Donald Macintyre's Sketch: Tapsell 're-arms' the debate on defence


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The venerable Tory Peter Tapsell yesterday congratulated David Cameron – with just a hint of irony – for his “robust” G20 exchange with Vladimir Putin on Ukraine, before asking whether the Russian leader might not be more inclined to listen if Britain “re-armed.”

At least we think that’s what he said since, in Sir Peter’s aristocratic drawl, it sounded more like the monosyllabic “waaarmed.”

Cameron said Britain was indeed investing in defence. Which made it unfortunate that his statement followed an Urgent Question from the Tory backbencher and  former Army officer John Baron on the snail’s pace of reserve recruitment.

The shadow defence minister Kevan Jones then said that since  the private sector firm Capita had been paid £50m for its contract,  “each new net recruit is  costing £2.5m.”

Poor Julian Brazier, himself a former Territorial Officer, was obviously made a minister just for moments like this. “We need you to make a useless gesture, Brazier,” you could imagine Cameron (who generously patted him on the back after his ordeal yesterday) telling him during the reshuffle. “The whole reserve thing is a horrible mess, and you’re just the man to answer questions on it.”

Brazier tried valiantly to charm his way out of it. He had the “greatest respect” for nearly every Labour MP who questioned him. And every Tory who had so much as even smelt uniform he referred to by the archaic “honourable and gallant gentleman.” The targets would be met, he insisted, unconvincingly.

On Cameron’s warning of  “flashing red lights” on the world economy, Ed Miliband said: “You have gone from saying everything is fixed thanks to you, to everything is not fixed – but it is nothing to do with you.”

A great soundbite, but it may miss the point. Which is that Cameron’s subtext is probably: “Don’t think  just because we’re boasting about the economy that it’s safe to vote Labour.”