Chancellor Brown 'didn't care about defence'

PM tried to block 1998 budget rise,says ex-chief of staff
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Gordon Brown is to blame for the "very, very stretched" state of the Army that will lead to more deaths, said Lord Guthrie, the former head of the armed services who was Tony Blair's favourite general.

"Lives will be lost if we go on doing what we're doing," he said in an interview with The Independent on Sunday. And the man who is now Prime Minister blocked funding for soldiers during the 10 years he was Chancellor, he said. "Blair found it difficult to deliver Brown in the Treasury," insisted Lord Guthrie, who was Chief of Defence Staff from 1997 to 2001.

Mr Brown was so "unsympathetic to defence" that the then General Guthrie came within "a couple of hours" of resigning over a budget row. That would have dealt a huge blow to the credibility of Prime Minister Blair. The clash came during the Strategic Defence Review in 1998. "At the last moment Brown tried to take a lot more money out of it. If he had, the whole thing would have unravelled."

Lord Guthrie is patron of the newly launched UK National Defence Association, a group of former military leaders who have called for an urgent rise in spending. Today the IoS reveals that at least 88 people have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan because of equipment failures, shortages or mistakes due to overstretch.

Underfunding began with the Conservatives, said Lord Guthrie, but Labour failed to address it even as the services were asked to take on new challenges in Afghanistan and Iraq. "Brown didn't make much effort to educate himself about defence," he said. "I hope that he understands better now than he did then."

In a frank interview, Lord Guthrie, 68, admitted he was wrong to believe Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and that Britain had to act to prevent an attack. He said Mr Blair was selective about which intelligence reports he believed.

Lord Guthrie said other military action was also considered during his time as head of the armed services, including an invasion of Zimbabwe. As President Robert Mugabe cracked down on the opposition and seized land from white settlers, Mr Blair was under pressure to intervene. "My advice was to hold hard, you'll make this worse. You won't have a single African country on your side."

Criticism of Mr Brown's defence record came as the Government's latest attempt to confront growing anger over the treatment of service personnel was condemned by welfare groups and opposition spokesmen. Campaigners had been put on alert by suggestions that proposals to improve services for military personnel and their families would be at the heart of Mr Brown's first legislative programme.

But hopes were dashed when a defence White Paper was not included in the Queen's Speech, and the Ministry of Defence announced it was launching a six-month review of services, including medical care and accommodation.

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