Following a period of chaos and a meltdown at 10 Downing Street, during which Lee Cain and Dominic Cummings jumped ship and Boris Johnson had to go into self-isolation for a second time, the government decided last month to announce a major increase in defence spending.
The estimated £16bn increase in defence spending over four years is set to be spent on a ‘Hackers HQ’, a new Space Command, as well as maintaining or upgrading existing military gear. This will be the largest real-terms increase in the defence budget since Thatcher was PM, while also keeping the UK as Europe’s biggest spender on defence.
More than anything, however, it seems like a rushed announcement intended to distract from the government’s failing strategy on coronavirus and the febrile situation in Number 10.
The timing and nature of this decision say a lot about the government’s priorities. If it truly cared about the defence of the United Kingdom it would not be spending more money on our armed forces and nuclear weapons, which are likely to make the world more dangerous as opposed to safer.
If it genuinely cared, the government would not have voted against extending free school meals. If it cared about the safety and well-being of its people, it would not have failed to extend the £20-a-week uplift to universal credit payments or have cut billions from international aid, which is likely to increase the likelihood of international instability. So much for a caring, global Britain, eh?
Now, the Prime Minister has said that the increase in defence spending will create “10,000 jobs every year” and will not only benefit those in the armed forces, but also those in civilian life who will enjoy the benefits of this “levelling-up”.
Yet, just by extending the £20-a-week uplift to universal credit payments beyond April, costing an estimated £9bn, the government could have put billions of pounds right back into people’s pockets and the economy where it is most needed, supporting struggling parents and small businesses affected by the pandemic.
Instead, it was decided that the money would be better spent in the military-industrial complex of cronyism and corruption.
Last month we celebrated remembrance Sunday, when we took a moment to thank and remember the people who had risked, and in many cases given all, to defend our freedoms and rights from tyrants who didn’t care for the welfare and prosperity of their people.
As someone who’s own relatives was involved in some of these campaigns, I think the greatest respect we can pay them is to work toward and create a country and world free of the very injustices that led those conflicts. To create a society where we don’t go after the weakest and the marginalised to further ourselves, but where we work together for mutual prosperity.
It has been shown that “education in many forms, institutional and informal, contributes to… peace through formal systems at all levels” and the same goes for welfare and equality, all stalwarts and requirements of a peaceful, civilised society.
If, and when, Boris Johnson and the Conservative Party decide to take genuine action to defend the UK and its people, I suggest they start by ending the ‘systematic and tragic poverty’ faced by so many.
I suggest they start with the basics and that means providing free school meals, and ensure that no one, including large numbers of veterans, are homeless. It means not scapegoating migrants and it means providing a world-class education to everyone, regardless of background.
So the next time the Conservatives veto something like increasing public sector pay or maintaining the NHS and schools at an acceptable level and they say “we can’t afford it” remember this. We have the resources and ability to create a fairer society – it’s just a question of political choices.