More Reservist Call-Outs

In what I will now call ‘We need to call out the Reserves for this?’ series of posts, I notice Mr Mark Francois, the Minister of State at the Ministry of Defence, has issued another Call-Out Order for the Reserves.

This time it’s a renewal order, under section 56(1B) of the Reserve Forces Act 1996, to extend authority to send Reservists to the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP).

We are told that over 100 Reservists have been called out for Cyprus duty in the last 12 months, and that we are to do the same for the next 12 months, this order ending in December 2015.

I’m all in favour of Reservists serving with Regular forces, both on exercises and on operations. Many Reservists want to serve, have flexible jobs that enable them to take six months or so off from their day jobs, and many could do with the money. Many of them are also highly competent.

But although these call-outs will only involve volunteers who are ‘willing’ and ‘have the support of their employer’, it is still bizarre that we do not have the Regulars to meet this ongoing commitment. That is the serviceman’s job, it is why he (and she, of course) has made it his full-time job.

This is the thing about the Reserves 2020 plan. On the one hand it does something worthwhile: attempting to make the Reserves more ‘capable, usable, integrated and relevant’. Who could argue against this? But these are virtuous words that are deliberately hard to dispute. Who in their right minds (apart from Islamists and our own domestic Britain-haters; though one might question the soundness of their state of mind) would deliberately set out to lessen the capability of the Reserves?

On the other hand, the plan does something less worthwhile: actually making the Regulars less capable and usable. A reduction in the Army alone of 20,000 soldiers, comprising 20% of its existing strength is staggering when the figures are considered in any detail. The simple maths does not add up. We are recruiting approximately an extra 12,000 Reserves to replace the 20,000 lost Regulars. It doesn’t make sense.

It doesn’t make sense, that is, unless we see it for what it really is. Britain is skint and we simply cannot afford to maintain the force levels of former years. This is what the government had to come to terms with when it achieved office in 2010, and reducing the Regulars is one of the ways they are attempting to balance the books (though not doing a great job; Britain still managing an annual deficit of about £100 billion). They could prioritise spending differently, but they choose not to. That is where we are.

And so we will have to push on with trying to integrate the Reserves with the Regulars and using them a lot more than before. In one sense this is a good thing. The Reserves have a lot of capability. But in another sense it’s a bad thing: a recognition that Britain is on the wane. Sad that. But true. And it is still not clear we will be able to recruit the proposed numbers of Reserves.

Sir David Attenborough in town

In Oxford right now a subdued conga line has wrapped itself around Waterstone’s bookshop on the corner of Broad Street and Cornmarket Street. It’s quite long. It’s got itself at least halfway up Ship Street and seems to be growing. Six feet deep in parts. Thankfully those taking part are not jumping up and down and kicking their feet from side to side and inappropriately touching the hips of the stranger standing in front of them. They have a certain dignity. Several hundred of them, I’d say, though I can’t be sure. But it’s not one of those pseudo ‘protest’ groups, certainly. Which is probably just as well because they are seemingly waiting for Sir David Attenborough who is promoting his memoirs, Life on Air, and is due to arrive at 4.30pm.

Oh, look! Russell Brand is in interesting conversation with Owen Jones

I see from an email that the ‘Guardian’s renowned journalist and commentator Owen Jones’ is going to be talking to Russell Brand, the narcissist, about justice and revolution. They will be exploring progressive revolutionary ideas. As if progressive revolutionary ideas never came out bad. Tickets will cost £15. Up the revolution.

I suppose Russell Brand is renowned like Owen Jones is renowned, in the way Dan Brown’s characters are renowned, and make-believe. Brand is also an ‘incendiary writer and comedian.’

That’s two big names upon which justice and fairness are now presumably dependent – Brand and Jones. But more big names will be dropped into conversation, like the renowned Orwell (he’s a famous thinker, on politics) and the renowned Piketty, whose work inspires Brand.

Personally I find it offensive that this ragtag bunch of callow, pseudo-intellectual, self-regarding, dangerous ‘revolutionaries’ – who, incidentally, are wrong at the most basic of levels – seek to co-opt the likes of Orwell to their pompous, destructive cause. But they have their jobs to do, I suppose – Owen promoting his book, Brand promoting his book as well as his indomitable ego and the Guardian taking the opportunity to promote their equally indomitable sense of moral self-worth.

Why call out Reservists for this?

The Minister of State for the Armed Forces, Mark Francois, it seems, has just issued a call-out notice authorising the mobilisation of Reservists for operations in Northern Iraq. Mostly this will be RAF personnel, only if willing and supported by their employers, and only a few of them.

This is, we are told, ‘fully in line with our policy of having more capable, usable, integrated and relevant Reserve Forces’.

Quite. That is the policy. But we should be clear that even if the principle is decent enough – why have Reserve Forces we cannot use? – it says quite a lot about the present state of the Armed Forces, in this instance specifically the RAF.

The current mission in Iraq is minute. It is so small that on its own it would not so much as blow down a pack of cards. The last Ministry of Defence notice of action reported two Tornado GR4s attacking an ISIL target. That’s two aircraft.

And we need to call out the Reserves for this?

We may have been forced to pare the Armed Forces to the bone by the unfathomable budget deficit, but it is deeply worrying if we cannot mount this meagre operation without calling out Reserves. What happens when we need to deploy a proper military force?

This talk of a £2 million mansion tax is arbitrary nonsense

There’s a poll doing the rounds asking how people feel about a tax on properties worth more than £2 million. Not surprisingly, as most people do not own a property worth over £2 million, and are never likely to, the majority of respondents supported the idea in one way or another.

This is where absolute democracy leads – to the abuse of minorities by majorities. It’s why we have traditionally regarded ourselves as a liberal democracy, which is a form of democracy that recognises the danger of majorities behaving like mobs. Liberal democracy asks for restraint. But then we decided to become a social democracy instead, which is a form of democracy that doesn’t really understand the meaning of the world restraint, especially when it comes to taxing people and spending their money.

Anyway!

42% ‘strongly’ support the idea. This figure is depressingly large and suggests our democracy is becoming rather envious and vindictive. But when added to the 30% who ‘tend’ to support the idea, we are left with 72% of the poll sample supporting the arbitrary idea of lumping an envy tax on those lucky enough to own a property worth over £2 million.

Well, why not? These people are obviously rich, so squeeze the Tory scum. They’re going to be Tory as well, aren’t they, being rich? Tax them all – that’ll sort out the £100 billion deficit.

In theory and in practice the rich should pay more in tax. Adam Smith laid down that principle a long time ago, and I have never heard anyone, even the most devout of libertarians, suggest they should not. But this is not what we are talking about here. This proposed tax is often called a Mansion Tax, which tells you all you need to know – it’s an arbitrary, vindictive, nasty tax. We know this because it uses the word mansion pejoratively, to get the hackles rising on the necks of those who rather like living in a capricious country.

Devolution causes as many problems as it solves

The more one thinks about it, the more one realises that devolution in its present form causes as many problems for the Union as it solves. The Union, after all, is just a nation state known as Britain, in which citizens as far afield as Penzance and the Hebrides have equal political rights to one another – further, and flowing from these political rights, we citizens also have equal access to cultural and economic benefits offered by the unity of Britain.

If we are to continue to recognise Scotland as a political entity, not just a cultural entity, then we have to recognise England as a political entity too. So far so good. But if the Union is going to comprise four political entities, one of which dwarfs the lot, the Union will be grossly imbalanced. Resentments and jealousies are as likely to grow as they are to diminish – probably more likely. This may serve nationalist interests, but it does not serve the interests, in any way, of Unionists.

The problem – or one of them, at least – is in thinking the United Kingdom is in fact a federal Kingdom. It is not, and never has been. A dominant England will end up dominating these islands. One of the great benefits of having a single parliament is that it extends equal political rights across the whole of the Union. We are in the process of building a Union of unequal rights. This is dangerous. The genius of Britain as a political entity is that England no longer exists as a political entity. As far as politics is concerned, no one is English and no one is Scottish – until now, that is, and more’s the pity.

It is worth reflecting on how this happened. The Scottish parliament was not created because devolution to the former nations of the Union is recognised as the best way to govern it; it was created because the Scottish nationalists realised the very existence of the parliament would drive a wedge between Scotland and England. And this is precisely what it has done. I hope this referendum vote is the last of Scottish separation; but I doubt it. Perhaps we need to start asking ourselves if we were right to devolve powers to separate parliaments and assemblies at all. I wonder if now is the time, despite almost everything saying it is not, to reinvigorate Unionism and moot the idea of a single parliament again?