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Jenkin: A fair deal for the Armed Forces

Speech to Conservative Party Conference 2003

"You remember Iain told the Shadow Cabinet: look to the public services in other countries' for proven and successful policy ideas.

Drug re-habilitation in Sweden;

Policing in New York;

The health service in France.

Well, I have been abroad to see the best too.

I have seen some some excellent military forces in other countries.

- peace keeping in Kabul;

- Airlifting military supplies to Kuwait;

- rebuilding in Southern Iraq.

It won't surprise you to know: these armed forces were all British -

And they were already the best.

Our armed forces are resourceful, adaptable to almost any challenge.

They are utterly dependable.

How unlike this New Labour government.

The Hutton inquiry is laying bare the true character of New Labour.

Mr Hoon confessed to the Hutton inquiry that he had no idea what was going on in his own department.

Not so much his finger on the button, as found sleeping at the switch. He has lost all credibility.

So why does the Prime Minister now praise Mr Hoon?

For just one reason.

To save his own skin.

So how can New Labour possibly command the confidence and respect of the armed servicemen and women in their care?

The philosophy of the armed forces is to serve and lead - taking control and accepting responsibility for those they command.

Of real service and real leadership, New Labour knows nothing.

Even where the defence of the realm is at stake, nobody can believe a word this Prime Minister says.

That's why we still need a wider inquiry.

But, the continued and undoubted breach of UN resolutions - the defiance of the international community - was enough to justify military action against Saddam Hussein.

Even the Liberal Democrats agreed that.

So why didn't the Prime Minister stick to the simple truth?

Because he could not convince his own Party, his own MPs, and now, we know, not even his own cabinet.

He squandered the integrity of his office to appease factions in his divided party.

Let us not lose sight of the truth.

The liberation of Iraq was a just cause and remains so.

The Conservative Party made the right decision.

Those who fought, those who still risk their lives, and those who have made the ultimate personal sacrifice: we salute them.

There is nothing this prime minister or his shabby government can do to devalue that service and sacrifice.

Here in Blackpool, there will be no crocodile tears, or phoney emotion, about how tough it is for us to take these decisions and to face the consequences.

No parading of private letters for political gain.

We politicians rarely face real dangers.

We don't have to endure the desert heat or bear real scars on our backs.

It's our armed forces who have the real job.

Many of my colleagues in Parliament have served in the armed forces.

Not least, our leader, Iain Duncan Smith.

He is proving that he knows how to serve, and how to lead.

He's doing exactly what you elected him to do.

He is putting together clear policies to offer the British people at the next election, based on honest Conservative principles.

I shouldn't have to say this.

But it's about time he got the backing of every single one of us.

Two of our number are still serving in the forces.

The Member of Parliament for Westbury is Surgeon Cmdr Andrew Murrison, Royal Navy, who has just deployed to Iraq.

The member for New Forest West is Major Desmond Swayne, (and here he is)

VIDEO

While Geoff Hoon is fighting for his job, Desmond is fighting for our country.

Our armed forces should get the backing they deserve.

They should never be taken for granted.

Yet they do feel let down.

By shortages of manpower and equipment;

Cancelled training.

Cancelled leave.

In the infantry, the gap between tours of duty is meant to be 24 months.

The average is now only nine months.

The Royal Scots just back from Northern Ireland, are off to Iraq in December - less than six months.

Never forget how this affects the families.

The Royal Green Jackets, based near here, have just been rushed to Iraq at four day's notice and yesterday, I went to meet their families.

They hope they will be home by Christmas, but after eight weeks training, they are off again, to Northern Ireland.

Overstretch.

Not enough resources or manpower to match all the commitments.

How can this be?

We are told the economy has been growing.

That Britain is so prosperous.

Yet, as they lined up for battle on the Iraqi border, there weren't enough chemical suits or desert kit to go round.

What a shabby way to treat our soldiers!

As a senior general acknowledged, we were 'perilously close' to not being ready for action.

It is shaming that the Prime Minister wants to use the armed forces more than ever, but will not come up with the man power and equipment that they need.

