In all the swirl of tittle-tattle, mystery and intrigue that was generated yesterday by Hunt’s marital infidelity and possible illegal actions as Health Secretary you might be forgiven for having missed the fact that it was Armed Forces Day yesterday. I was proud to represent the Opposition Parties at a service at the Liverpool Parish Church of St Nicholas.
Many people sneer at the very idea that we have armed forces. I have never had that reaction. I am not a pacifist. I believe that the force of evil sometimes needs to be fought with the weapons that they would use on us. We must always do what we can to avoid bloodshed, especially of civilians, but sometimes it just has to happen.
Nor should it only happen in defence of this Country within or around its borders. We lost 300+ military lives in the Afghanistan battles. The fact that we and others were there has enabled the Afghan Government to prepare itself to fight the Taliban. That is a fight that we must continue to endorse. As citizens of the World we should oppose those who believe in the enslavement of women and the use of torture and terror. As citizens of the UK we must know that if the Taliban take control of one Country, they will be able to use it as a base to cause mayhem in other Countries including our own.
Its not just Afghanistan. The UK, at any one time, has teams in more than a dozen countries helping nations like Uganda, Kenya and Nigeria fight Boko Haram and similar groups. I don’t always approve of where they are deployed. We support too many despots in the Middle East to my liking. Mostly, however they are in the right place and it’s not their fault of they are in the wrong place.
Whenever I go to military events, I am always conscious of the fact that everyone there in uniform has signed up, if necessary, to defend the rest of us by giving up their lives. They do this to preserve not only our lives but our way of life.
But this year, above all, we should be cognisant of the other great undertakings of our highly disciplined and trained teams. There exists an agreement called the Military Assistance to Civil Authorities in which the military can step in to assist with human or man-made disasters.
They are trained in logistics. How to get the right equipment to the right part of the battlefield, or port or harbour to enable our forces to fight. For the last 15 months their enemy was our enemy, the Covid-19 virus. Within days they started the delivery of what has turned out to be 60 billion pieces of PPE. Within days they set up Nightingale hospitals. Testing centres and vaccination points.
The fact they the army deployed to Liverpool last Autumn meant that Liverpool was the only part of the North West to move to tier 2 from tier 3.
They have reminded us that we have armed forces. They are usually, ‘out of sight and out of mind’ except when the coffins stopped coming home through Royal Wooton Basset. But they are there now inside our Country, constantly training and deployed round the world to train up the forces of governments’ fighting terrorism and helping poor countries cope with a range of disasters.
I don’t approve of some things that the forces do. My disagreement with them is not a military one but a political one. Too often our military spending has been totally out of control with the forces unable to procure their equipment in a cost effective and timely way. Too often we spend the money available on swagger ideas. Do we really need two aircraft carriers when that expenditure has taken money away from land and air forces which are much more practical in modern times?
But such decisions are not made by squaddies or matelots or their commanders. They are made by politicians who have their own agendas and who love to preen in front of someone saluting them.
I ended the day, as I always do, being thankful that I was never called up for military service. I am ever thankful of the fact that others are prepared to pay the ultimate sacrifice on my behalf. My job is to support them whenever I can, especially when so many of them fall on hard times when they leave active service. Leaving the services is like leaving a family. Many of our homeless and jobless are people who we have failed to support on their re-entry to civilian life.
I am proud of the fact that our forces are highly professional and disciplined. I will always give them whatever support as a can both as an elected representative and as a citizen. I hope this is a position that you too can share.