George Osborne's Agincourt moment

By Jill Segger
March 23, 2015

Last week's budget was significant for its omissions. No mention was made of NHS funding nor of where £12 billion cuts in social provision will fall. Then there were the plain untruths.

“The debt is being paid down”, said the Chancellor, contradicting his public intention that it should rise over the next three years. Perhaps he hoped that we wouldn't notice this discrepancy or his claim that the trade deficit figures were the best in 15 years. They are actually the worst since records began in 1955.

But keeping in mind Ekklesia's General Election 2015 focus 'Vote for what you believe in' (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/21487), I want to focus on the ninth of our ten core values : 'Investing in nonviolent alternatives to war and force as the basis for security'.

If this is to have any hope of success, it is important to challenge George Osborne's Agincourt moment and what lies behind it.

More than £450 million has already been set aside specifically for military-related charities. The budget allocated another £75 million to support what the Chancellor want us to see as “the very best of British values”. This includes £1 million to commemorate the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt, £2 million for the 70th anniversary of VE Day, £5 million for further WWI commemorations, £10 million for charities supporting Afghan veterans and £25 million for the Armed Forces Covenant Fund.

This is money which has been hypothecated from fines levied on the banks for malpractice since the financial crisis of 2008. That such fines are entirely justifiable is a view unlikely to meet with much resistance. To be uncritical of the uses which might be made of these levies in a time of crushing deprivation among so many who did nothing to cause the crisis, is another thing entirely.

Making an appeal to past military 'glories' and the sentiment attached to them seems oddly attractive to our national character – witness the bizarre sight of horsemen caparisoned as 15th century knights who accompanied the bones of Richard Planagenet through the streets of Leicester this week. It has been a clear policy of the government to exploit this tendency over the past five years.

The promotion of Armed Forces Day – an event for which David Cameron urged “an explosion of red white and blue” – and of the centenary year of World War 1 about which he expressed a desire that it should be “like the diamond jubilee celebrations”, carry a note of unreflective jingoism which makes considered criticism and discussion increasingly difficult.

War is failure. A failure not just of politics and diplomacy, but of the vision and courage to seek for and develop other means of resolving conflict. It shatters bodies and minds, devastates environments and perpetuates hatreds. When government sends men and women to participate in such horror, it should take full responsibility for the ruin it inflicts upon them. It is shameful that it requires the rattling of 'help for heroes' buckets in our streets and squares. It is a matter of deep concern that militarisation of our society is increasing the conflation of support for military personnel with support for armed conflict. It is horrifying that 'Never again' has morphed into 'Support our troops'.

If a budget can permit the hypothecation of money for these ends, it might consider a future hypothecation of the income taxes of those of us who have a conscientious objection to paying for killing. £75 million – let alone the previous £450 million – could go a very long way in peace education, training for conflict prevention and resolution and in giving the potential of the concept of 'unarmed forces' a significant part in our thinking. Such investment could offer us a real claim to be “walking tall.”

* More on the issues in the 2015 General Election from Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/generalelection2015

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© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, Reform and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: http://www.journalistdirectory.com/journalist/TQig/Jill-Segger You can follow Jill on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/quakerpen

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.