companies are crying out for more STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) graduates.

It isn’t just top engineering firms that need graduates; technology companies, at the forefront of innovation in computing technology are also struggling. The verdict from all this? Not enough people are going to university to study STEM subjects.

Of course, the answer in years gone by would have been to recruit the skills we lack from overseas. Yet now the UK suddenly doesn’t look half as attractive to young european graduates as it once did, especially given that some EU nationals have already decided to leave following Brexit. But to my mind, the problem with STEM is not just about recruiting for industries that are vital to our economy.

We have always had a very touchy relationship with STEM, especially mathematics. Despite the UK bringing the world mathematical greats like Isaac Newton and Alan Turing into the world, we seem to associate mathematics with nutty professors and boffins locked in darkened rooms. As a mathematics student (hopefully soon to be a mathematics graduate!) I completely reject this ideology.

Maths, and more generally STEM, are at the basis of the modern world. Everything from the device you’re reading this on, to the chair you’re sat in have made use of STEM at some point in their operation or manufacture. STEM isn’t nerdy, STEM isn’t boring. STEM is the creative forefront of British innovation, solving problems and designing world beating products to make the world a better place.

STEM matters. On this results day, lets hope that STEM can start to regain the place it deserves amongst students, and that we can start to fight the ‘STEM Gap’ that is growing in the UK.

 

The Labour Party – An Outsider’s Perspective

Today, the fate of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) was sealed. Supporters of Jeremy Corbyn, the party’s embattled incumbent, successfully fought a campaign in the High Court to win the right to vote in the upcoming leadership election. This all came about when the party’s National Executive Committee ruled that members who had joined Labour after January 12th would be ineligible to vote, unless they paid an extra £25.

This is a key victory for Corbyn and his supporters. He has been able to rally “grassroots” supporters, and generally these newer members are far more likely to support Corbyn than they are to support the welsh challenger, Owen Smith.

An appeal has been launched against the High Court’s decision, so this situation is subject to change. But it’s clear that the problems the PLP is facing are coming to a head.

If this ruling by the High Court is upheld, then Corbyn will undoubtedly win the leadership election. This then creates a very interesting situation – a party leader will be elected with no support from his parliamentary party. There is no doubt in my mind that the PLP will then split irreversibly, with Corbyn’s small band of MPs rallying around whilst the remainder will try and form a new centre-left initiative to face the Tories.

Three groups stand to benefit from this (and neither are Labour); Firstly, the Conservative party will be overjoyed at this news, as unchallenged Tory rule is pretty much guaranteed for at least the 2020 General Election. Second, UKIP will be licking their lips at the thought of snatching up ‘classic Labour supporters’ – the working class Brexiteers who have felt increasingly alienated by the Labour party. Finally, the Liberal Democrats (remember them?) will see this as a chance to snatch the centre-left ground and establish themselves as a serious political party. I for one know many, many Labour supporters who are considering turning to the Lib Dems, should Corbyn win his election.

So Tories in power, UKIP surging in popularity, the Lib Dems resurgent – could the political landscape change so drastically again?

The leadership election is a month and a half away, so I would like to add a pinch of salt with my predictions; these days we should know better than trying to predict political decision making!

Are we going to be alright?

 

Hello, my name is Connor. I’ve done a lot of political commentary on student radio and when Ryan told me he’d started Advance Politics and he wanted me to contribute, it was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down.

To many of us who have an interest in politics and current affairs, the past few weeks have probably appeared as a bit of a blur. Sitting back and thinking about all that has happened, (Brexit, Cameron resigns, Corbyn doesn’t, BoJo vs Gove, Nigel says Bye Bye) you’d be forgiven for thinking that you’ve woken up inside an episode of the Thick of It.

But then you remember that Malcolm Tucker would never have stood for all this and the plot lines of the british political establishment are too fanciful even for the writing of Armando Iannucci. No, even the hilariously sarcastic universe of the Thick of It is too sensible to entertain this nonsense.

“Malcolm, did you hear that Jeremy Corbyn is the new Labour Leader?”

When trying to process the events of June and July, I’ve found I can only really make sense of them if I compare them to
episodes of Peep Show – specifically, the Grand Finale of Peep Show, which saw David Mitchell and Robert Webb finally say goodbye to Jeremy and Mark. That episode is entitled ‘Are we going to be alright?’.

*PEEP SHOW SPOLIERS COMING UP*

The episode revolves around Jeremy’s unwanted surprise 40th Birthday party, with progressively stranger events transpiring to ruin the ‘happily ever after’ that Mark and Jeremy appeared to be heading for, sending them crashing back down to earth. 10 series of Peep Show end with Mark and Jeremy exactly how they started, mundanely watching television with their lives left just as distinctly average as when we first met them.

peep_show_9-6Jeremy and Mark’s expression on hearing we voted for Brexit

Doesn’t that sound eerily familiar? Nick Clegg’s metaphoric rise, A coalition government, Nick Clegg’s cataclysmic fall, Ed Milliband and Jeremy Corbyn all building towards the turmoil of the past few weeks. Disillusion and disbelief are contagious amongst the electorate – the young loathe the old for voting to leave the EU, the old loathe the long for disregarding their credentials. Scotland is trying to get its coat and leave the party, and Northern Ireland might run off with them. And the commentators and reporters have been spouting their favourite ‘buzz phrases’;

“This is a wake up call for political establishment,”

“Britain will never be the same again,”

“The political landscape has been changed for ever,”

But in reality, we’re just like Jeremy and Mark. We’re lying on the sofa blankly staring at the television, acutely aware that the real world is just as average and mundane as ever. You still need to go and buy milk and bread. The dishwasher still needs stacking. Someone still has to go and walk the dog.

Jeremy: the ultimate everyman?

It’s quite easy to forget all that when you’re reading your 15th article of the day on the dangers of Brexit, or why Jeremy Corbyn needs to stand down. Maybe we need to treat it a bit like alcohol? We spend all of Christmas and New Year drinking far too much and make ourselves feel better by having a ‘Dry January’.

We’ve had a 6 year binge on political weirdness; time for a break I think.