Major digs in for battle over Army culture

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The Independent Online
TWO CONTRASTING faces of the Army's great modernisation drive were on show yesterday.

There was the launch of a pounds 2.5m Saatchi and Saatchi-inspired recruitment campaign to shed the Army's image as a preserve of the white male. At the same time, the hierarchy faced a fresh challenge from an officer who claimed he had been suspended for advocating precisely the same reforms.

Major Eric Joyce, who was threatened with court martial for writing an outspoken criticism of class-ridden army culture, has updated the pamphlet which is being republished by the Fabian Society due to "high demand". He has also decided that if, as seems likely, his suspension is followed by dismissal, he will appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

The legal action could be highly embarrassing for the Ministry of Defence. Major Joyce's public attack on what he saw as an outmoded system riddled with snobbery and prejudice incensed some senior officers and was expected to lead to a court martial. But there was a rethink after it became clear that if he were to take his case to the European Court he was likely to succeed.

Subsequently there appeared to be a u-turn by the Army hierarchy and Major Joyce was not only returned to duty, but his proposals for reforms were debated among fellow officers. He was also allowed to publish a journal, The Armed Services Forum, in which there were several articles by senior officers stressing the need for the Army to evolve and change.

But at the end of last month, Major Joyce was told he faces administrative dismissal on the original charges of commenting to the media without approval and for "uncommandability". The matter is due to be considered by the Army Board within a month, and the Major is expected to be dismissed.

Major Joyce told The Independent yesterday: "In retrospect it seems that when they decided it would not be advisable to court-martial me, a few senior officers were determined the matter should not end there and I should be got rid off in some other way.

"I am hoping I will be allowed to address the Army Board to put forward my side of things, but there is a very real possibility that I will be administratively discharged.

"If that happens then we shall be taking the matter to the European Court. Ironically what they seemed to want to avoid in the first place is now likely to happen."

John Reid, the armed forces minister, who had met Major Joyce while in Opposition, yesterday launched the recruitment drive saying there had been a turnaround in perceptions of the Army, particularly on racial issues, and he was determined to build on that. Recruitment of women, who now account for 14 per cent of new intake, is also at record levels.

Dr Reid said: "The Army is back in business. There will be no going back on either of those. We want to best and brightest in the British Army irrespective of sex, irrespective of ethnic background and irrespective of social background."