Simon Carr: Defence reform is more fog of war than clarity of purpose

Sketch: The MoD would be fourth in the FTSE if it were a private company

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If they want to add clarity so much they could start by renaming the Ministry of Defence the Ministry of War. But it's never going to happen, is it? In the event, the Defence Reform thing was the most opaque statement about transparency we'd heard for many years.

The first I understood was the phrase about a new omnipotent control board that was going to be "based around the Defence Secretary". That's him, I knew that much. Liam Fox was going to take control of whatever it was.

And what exactly was that? My notes record the importance he placed on the underpinning themes that were going to deliver defence outputs in a new planning model where stovepiping would be replaced by the single service building blocks to become joint enablers, with joint credentials, jointly thinking about the levers that budget- holders were going to be provided with.

It's where the fog of war starts.

The big thing, Liam Fox said was to "maximise delivery at the front end". In the context of the last decade of British military history that translates as "more dead Arabs". But that might be a little too transparent for comfort.

However, when asked if he was going to chair the new Defence Board, he replied in a particular way, "Oh, yes". That made people laugh, so they all seemed to be in on it.

James Arbuthnot called it "a truly radical shake-up and something they've needed for decades". He was particularly pleased with the service chiefs getting more control over their budgets: "Does the Treasury share my delight?"

There are tensions between the Minister and the political quarterdeck so the cognescenti chuckled when Fox replied: "They've agreed, so the spirit in which they've entered into this is really not my concern."

There are astonishing sums splashed around in buying agents of death (not least army food), and the MoD would be fourth in the FTSE if it were a private company. It was absurd that the people drafting contracts, Julian Brazier said, should be in post for only two years. "I shall be encouraging the PM to read Hansard on that point." More grim chuckling.

It would be a great pity if his enemies did manage to dispose of Dr Fox. He adds texture. And there's always the thrilling possibility of Oliver Letwin getting punched on the nose.





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