Patrick Mercer: Thinking the unthinkable? Not the MoD

How Whitehall won't confront its sacred cows

Share
Related Topics

The Secretary of State for Defence, Philip Hammond, last week confirmed that the regular Army would be cut over the next few years from its current strength of 102,000 to about 82,000.He also made it clear that some of the 20,000 reductions would be found by cutting many famous old regiments.

A succession of defence secretaries over the past few years have overseen a patchy system of mergers that have left some regiments almost unrecognisable and others untouched, all in the name of efficiency, and the current incumbent seems to be cut from the same cloth. Indeed, in a lecture recently, he said that the armed forces must do their work, "... in the most resource-efficient way possible... achieving their outputs with lower inputs".

Despite all the protestations from the Ministry of Defence about efficiency, however, I believe that the rationale for the cuts will be based upon something very different. For instance, the Secretary of State tells us that those units which are under-recruited or heavily topped up with foreign and Commonwealth soldiers are vulnerable. Serving officers tell me that Scotland's regiments fit this description more than any others, and that the Black Watch and the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders are likely to be chopped. If "efficiency" is the yardstick, then they might face oblivion, but you can bet your bottom dollar that devolution and the voice of Alex Salmond will carry far more weight.

Similarly, there are those who say that the Brigade of Guards should endure some of the pain that other regiments have had to endure. It's true, these five excellent battalions recruit indifferently and they have been largely untouched despite wholesale mergers, amalgamations and disbandments elsewhere. The argument goes that the senior regiments should set an example and sacrifice at least one of their number pour encourager les autres. But, it's worth remembering the words of Harold Macmillan who said, "There are three bodies no sensible man directly challenges: the Roman Catholic church, the Brigade of Guards, and the National Union of Mineworkers." I suspect that such sentiments will still be more influential than any MoD spreadsheet.

The greatest test of all, though, has already been ducked. I've soldiered with Gurkhas; I admire them and see a huge need for them. But many of my former comrades still serving point out that Joanna Lumley's spirited campaign to improve Gurkhas' conditions of service and retirement stripped away their most attractive feature: kukri for bayonet, they were cheaper than British soldiers. Many ask why jobs that should be going to Britons are in fact going to Nepalese. If you apply the "resource-efficient" yardstick, the Gurkhas don't measure up – yet the Secretary of State has already said that both Gurkha Rifles battalions will be spared.

There's no doubt that La Lumley is a formidable political opponent; she made mincemeat of Labour's Phil Woolas when he tried to resist her initiative to help Gurkhas win the right to settle in the UK. Her sparkle makes any politician look dowdy and glamour will always triumph over glum.

While there are sensible plans to expand and refurbish the reserves and Territorial Army, the fighting elements of the regular Army are, I suggest, already perilously small. If numbers have to be reduced in order to save money – and I know that they do – let the Army look to its vast squads of computer operators and staff officers. Better still, let MoD civil servants lead the charge. Our fighting regiments and battalions are the best in the world and to cut even one of them is madness while we are at war and facing a period of great uncertainty. The Army is one of our greatest national institutions and we are in danger of wrecking it – the bottom line must never be allowed to dominate the Thin Red Line.

Patrick Mercer is Conservative MP for Newark

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer

£600 - £700 per day: Harrington Starr: AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer JVS, ...

E-Commerce Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Exciting opp...

Technical Support Analyst (C++, Windows, Linux, Perl, Graduate)

£30000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A global leader in trading platforms and e...

Junior IT Consultant (SQL, Java, C++, Oracle, Graduate)

£28000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A fast growing consultancy to the financia...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Forty per cent of global trades in euros are cleared through London  

The success enjoyed by the City of London owes nothing to the EU

Nigel Farage
Sami Khedira of Germany runs past Oscar of Brazil with the ball during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Semi Final match between Brazil and Germany  

If they weren't obsessed with instant profits, England could have a team as good as Germany’s

Mark Steel
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
10 best girls' summer dresses

Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

Westminster’s dark secret

Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

Naked censorship?

The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil