In the wake of the Conference and the distraction of the Bloom/Crick encounter the party front line has lost a spokesman on a very important policy. I speak of course about Defence.
In my view our broad defence approach in the past has been laudable. It has been all about cutting back the profligate Ministry of Defence and scrapping wasteful procurement practices and projects, including Trident.
There is also another challenge we face as policymakers and that is the increasing disconnect between the military and the public it is charged with defending. The falling size of the military means that a smaller percentage of the public have seen active service, and fewer people are properly informed about what the military is and what it does. Our policy must find a way to make the justification of military operations clearer to press and public so that they can understand what is achievable and what is not.
I live in the coastal Cumbrian town of Barrow-In-Furness where the nation’s nuclear fleet is built and maintained by the region’s largest employer, BAE Systems Marine. To campaign in this town, where the abandonment of a Trident replacement would spell economic catastrophe, would be pointless and so I declare a vested interest in the matter right now.
We must retain the current Continuous At Sea Deterrent (CASD). The Stormshadow alternative put forward in the original policy is not a credible solution. To be a sovereign, global trading nation the UK will require it in order to avoid potential blackmail from current or future rival states who also have nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them effectively.
Perhaps we could include a commitment to forgo nuclear deterrence should the global situation warrant it but in my view that would be many years away since most surveys of the public point to an overwhelming desire to retain it.
There needs to be a remedy for the mis-management of the nations defence by the previous two governments. We need to ensure our ability to trade effectively by having sufficient surface and sub-sea vessels to protect shipping; we must be capable of projecting power globally so that we can meet our commitments to nationals abroad and treaty obligations.
All of this should be done within the existing budget but we must certainly strip away the waste with a root and branch re-organisation of the Ministry of Defence. Replacing it with a defence procurement agency may not be credible. The transition from one to the other would probably cost too much and so a costed (again) plan must be in place.
I feel confident that all of these matters will be addressed under our new policy chief and the defence policy committee and we must be patient in waiting for the announcement of the detailed plans closer to GE 2015.
Noel Matthews is UKIP’s Cumbria County Chairman, an A-listed UKIP Candidate and 2013 UKIP NEC Candidate. He Tweets at @uknoel