The head of the Army has been forced to defend accusations of political correctness over its new campaign that aims to recruit people from a greater diversity of backgrounds.
The £1.6m recruitment drive features new radio, TV and online adverts that answer questions such as “What if I get emotional?” and “Do I have to be a superhero?”
During an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, General Sir Nick Carter responded to the criticism by telling presenter Nick Robinson the Army needed to appeal to people beyond young, white men.
In a veiled attack on the BBC’s gender pay divide, the general said unlike the corporation, his organisation did “not have different pay scales for anybody”.
Mr Robinson had told him some people were worried over suggestions the Army could no longer use the word “manpower” because it was “sexist” and reports people were being discouraged from calling officers “sir”.
General Carter said: “You are always going to get people aren’t you, who make mountains out of mole hills. I happen to be very proud of the fact the British Army really does respect the background, the ethnicity, the gender of anybody.
“We are the sort of employer, who incidentally I might say, Nick, don’t have different pay scales for anybody in our Army. They are the same whatever your gender might be.”
“Touché,” Mr Robinson said in reply.
The “This is belonging 2018” campaign aims to tackle a recruitment crisis by encouraging more people from a variety of genders, sexualities, ethnicities and religions to sign up.
But retired colonel Richard Kemp told BBC Breakfast the campaign would not help increase the numbers of service members.
“The Army, like the rest of government, is being forced down a route of political correctness,” he said. “What is most important is that the Army is full of soldiers. It is of secondary importance that they reflect the composition of society.”
He continued: “The main group of people who are interested in joining aren’t worried so much about whether they are going to be listened to … they are going to be attracted by images of combat.”
But General Carter insisted the campaign was a reflection of the changing demography of the country and an “appropriate” attempt to reach out to a “broader” base.
“Combat ethos and fighting power remain the British Army’s highest priority,” he said.
“This campaign is a recognition that we don’t have a fully manned army at the moment, that the demography of our country has changed, and that we need to reach out to a broader community in order to man that army with the right talent.”
In one animation, which highlights emotional support, a voiceover says: "Man up. Grow a pair. It feels like, as a man, you can never express your emotions. I thought joining the Army would be a thousand times worse. That any sign of emotion would be a sign of weakness. That we’d have it ripped out of us.
“But once you are in, you realise no one is a machine. The Army is family. I’ve probably told them things I wouldn’t tell my own family. There’s always someone there to talk to.”
Other videos on YouTube, focusing on “Army belonging” and inclusivity, ask “Can I practise my faith in the Army?” and “Will I be listened to in the Army?”
In the year to April 2017, 12,950 recruits joined the regular armed forces, but 14,970 service personnel left in the same period.
General Carter’s criticism of the BBC came after Carrie Gracie, the broadcaster’s China editor, quit over what she said was a “secretive and illegal” pay culture that discriminated against women.
The journalist, who worked for the BBC for more than 30 years, said it faced a “crisis of trust” after “breaking equality law and resisting pressure for a fair and transparent pay structure”.
The BBC told The Independent it had “already conducted an independent judge-led audit of pay for rank-and-file staff which showed ‘no systemic discrimination against women’”.
Additional reporting by PA
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