Gordon Brown hit back yesterday at five former defence chiefs who accused him of treating the armed forces with contempt.
"I have got nothing but praise for our armed forces," said the Prime Minister from the Commonwealth summit in Kampala yesterday. "I want to see the armed forces properly equipped with the resources they need."
But last night a sixth defence chief joined the personal attack on the Mr Brown for an "imbalance" over defence spending and the increasing demands on the armed forces. General Sir Mike Jackson, the former head of the army, said on BBC TV: "This didn't happen overnight, this imbalance. The Prime Minister now was the Chancellor of the Exchequer for those 10 years over which this tempo has accelerated."
Claims also emerged that the Ministry of Defence is locked in a wrangle with the Treasury over who pays for emergency kit for Iraq and Afghanistan.
Mr Brown was also criticised yesterday by the Opposition for merging the roles of Defence Secretary and Secretary of State for Scotland. David Cameron accused him of turning an important position into a "part-time post". Des Browne, said the Tory leader, should be stripped of his dual role.
Mr Browne denied there was a problem. "I will put my record in relation to commitment and delivery up against anyone's," he said.
The former defence chiefs had succeeded in making sure Mr Brown's visit to a school in Uganda was overshadowed by the dispute at home. Lords Boyce, Bramall, Craig, Guthrie and Inge won a brilliant tactical victory by bringing the issue to light by the weight of united criticism. Former defence chiefs usually reserve their grumbling for the privacy of their armchairs. But, this time, they decided they would go over the top together.
The preparation began before Remembrance Day with the launch of the UK National Defence Association. Lords Boyce, Craig and Guthrie are patrons of the group, which is dedicated to raising defence spending. The fuse was lit when Baroness Park, a Tory peer, tabled a defence motion for debate in the Lords. But she denied being the instigator of a plot. "It was not a cabal," she said. "I knew they were going to speak because they put their names down. It is just something we are all desperately worried about."
Gerald Howarth, the shadow Defence Minister, who hosted a "defence breakfast" on Thursday for MPs and peers, was aware of what was being planned. "There is absolutely nothing synthetic about this. It is serious, real anger," he said. "Our troops feel utterly let down by the Prime Minister and the appointment of Des Browne as Secretary of State for Scotland as well as Defence."Reuse content