Why is it always the Tories who get into a terrible mess over defence spending? Back in 1981 the splendid Keith Speed was sacked as Navy Minister because of his stalwart opposition to some swingeing cuts imposed by the Treasury and and accepted by the Defence Secretary, John Nott. Thatcher sacked Speed because he refused to resign. There was a popular saying in the Navy at that time ‘less Knotts and more Speed.’ In those days there was a minister for each branch of the services. Thatcher was of the view that they all went native and were merely mouthpieces for their service. She therefore abolished them and replaced them with just one Minister of State for the armed forces. But Speed was proved to be right. Within a few weeks the Falklands war kicked off and the cuts were put off for another day. For those of you who believe all the guff about Thatcher the slasher may I remind you that the only two departments she cut in real terms were Defence and Transport.
Hopefully, we won’t have a ground war none too soon as we wouldn’t have the resources to fight one let alone win it. And the cuts that that have been bubbling along for months look as if they are about to be set in stone. But watch the rear guard action of Gavin Williamson. I warned that he would pick a fight with Hammond the day after he was appointed. And I predicted that he will win. And he will.
It may not have escaped your attention that it is Defence questions next Monday. Williamson’s debut. Quite a lot of jealous colleagues want him to fail. They seem to think that ministerial promotion should be based on Buggin’s turn and a pathological hatred of the EU. The news today that Williamson was ‘shocked’ at the size of the cuts his department faces, sets up the Sunday newspapers for a good old Tory rebellion. I wonder who leaked that little gem? Couple this with that other little leak that Tobias Ellwood, who is universally regarded as a hero, as well as a good egg, might resign over the cuts, sets the scene for the perfect storm. Firstly, it embarrasses Labour, who are no friends of the military and it gives the right an opportunity to be patriotic and give Hammond a damn good kicking. Plus…..oh, I can also here the carpet biters creaming in their wyfronts over this, Brussels has resurrected the barmy notion of a European defence force. I can see the red mist rising, and the languid drawl of Moggy, despairing, ‘ and how are these foreigners going to put the fear of God into Mr Putin? Breathe on the Russian hordes?’
So back to Monday. Question two on the order paper is from a chap called Bambos Charalambous, not the favourite of headline writers.‘What recent discussions has he had with the chancellor on the adequacy of funding for his department?’ A plant if ever there was except that he is Labour. Just good fortune.The beauty of it all is that by the time that question is put Hammond is going to have to dig himself out of the shit. Or maybe this this is all a delightful piece of sleight of hand to make Williamson look good. Whatever it is, this a slick and professional operation. What was the name of that block buster movie? The Amazing Spiderman. The headline writers will have some fun. And I predict that Tory backbenchers will have a new superhero on Monday