12 March 2010

Brown and the generals: An “unseemly” business

On Question Time:

Was Gordon Brown’s visit to Afghanistan an attempt to distract attention away from his insufficient funding of troops?

Kelvin MacKenzie, former editor of the Sun and one of the panellists, responded in his usual outspoken way:

Brown is a compulsive liar, he has no truth in his soul.

Vernon Bogdanor, Professor of Government at the University of Oxford, has this to say on the war of words over the funding of the armed forces:

If the defence budget was indeed “unbalanced” and the priorities were wrong, the heads of the Armed Services cannot escape their share of the blame.

The heads of the Armed Forces are required to serve governments of different political colours. They are, therefore, constitutionally, in a similar position to civil servants. They are not entitled to express views on policy matters that differ from those of the government of the day; and indeed when Conservative governments in the 1990s decided to close military hospitals and to sell off service housing, the chiefs of staff, rightly, made no public protest.

It is unseemly to use the deaths of soldiers in Afghanistan as the basis for a personal attack upon the Prime Minister.

It is a proven fact that when Britain colluded with France and Israel at the time of Suez, Eden didn't tell the truth.  Neither did his Foreign Secretary, Selwyn Lloyd, who did lie to the Commons and went on to become Speaker.

In Brown case, there is no proof that he has lied.  Mackenzie's accusation could well rebound, with unforeseen consequences, on him and anyone else who associates with the remarks that he has made.

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  1. "In Brown case, there is no proof that he has lied"

    Channel 4 think he has. This from Cathy Newman

    The FactCheck team has also been hard at work again nailing Gordon Brown's lies on defence spending http://tinyurl.com/yaomrla

  2. I have read that, which does not prove that he lied. My point, maybe not well made, is that to accuse someone of lying is a very serious allegation, especially if it's made against a Prime Minister.

    As you know, I am no fan of Brown, but technically speaking he hasn't lied.

    MacKenzie should have chosen his words more carefully.

  3. Does Brown lie?

    Do Bears shit in the woods?

    Brown's lies are compounded with the sin of omission. His sin of mission is that he never gives the actual truth. He corrupts words and phrases and deliberately hides his lie within.

    It is called obfuscation and he is a a Past Master of it.

    Everything he says, especially his beloved statistics are warped to prove the point he is making and ask the real truth. He loves statistics because it give hi that lying edge.

  4. Thanks for the reply, but I am confused.

    "technically speaking he hasn't lied."

    Channel 4 says that technically speaking he did lie

    "Gordon Brown also stated today in the Commons that the “expenditure of the Ministry of Defence has been rising in real terms under this government”. Taking him absolutely literally, “this government” was elected in 2005. But here he is also wrong. As we’ve seen just now, spending fell in real terms in 2007."


  5. mask the real truth


    now you know why a Panda is called Bugger. It is difficult to type with big clawed paws!

  6. Bugger - "Masking the truth" or being 'economical with it' is better. I have no problems with that, which Brown has been guilty of many times.

    Scott - Happy now?

  7. Happy now?

    Not really. Masking or being economical with the truth suggests NOT saying something you know to be true. A lie is saying something you know NOT to be true.

    If spending did not rise, and Gordon Brown says it did, that's a lie as far as I can see.

    Thanks again.

  8. Scott - Consider the Falklands War

    As a consequence of her actions (withdrawing HMS Endurance), she sent a message to Argentina that UK has lost interest in the islands and therefore they invaded.

    So the war was technically her fault, but would she have lying if she said that it wasn't?

  9. There is a difference between verifiable fact, and likely consequences.

    If she said "we did not withdraw HMS Endurance", that would be a lie.

    In Gordon Brown's case, if he said there was more money, and it is verifiable that there was not more money, that is a lie.

    For him to say "we did not refuse any request" is not verifiable, and therefore probably not a lie, but perhaps a masking of the truth.

  10. As usual, the best lies have a kernel of truth.

    Brown didn't lie about UORs....authorised UORs (and they needed authorisation!) were funded....perhaps delivered late, because of the secrecy surrounding pre-war planning, but they were funded. However, the cost of UORs and the spend on the Treasury reserve will be clawed back from the MoD main budget.

    Brown is lying about the general funding of defence. Budgets and financial forecasts account for inflation and the value of prices etc. Channel 4 comprehensively demolished Brown's claim to have increased spending year on year in 'real terms' - this is a con, like increasing the minimum payment on a credit card but ignoring increased interest rates. Even if this claim was taken at face value, it does not excuse the fact that spending has not kept pace with committments. Defence is funded on a 5 year block basis, to cover all committments (other than the Treasury contingency and UORs which are clawed back eventually anyway). This is called the Defence Vote, and annual scrutiny of defence by Parliament has been reduced to 5 years. I've seen cutbacks in capability, regiments scrapped, squadrons disbanded, ship orders slashed back etc. At least the Tories had an excuse for most of their cutbacks....the end of the Cold War and the draw-down from BAOR. But, when you endlessly sharpen a pencil, eventually it snaps.

    Even worse is the fact that Afghanistan expenditure will be drawn from the main MoD budget. This is a disaster and tears up the last shreds of what remains of the 1998 SDR.

    Many of the problems now (Snatch, lack of helos) were flagged up in 2005/2006 or earlier, and it is utterly inexcusable that action has been only taken recently after deaths and public pressure. Some of these losses of life are directly attributable to funding shortages - the Nimrod explosion, the C-130 crash - which cost 24 lives total. Despite known failings in safety and airworthiness, the crews continued to fly...this self-sacrifice has been cynically and disgracefully exploited by the government. The only silver lining to this cloud is that Mr Justice Collins has ruled that troops have some protection under HRA and that further gross failings will probably see someone in court rather than just at an inquest.

    The Defence chiefs are partly complicit to varying degrees (Dannatt at one end of the scale, Stirrup at the other), but it is striking when even loyalists like Walker are speaking out. They are in a difficult situaion - they could resign (and this is often threatened), but there would be minimal impact at the time and someone else would take their place....a joint resignation would be very damaging but this is unlikely in wartime because of the impact on morale. The standard approach has been to fight the other Services for a bigger slice of the cake (divide and conquer by the Treasury) but it appears that the generals may be wiser, or they have realised that the cake itself is far too small.

    Brown is lying, he is hiding behind technicalities, and anyone who has served in uniform over the last decades knows this from first-hand experience! We know where public sympathies will automatically fall as well.

  11. Jess - Thank for going to all this trouble. I am grateful and respect your views. You should post a blog on the above.

    My point is for MacKenzie to accuse Brown of lying without the facts (he doesn't know what you do) is not sustainable. He has to prove it, which he did not.

    As I have said, masking the truth or being economical with it, is a far better description, and one I would not disagree with.

    However, what Bogdanor said in The Times is important, and I detect that, in the round, you agree with.

  12. It boils down to a simple equation.

    1. Investment may have increased by the particular measure the government is using.

    2. Committments and requirements have increased by a greater amount whatever measure is used.