Donald Macintyre's Sketch: Impenetrable jargon is Defence Secretary’s most powerful weapon

Do the ministers absorb by osmosis their civil service briefs?

You can’t help wondering what surviving Defence Secretaries of a previous generation – Lords  Carrington and  Healey, say – would think if they were unwise enough to wander into the Commons to see how their old department was doing at Question Time.

For a start, since both of the Second World War veterans were plain speakers, they would be baffled by their  successors’ suffocating use  of jargon.

Asked about future wages and conditions in the reformed procurement arm Defence Equipment and Support, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond crisply explained: “There will be an overall envelope of resources for operating costs that will  be subject to a downward  trajectory over time representing efficiency.

“Within that envelope, there will be very broad freedom to tailor pay and conditions to the requirements of the marketplace.” This was, he added poetically, a “bespoke central Government trading entity” which would be, after all, “commercial-facing”.

This may – or may not – mean that a lot of money is going to be saved on the backs of the employees. But the main question is whether ministers simply absorb by osmosis the most impenetrable and euphemistic slabs  of their civil service briefs –  or actually make up this  stuff themselves. 

Hammond was by no means the only offender. Asked a fairly simple question by the Lib Dem Martin Horwood about what the Government was doing to “support conflict prevention”, junior Defence Minister Dr Andrew Murrison replied that the department “uses a multi-departmental approach to prioritise UK activity in upstream conflict prevention and stabilising fragile and conflict-affected states around the world in association with partner nations”.

Which presumably translates as “we’re trying to do our share”.  

After this, it was a relief when the MP James Gray – while welcoming the return of 4,000 soldiers from  Germany – voiced worries about the impact of new housing for them on “Stonehenge and the mysterious mists and swirling druidical mysteries that surround the stones”. Would he “look carefully at reports” that the homes would “block off the rising sun at the summer equinox”?

It would be nice to think Gray had forsaken the normal concerns of Tory backbenchers to come out as a burdock-drinking New Age pagan. But he was as agitated as many of his colleagues at the cuts in Army numbers, asking separately whether the armed services minister, Mark Francois, had just a “frisson of worry” on reading the Defence Select Committee’s criticisms that he “just might have done the wrong thing”.

Thanks to the Ukraine crisis, the Tory backbench critics of the Army cuts have found their moment. The former Army captain John Baron wanted sharply increased spending “even if white elephants such as High Speed 2 have to be sacrificed along the way”.

But perhaps the most  resonant question on the  subject was asked by the  right-wing Tory backbencher Sir Edward Leigh. “An attack on one Nato country is an attack on all of them,” he said. “Can we therefore thank God that Ukraine never did join Nato, because otherwise we might now be involved in a European war?”

This was a hard point to rebut. And Hammond didn’t really try. 

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an excellent, large partially ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Ashdown Group: Lead Web Developer (ASP.NET, C#) - City of London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee