An unpleasant skirmish at the ministry

Who has been smearing General Sir Richard Dannatt? The obvious candidate denies it – but the whispering goes on

It was the week when the death toll among British forces serving in Afghanistan surged beyond 200, and the world watched as the war-torn nation made its latest, faltering steps towards democracy.

The thousands of British troops charged with maintaining security looked on as millions of Afghanis prepared for the perilous task of voting in their country's second democratic presidential election since the Taliban were ousted in 2003.

But, back home, their masters were occupied by other matters.

On the day that the widow of a soldier killed in Afghanistan was presented with the first Elizabeth Cross, it emerged that tensions between politicians and the military in the Ministry of Defence had reached a new high. And the issue in question was nothing to do with the mission for which thousands of UK personnel were risking their lives.

An unnamed defence minister was accused of plotting a "smear campaign" against the country's most senior soldier days before he retires. The "shameful plot", we were told, had been hatched because General Sir Richard Dannatt had been outspoken in his criticism of the politicians' failure to supply vital equipment, notably helicopters, to front-line troops.

The weapons used against the outgoing Chief of General Staff were a series of freedom of information requests, designed to tease out the general's entertainment budget – thus tarnishing the reputation of this "army legend".

There are six ministers at the MoD, but it did not take long for the prime suspect to emerge. Kevan Jones is a Gordon Brown loyalist who has forged a reputation as a robust character around Parliament since he was elected in 2001. During an earlier career as a blunt member of Newcastle City Council, he boasted of regularly "kebabing" officials in public during their attempts to explain their actions before him. It was a fearsome habit displayed regularly in public hearings after the North West Durham MP was elected to the Defence Select Committee.

Mr Jones has clearly carried this fierce refusal to be cowed by reputations into the MoD, where he has been required to deal with some of the finest military minds in the land.

Significantly, his own reputation preceded him when he arrived at the department last year. In the months before his promotion, Mr Jones had asked more than 50 parliamentary questions that revealed embarrassing details about the spending of the most senior officers who sit on the Army Board: the makeovers at their official residences, the domestic staff, the tennis courts, the ride-on lawnmowers.

There was suspicion, if not outright hostility, about his motives when he took his seat at the MoD; many officials claim his subsequent behaviour has proved the Worksop comprehensive schoolboy is no friend of the officer class. When Bob Ainsworth, Secretary of State for Defence, ordered his team not to criticise General Sir Richard earlier this year, it was assumed that Mr Jones was his real target.

For his part, the minister responded not simply by denying the allegations, but by praising the general. Mr Jones, who maintained that he had worked "very closely" with General Sir Richard, said: "I look forward to continuing our working relationship."

Behind the scenes, the response of the political side was less conciliatory. One senior source chose to reinforce question marks over the general – and widen the attack. General Sir Richard was unpopular, he said, with counterparts from the other services and he had crossed swords with other ministers. Moreover, the source claimed, a number of the offending freedom of information requests had probably emanated from elsewhere within the MoD: "These inquiries have nothing to do with Kevan," he said. "I think people should be looking at others."

It is hardly likely to improve critical relationships at a uniquely difficult time for the MoD. General Sir Richard has been regarded by politicians as difficult to read because of his quiet demeanour, his deep religious faith and his willingness to give a brutally honest answer to questions about provision for the forces. He is, however, widely respected for that honesty, as well as for a military career that has spanned almost four decades.

"They are not going to win any sort of battle with someone like Richard," a fellow general observed last night. "He isn't the type to get involved in a slanging match and, in any case, it's impossible to believe he has done anything untoward."

Mr Jones may believe that the story is the product of a slow summer, but the outraged response shows that criticising a respected military man – and reinforcing the view that New Labour is still addicted to spin tactics – are dangerous pursuits. Unity in the face of adversity is a basic requirement at the MoD, but an ability to recognise the real challenges facing UK forces would help.

VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
Plans to decriminalise non-payment of television licence fees would cost the BBC £500m according to estimates drawn up within the Corporation
people
News
people
Life & Style
The new low cost smartphone of Motorola, 'Motorola Moto G', is displayed in Sao Paulo, Brazil on November 13, 2013. The smartphone, with dimensions 65.9mm W x 129.9mm H x 6.0 - 11.6mm D is equipped with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 with quad-core 1,2 GHz CPU, a 4.5-inch display and Android Operating System 4.3 and a suggested price of $ 179 USD.
techData assessing smartphones has revealed tens of millions of phones are at risk of being harvested
Arts & Entertainment
Jessica Pare as Megan Draper and Jon Hamm as the troubled, melancholy Don Draper
tvAnd six other questions we hope Mad Men series seven will answer
Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Online Advertising Account Executive , St Pauls , London

£26K-30k + Bonus, Private Medical Insurance, Company Pension: Charter Selectio...

Advertising Account Executive - Online, Central London

£25K-28k + Bonus, Private Medical Insurance, Company Pension: Charter Selectio...

Senior Infrastructure Consultant

£50000 - £65000 Per Annum potentially flexible for the right candidate: Clearw...

Public Sector Audit - Bristol

£38000 per annum + Benefits: Pro-Recruitment Group: Do you have experience of ...

Day In a Page

Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
The pain of IVF

The pain of IVF

As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal
Supersize art

Is big better? Britain's latest super-sized art

The Kelpies are the latest addition to a growing army of giant sculptures. But naysayers are asking what a pair of gigantic horse heads tells us about Falkirk?
James Dean: Back on the big screen

James Dean: Back on the big screen

As 'Rebel without a Cause' is re-released, Geoffrey Macnab reveals how its star perfected his moody act
Catch-22: How the cult classic was adapted for the stage

How a cult classic was adapted for the stage

More than half a century after it was published 'Catch-22' will make its British stage debut next week
10 best activity books for children

10 best activity books for children

Keep little ones busy this bank holiday with one of these creative, educational and fun books
Arsenal 3 West Ham United 1: Five things we learnt from the battle between the London sides

Five things we learnt from Arsenal's win over West Ham

Arsenal still in driving seat for Champions League spot and Carroll can make late charge into England’s World Cup squad
Copa del Rey final: Barcelona are paying for their complacency and not even victory over Real Madrid will put things right

Pete Jenson on the Copa del Rey final

Barcelona are paying for their complacency and not even victory over Real Madrid will put things right
Rafa to reign? Ten issues clay courts will serve up this season

Rafa to reign? Ten issues clay courts will serve up this season

With the tennis circus now rolling on to the slowest surface, Paul Newman highlights who'll be making the headlines – and why
Exclusive: NHS faces financial disaster in 2015 as politicians urged to find radical solution

NHS faces financial disaster in 2015

Politicians urged to find radical solution
Ukraine crisis: How spontaneous are the pro-Russian protests breaking out in Ukraine’s east?

Ukraine crisis

How spontaneous are the pro-Russian protests breaking out in Ukraine’s east?
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: The first execution at the Tower of London for 167 years

The first execution at the Tower of London for 167 years

A history of the First World War in 100 moments
Fires could turn Amazon rainforest into a desert as human activity and climate change threaten ‘lungs of the world’, says study

New threat to the Amazon rainforest:

Fires that scorch the ‘lungs of the Earth’
Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City: And the winner of this season’s Premier League title will be...

Who’s in box seat now? The winner of the title will be ...

Who is in best shape to take the Premier League prize?