Why is it, under Labour, the tax burden has risen so much, defence commitments are increased, and yet defence spending is lower in real terms than in our last year of office?

Because Labour just think they will get away with it.

But it is only the sheer commitment and quality of the people of the armed forces that enables them to get away with it.

Labour promised to increase the size of the army.

Instead, we have the smallest army since Wellington.

Labour have the wrong priorities.

They have cut trained personnel in the armed forces by 12,000, but they have increased the number of tax collectors in the Inland Revenue by 16,000.

Well, I suppose they've got all those 60 extra taxes to collect.

But that says all you need to know about New Labour's real priorities!

Yet it doesn't end here.

Another defence review is coming.

They want to cut Army manpower again.

To sell off more Royal Navy Ships and submarines.

To cut the size of the long promised new aircraft carriers.

To cut the orders for new Destroyers.

To cut the orders for new aircraft.

And by the time we next meet, the Sea Harrier, our most capable air-to-air fighter, will be gone forever - probably sold off to another country.

They are even cutting future service pensions!

The armed forces deserve a fair deal.

Enough boots on the ground to meet our peace keeping commitments.

Enough warships, fully crewed, to meet our international obligations.

Modern aircraft, to meet the threats of today and in the future.

Homes fit for our heroes and their families.

A quality of life that meets the aspirations of all those who serve Queen and Country.

Our Conservative policy is based on a real assessment of threats and potential threats we face, not wishful thinking or false optimism.

We all want peace in Northern Ireland, but Labour shouldn't use it as an excuse for cutting the infantry.

Every lesson of history teaches, especially in such a dangerous and unpredictable world, that we must be prepared for the unexpected.

We will maintain Britain's independent nuclear deterrent, and we will set out how it will be sustained beyond the present Trident system.

Labour should be starting this process now.

No sign of it.

A rogue state with missiles, such as North Korea, might threaten us or our allies at any time.

That's why we also support global missile defence.

Why are Labour dragging their feet on this?

We will rebuild the Territorial Army and the reserves, so they can provide a credible home defence force and reinforcement for our regular forces.

Iain has appointed a Shadow Minister for Homeland Security.

In government, he will ensure we can better prevent terrorist attacks and set up proper civil protection.

We fully support the 'expeditionary principle' - the ability to send large forces wherever in the world we need them and to sustain them.

We will fully fund the defence capabilities that are essential to safeguard national security and to fulfil our international obligations.

That is the only way to ensure a fair deal for the armed forces - and for your security.

The British armed forces are Britain's prize asset - Mr Blair's aces - in international politics.

But he is recklessly throwing them away to appease European Federalism.

He is bargaining them for favours in a European Constitution that nobody in Britain wants.

When he's with President Bush, he supports Nato.

But when he's with Schroder and Chirac, he betrays Nato.

European nations should certainly share more of the burden for European defence and for global security.

But this EU Constitution is a direct challenge to the primacy of Nato and, ultimately, to the sovereign independence of our own national defence and foreign policy.

We don't need a Euro-army.

Nato already provides for European Defence.

Every concession Labour makes to the EU defence agenda strengthens those who want splits between the US and Europe.

The Euro-army is not about more or better defence, but more structures, more headquarters, more offices, more committees.

(Do we really want our defence run like EU fishing or agriculture?)

It is just a platform for the vanity of Old Europe.

It's Nato that won the cold war, not the EU.

It's Nato, not the EU, that brought peace to the Balkans.

It's Nato now peacekeeping in Kabul and supporting European troops in Iraq.

Nato guarantees national sovereignty.

The EU Constitution would destroy it.

That's why the people need a say.

We demand that referendum!

Mr Chairman, fellow Conservatives, we ask the men and women of the armed forces to risk their lives, to protect our country, to safeguard our future.

Let this Party pay tribute to them.

They are a benchmark of excellence.

The pride of our nation: the envy of others.

Right now, at this moment, they serve.

And they know, sooner or later, there are sacrifices.

Surely they deserve a fair deal.

And under the Conservatives, I promise you this.

They will get that fair deal."

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