The recommendations in Quentin Davies' report on boosting public support and appreciation for our Armed Forces have a rather familiar feel to them. We learned last month that the idea of a public holiday to honour the Armed Services has already won the support of the Prime Minister. And the report's other major proposals – extending school cadet forces, encouraging servicemen and women to wear their uniforms while off-duty and holding more homecoming parades – have been around for a while now. The other thing all these ideas have in common, as Mr Davies admits, is that "they would involve minimum cost".
The Armed Forces should indeed be better appreciated by the public. Last year General Sir Richard Dannatt, the head of the Army, gave voice to widespread concerns in military circles, when he complained of a "growing gulf between the Army and the nation". And reports earlier this year that personnel at RAF Wittering, in Cambridgeshire, were advised by officers not to wear their uniforms in public for fear of verbal abuse from members of the public opposed to the Iraq war struck a nerve. That particular case was most likely overblown. Even if there were problems for the military personnel at Wittering (and no evidence has been produced to back this up) this would have been because of the actions of a very small number of people.
The vast majority of the public recognise that soldiers are merely doing their duty when they are sent overseas; and that individual servicemen and women bear no responsibility for the conflicts their political masters choose. But in an era when personal experience of national service is increasingly scarce, it is important to ensure that the Army does not come to be viewed as simply another career option, albeit an unorthodox one. These men and women risk their lives and sacrifice some important freedoms to protect our national interest. And the growing concern in the military over levels of recruitment and retention is not something we can afford to ignore.
But Mr Davies' recommendations look most unlikely to rectify such ills. The problems surrounding recruitment and retention are much more likely to be connected to factors such as substandard housing for soldiers' families, a shortage of vital battlefield equipment and inadequate mental health care for veterans rather than any deficiencies in the secondary school cadet system.
Similarly, the ill-defined mission in Afghanistan and the debacle in Iraq are likely to be bigger reasons behind low morale than a shortage of homecoming parades. What Britain's Armed Services really need are not "minimum cost" quick fixes, but proper investment and wise political leadership.Reuse content