A phoney war over "defence" spending

By Symon Hill
March 13, 2010

Not for the first time, the government and the Tories are fighting a phoney war over military spending.

As a sign of the unrealistic nature of this controversy, both sides insist on referring to “defence spending”, as if all military expenditure were about defending and securing Britain. In reality, the unwinnable war in Afghanistan seems to be fuelling terrorism by promoting hostility to Britain. Subsidies for the arms trade and investment in Trident divert money away from tackling real security threats, such as climate change.

David Cameron and Gordon Brown fought a set-piece battle over “defence” spending in the Commons this week, during Prime Minister’s Questions, supposedly a time to hold the government to account. In reality, the limits of their debate were absurdly narrow.

Traditionally, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition are supposed to represent two great alternatives available to the country. But it is worth remembering that the majority of adults in the UK voted neither Labour nor Tory at the last election. Voters for other parties, combined with those who didn’t vote, outnumbered the united Tory-Labour vote.

So perhaps it is no surprise that Brown and Cameron are clearly out of step with public attitudes to war. Polls are consistently showing a majority against the war in Afghanistan and the renewal of the Trident nuclear weapons system.

Cameron keeps talking about equipment for troops. But when people are sent to needless deaths in a futile war, the quality of the equipment should hardly be the major issue.

By far the most depressing aspect of the exchange was watching Cameron try to out-do Brown's commitment to high “defence” spending. Although the Tories cut it in the 1990s, Cameron said that was because “we won the cold war”.

No, David, you didn’t win the cold war. The regimes of eastern and central Europe were overthrown by their own people, mostly with minimal violence. Multibillion pound nuclear arsenals had nothing to do with it. Real politics starts at the grassroots. It is not about politicians who play out their roles despite the minimal differences between them.

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