Where the parties stand: Defence

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There is a widespread belief among Britain's armed forces that Gordon Brown has no intrinsic sympathy with or understands the military. This is not a general view of Labour but the Prime Minister. The defence budget, however, will not escape cuts: up to 15 per cent whichever party gets in to power, and what gets cut is a question of priorities. Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth indicated at the launch of the Green Paper on the Strategic Defence Review that the Government is signed up to the building of the two new aircraft carriers, with a combined cost of £5 billion, and new Trident submarines. However, Mr Ainsworth later appeared to be backtracking on the aircraft carriers, saying that only the Trident project is guaranteed to go ahead. The spending on Urgent Operational Requirements, mainly for Afghanistan, will carry on. Critics say the campaign costs more money than it should because of the lack of long-term planning.


The Conservatives also cannot avoid defence budget cuts but they too have said that Trident is sacrosanct – though they may cut the number of submarines from four to three – and have talked about going ahead with the aircraft carriers. Unspecified savings would be made, they say, by cutting civilian staff at the Ministry of Defence and wasteful procurement programmes. The Tories would find it difficult to stop funding UOR, estimated to cost £ 1.6bn next year, as long as British forces remain in Afghanistan. Shadow Defence Secretary Liam Fox stated a future Tory Government would bring back 25,000 British troops based in Germany saying it was unjustifiable when they were needed for Afghanistan. But current and former commanders, including General Sir Mike Jackson, accused him of a "fundamental misconception" pointing out that forces based in Germany had served in Iraq and Afghanistan. The cost of bringing them and their families back, they said, would run to "hundreds of millions" of pounds.

Lib Dems

Nick Clegg became the first leader of a main party to advocate that Trident should be scrapped after its renewal date of 2024. The decision marked a departure for the Lib Dems, who although long sceptical of the nuclear deterrent, had not previously not dismissed the programme out of hand. It was also a personal change of stance for Mr Clegg who vociferously defended Trident during his leadership contest with Nick Huhne, an opponent. The Lib Dems have also been proponents of an early exit strategy from Afghanistan, although they have stated that they will provide the funding necessary to protect troops while the war continues. The party has not presented its plans on dealing with major defence projects but a number of MPs have asked for a debate on investment in defence.