Dear Chief Secretary to the Treasury,
I'm afraid to tell you there's no money left.
Signed, Liam Byrne

(Outgoing Labour Chief Secretary to the Treasury. May 2010)

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Mr Ainsworth says criticizing the MoD is unpatriotic.

Mrs Rigby notes that recently promoted to Secretary of State for Defence Mr Bob Ainsworth says that "criticism of the MoD is unpatriotic", and claims the public's "defeatist" attitude is letting troops down.

Mrs Rigby thinks that, as a politician, he should know better than to use the "patriotism" card against those he is supposed to represent.

Mrs R reckons she is as patriotic as they come. She is intensely proud of being British and staunchly defends Great Britain against all comers. She'd probably fight too, if necessary, but isn't suitable material for the military. But none of this means she thinks that everything about Great Britain, and the way it's being run, is perfect.

Here's an analogy.

The Rigby children know we love them dearly and are incredibly proud them - because they aren't drug-taking, hoodie-wearing thugs; because they are polite; because they study hard and have time to play; because they are reliable and, well, because they are nice and have nice friends too. Sometimes we pat ourselves on the back too, because we reckon we're doing a fairly good job of parenting.

The junior Rigbys know there are times when their behaviour is criticized. As they grow older they realise that this is because we love them so much, rather than the opposite, although it's sometimes tough love and causes arguments - that we all learn from.

They are coming to understand that all this is part of the learning process, part of our attempts to guide them in the right direction, so that as adults they will make a useful contribution to their country - and so that they will also be able to accept praise with dignity and learn from constructive criticism.

They are learning that praise means what it says, that they've done good, it isn't an empty gesture intended to placate.

They are also learning that nobody ever truly stops learning from others, that they too have a role in shaping the attitudes and opinions of us, their parents, and our own outlook on the world.

Some of our childrens' friends are planning to join the Army, others are planning to join the Navy, Air Force or Territorial Army. These are young people we have watched grow up alongside our own flesh and blood.

When we and these children's parents question the behaviour of government departments and politicians it isn't being unpatriotic, far from it, it's voicing an opinion intended to help make things better and improving the way the country is being managed. It is also done in the hope that somebody, somewhere, will listen to us and make sure they take appropriate action to ensure our young people are kept as safe as possible.

Those who join the military are not the dregs of society. Few, if any, of them would ever presume to be a burden on the state in civilian life and each and every one of them has sworn allegiance to the Crown, indicating a willingness to fight to the death for their country if need be.

The least the country can do in return is ensure that they are properly provided for, and offered the best possible equipment to do their job effectively and efficiently.

In May 2009 a court ruled that military personnel were protected by the Human Rights Act, even in battle.
The ruling means that sending soldiers on patrol or into battle with clearly defective or inadequate equipment could breach their human rights.
We are now in August 2009.

Military chiefs, politicians and members of the public continue to voice their fears that the MoD is failing to supply front-line troops with the right equipment at the right time. Here are some of the things that have gone wrong.

* They have failed to supply enough bulletproof vests - a third are without protection at any one time.

* They have failed to supply enough helicopters - so supply movements are overland rather than airborne.

* They have failed to supply the new vehicles designed to withstand roadside bombs - even though those in use have known deficiencies and have resulted in loss of life. Some vehicles are held in Kuwait, awaiting transportation - but apparently there aren't enough British helicopters to carry them.

* They have failed to supply the right colour uniform - wearing sand-camouflaged gear some of our soldiers are sitting ducks, so they try to dye their own.

Mrs Rigby has read of other supply failures, but is satisfied that these examples are enough for now.

Mrs Rigby is sure that Mr Ainsworth took the time to read the letters from 19 year-old Rifleman Cyrus Thatcher to his family, published after his death in July. She would like to know if Mr Ainsworth read Ian Sadler's article, in which he tells how his son begged him to send a helmet that fitted. Trooper Jack Sadler died, aged 21, in December 2007. Did Mr Ainsworth read how Sally Thorneloe felt after her husband, Colonel Rupert Thorneloe, died in July?

Last week a terribly injured soldier died from wounds, he was the 200th to die as a result of the conflict in Afghanistan. That his death marks this numerical milestone will not ease or reassure his grieving family and friends.

Today we learn that three more soldiers have died whilst on patrol.

Those who have died overseas are repatriated through RAF Lyneham, their flag-draped coffins pass through the small town of Wootton Bassett, where townsfolk silently line the pavements in honour their sacrifice. During the summer many holidaymakers have taken time to do the same. If Mr Ainsworth has taken a break from his three month holiday from Westminster to join them it hasn't been publicised.

Mrs Rigby wonders if either Mr Brown or Mr Ainsworth have taken a moment to think beyond party politics to try to relate to the emotions of bereaved families when they learn that essential equipment, held in Kuwait or in storage here in UK, might have saved their sons or daughters lives or may have saved them from suffering terrible injuries - or have these men become too desensitised because so many have died, and are they too concerned about their own political future?

It is an unequivocal right of the electorate to question our parliamentary representatives, irrespective of their political persuasion, more especially if it appears that they are getting it wrong and failing in their duty to protect the interests, and lives, of those people who have signed on the dotted line - and whose job involves risking far greater injury than RSI of the wrist.

It is, surely, the duty of a responsible politician to listen to both the electorate and experts, and offer significantly more than platitudes or condemnation in return.

Mrs R cannot understand why the government isn't hurrying things along to respect the Human Rights of our troops - as is their right - in the same way as they ensure that people like this are properly provided for, and protected, by the state.

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