Army officer emerges victorious from class warfare

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The Independent Online
Major Eric Joyce, who was suspended after publishing a pamphlet arguing that the Army was riddled with snobbery and prejudice, is back on duty following an intervention by the Lord Chancellor.

Kim Sengupta charts the shift in his treatment at the hands of officialdom.

The story has come full circle. At one point Major Eric Joyce's public criticism of the armed services' class-ridden culture threatened to lead to his court martial. But now Lord Irvine of Lairg, the Lord Chancellor, has obliged senior officers to rethink: Major Joyce is not only back on duty, but his demands for reform will be debated among fellow officers.

The decision not to court martial Major Joyce is seen as a U-turn by the army hierarchy. A number of senior officers are said to feel there were enough grounds for charging him for breaking military discipline, and flouting rules on speaking to the media.

Keith Simpson, a Tory MP, claimed there were links between Major Joyce and the Labour Party going back to before the general election, and that Major Joyce had advised John Reid, deputy to George Robertson, the Secretary of State for Defence, in Opposition. This was denied last night by Dr Reid, who said he met Major Joyce just twice in his role as a member of the all-party defence study group. He had also met "thousands of other servicemen and women".

Lord Irvine told Mr Robertson in a letter that if Major Joyce was to complain to the European Human Rights Court, he would be likely to succeed. The Lord Chancellor also pointed out that one of the Government's overriding foreign policy objectives was to promote human rights throughout the world, and "these declarations do not live with the Army's conduct to Major Joyce".

He expressed concern that any ruling from the court would come in the run up to the next election, which "would not be good timing". Lord Irvine concluded that any disciplinary action against Major Joyce would be "disproportionate", and "the Army should lift Major Joyce's suspension and state he faces no disciplinary action whatsoever".

On 18 November, Major Joyce was told he does not face any charges. Soon afterwards he quietly resumed his duties at the headquarters of the Adjutant General in Upavon, Wiltshire.

However, he certainly does not intend to keep quiet about his views. The critical pamphlet he wrote for the Fabian Society attacking the forces' antiquated class system will be published as a more detailed journal for discussion. The publication, which will be called Armed Services Forum, will include defence management issues written by civilian experts and army officers.

An MoD spokesman said: "Major Joyce is in control of this journal and there is no reason why it should create any problems. There is a long tradition of writing in the armed services."

George Robertson has said the army should recruit more officers from state schools to avoid the accusation of preserving a privileged elite. He is concerned that while four out of five Royal Navy and RAF officers studied at state schools, only half of all army officer recruits did so.