Saturday, March 22, 2008

Reinventing the State Chapter 21: A Rational Defence Policy

Well it has been a while, but my copy of Reinventing the State has turned up again, so here I am.

Tim Garden offers a useful primer on the issues behind defence expenditure, and I can do little but endorse some of the key points.

Defence is a world of escalating costs and overstretched forces. Procurement necessarily has very long lead times that equipment coming into service was commissioned when demands were very different. Recruitment and training decisions have similarly long term effects.

The Eurofighter was concieved during the cold war, and while a very capable aircraft it doesn't not have enough of a role to justify its cost; although as far as I can see it is much too late to cancel to see any worthwhile savings.

Inevitably new equipment is more capable and expensive than its predecessors. And wages also have to rise faster than inflation, leading to cutbacks even when funding is maintained in real terms. (Much the same, it has to be said, can be observed in healthcare, and perhaps much of local government.)

While the military can surge its effort to meet an emergency, it cannot sustain surge levels year after year - attempts to do so affect retention and equipment, causing a deterioration in quality and capacity over time.

Faced with this, Tim charactersises three options for our contribution to international tasks:

a. Punching above our weight
b. Matching national commitments to resources
c. Sharing the burden more equitably internationally

Punching without funding above our weight is the cause of overstretch and a decline in the quality of the armed forces.

Matching our commitments to our spending would mean a big cutback in our commitments. While we would like to get out of Iraq, the situation in Afghanistan is more finely balanced. And there are operations we do wish to support such as UN-sponsored humanitarian operations.

Better multinational co-operation is clearly the way forward. Tim contrasts well the 4 principle multinational agencies: the UN, NATO, the EU, and the ad hoc US-led coalition. The UK "has a special position with respect to all four multinational actors. This compounds the problem of over-tasking as we try to show continuing commitment to each." And each merits different handling.

We should look to the EU and NATO to find economies of scale and pooled capabilities where appropriate. It should raise eyebrows that arms suppliers are national champions rather than competing on merit for custom, even within the EU.

What we can't afford to do, in either sense of the word, is stand alone in the world.

In defence, perhaps more than any other policy area, we need to reinvent the role of the state by accepting that the sovereignty of the state can be most effectively exercised through international collaboration.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Extra Joe Elsewhere

I have a post up on Lib Dem Voice arguing that guarantees of choice and respect within schools for believers and non-believers alike is a good way to address the problems of faith schools, while recognising that many are good schools that people want to use. Feedback much appreciated.

So, yes, I went to the Lib Dem conference in Liverpool. Met some marvellous people and elephants. If I had known I was in shot here I might have closed my mouth (5th photo), but then I notice Nick Clegg seemed to have his mouth open for all the photos in the conference agenda, so maybe that is the done thing.

Continuing the theme of comparing myself to the party leader, the local paper seems to think it fitting here - the second thumbnail has the correct caption.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Facebook and real panto

What does facebook have in common with pantomime? I suppose it is that when you get something wrong, it is in front of 200 people.

It has been a real pleasure to play the character of Simple Simon in this year's Hallam Players panto Jack and the Beanstalk, alongside Nick Clegg and Richard Allan and many other talented locals.

So I discover the hard way, during the final show of the run, that, having met one's co-star on stage that forgetting a line can sometimes give the next line added comic poignancy. "I'm awfully glad we bumped into each other" I said to her. Then a pause... under my breath... "I'll remember why in a minute". The prompt came to the rescue: "My name's Simon". Ah, yes, I am introducing myself. "My name's Simon. People think I'm simple. But I'm not really." I'm afraid to admit that after having forgotten my own name, it was difficult to deliver the rest of the line with conviction, or a straight face.

Ah well, worse things happen at sea. So I was talking to another member of the cast at the after show party about Mitch Benn, and how he admired Tom Lehrer. "Tom Lehrer?" "I'll send you a link to something on YouTube."

Of course sending links by email is so 90s. No I'll post it on your facebook funwall. Well that was the plan. Actually I posted it on the facebook funwall of all my friends.... [Update: actually maybe I didn't. Notifications, right, that's just spamming some feed that tells other people that I have sent someone, not them, a video. What will they think of next.]

I will get back to Reinventing the State at some point.