Forced to find £20m for free school meals yet billions found for post-Brexit pre-President Biden era ‘Global Britain’ PR campaign in the guise of defence budget increase.
British Prime Minister Johnson announced his government’s intention to increase defence spending by £24.1 billion over the next four years, on top of existing annual defence spending (around £40bn p/a), and hence amounting to £190 billion over the next four years.
That’s nearly £200bn for the next 4 years. For what?
As journalist Aditya Chakrabortty pointed out, this announcement has all the hallmarks of former Chief Advisor to PM Johnson Dominic Cummings’ doing.
Cummings, the now resigned political genius who masterminded the £12bn COVID-19 test and trace programme that doesn’t work properly while the German trace and trace system costs €20 million to develop and €3 million per month to operate, less than 1% of the total costs for the British. The same science genius who ‘planned’ to make Britain the world leader in quantum computing, genomics and AI primarily with fancy slogans only. The same technology genius who envisioned the creation of a $1 trillion tech firm, rivalling silicon-valley giants Google or Facebook after BREXIT, without any consideration of the crucial size of an ‘internal’ market, big enough to sustain the growth and viability of such a tech giant, on top of any supposed ‘world-leading’ expertise on technology and business.
Let’s look at Johnson’s ‘plan’ in more detail.
“The latest advances will multiply the fighting power of every warship, aircraft and infantry unit many times over, and the prizes will go to the swiftest and most agile nations, not necessarily the biggest. We can achieve as much as British ingenuity and expertise allow…
A soldier in hostile territory will be alerted to a distant ambush by sensors on satellites or drones, instantly transmitting a warning, using Artificial Intelligence to devise the optimal response, and offering an array of options, from summoning an air strike to ordering a swarm attack, by drones or paralysing the enemy with cyber weapons.
New advances will surmount the old limits of logistics.
Our warships and combat vehicles will carry “directed energy weapons”, destroying targets with inexhaustible lasers and for them the phrase “out of ammunition” will become redundant.”
Aha, a PlayStation/Xbox soldier and a very very big and powerful laser gun. Was this written by a 15-year-old Dominic in puberty with too much testosterone after watching Star Wars and Avengers too many times? Even in the fantasy world of Star Wars and Avengers, the ones with the best tech and most resources (always the bad guys) do not win in the end. The United States and the United Kingdom both have the best health infrastructure and expertise in the world, on paper, and were accordingly ranked as the most prepared for pandemic in the world as recent as late 2019; both now hold the records for being the worst performers in the extremely competitive league of countries who handled the COVID-19 pandemic badly, the US being the worst in the world and the UK the worst in the Europe. No amount of money can buy you success if you do not have a plan, and no plan will work if you do not follow it.
“We shall invest another £1.5 billion in military research and development, designed to master the new technologies of warfare, and we will establish a new centre dedicated to Artificial Intelligence and a new RAF Space Command, launching British satellites and our first rocket from Scotland in 2022.”
Bingo! A space programme. Is this going to be the same Space Force as U.S. President Donald Trump’s, whose first foreign deployment is to, wait for it, Qatar? Why change ‘air’ to ‘space’ when the word air is perfectly appropriate? This may be a little unfair, maybe there is a real and serious intent to establish a British Space Force. Let’s assume this is the case and see how credible it is. Let’s look at friends and foes in turn. Russia’s space programme has a budget of around $3bn a year, several times what PM Johnson is going to invest in space every year. China spent around $8bn a year on its civilian and military space programme, dozens of times more than Britain. The US NASA and Military Space budget is about $48 billion a year, hundreds of times more than Britain. If $3bn a year is not enough for China and $8bn a year not enough for USA, why is £1.5bn over several years enough for Britain to make its space plan credible? The only way for Britain’s space programme to be credible is for Britain to be part of the EU space programme, which now-removed Dominic and PM Johnson had determined we should take no part of after BREXIT.
“We will need to act speedily to remove or reduce less relevant capabilities – and this will allow our new investment to be focused on the technologies that will revolutionise warfare, forging our military assets into a single network designed to overcome the enemy.”
Are we hearing what we think PM Johnson is saying? That there is plenty in current expenditure plans that is not really relevant to our defence so any cut to them (and invest in other areas) is actually beneficial? Is this just about leaving behind traditional items like long-in-the-tooth tanks for cyber? Dare we mention the F-35s?
We have finally found something we can agree on wholeheartedly with PM Johnson, namely that the principle of diverting spending in less relevant areas to much more relevant uses.
So let’s go back to that figure of nearly £200bn over 4 years.
What else can we do with our £200bn?
“We spend billions of dollars every year on missiles that hopefully will never fly, on weapons that hopefully will never be used. We have to take health security as seriously as we do defence security.”
Kathleen Sebelius, Former US Secretary of Health and Human Services 2009 -2014. Interviewed for Totally Under Control, 2020
In the UK, the death toll of the COVID-19 pandemic is higher than the total civilian casualties during the whole WW2. Attlee would be turning in his grave – the co-founder of the NHS and the welfare state – to see his name used to defend this defence spending increase while a privatised NHS was left to cope with a pandemic that was foreseen and the preparation for which completely underfunded – unless you suddenly discovered new talent for fixing PPE contracts for a fee of £21m with a Miami jewellery designer to supply £250m worth of PPE.
We spent £3bn a year on public health, of these, a mere £87m for infectious disease surveillance and outbreak management, but we spent £39bn on “defence.” Covid has costed UK 10% of GDP in 2020, that‘s a drop of £200bn from 2019’s. Even if we spent £1bn a year on pandemic prevention, that’s still small change compared to the economic cost of a pandemic.
If this government was concerned with defending people’s health, there is no better way than spending £200bn on public health and NHS. £200bn will pay for:
- £10bn a year on public health, including £1bn a year for pandemic prevention, for the next 20 years;
- 360 new hospitals (based on the £545 million cost of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham);
- 75,000 new doctors and 75,000 new nurses for the next 50 years (a newly qualified Band 5 NHS Nurse will earn £24,907; starting wage for a junior doctor is £28,243).
Education has been badly interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. £200bn will pay for:
- 150000 new teachers for the next 50 years (starting salary for new teachers in England is £26,000);
- Free school meals for the next 160 years (annual cost of term-time FSM is £830m and annual cost of holiday FSM is £370m).
How about housing? A severe lack of affordable houses has left a generation of people without the means to ever own a house, forced to pay rents while earning little during the lockdown without financial assistance from the government. £200bn will pay for:
- 760,000 new homes (a typical 4 bedroom detached house of 150 square metres could cost £262,500 to build).
Rather than the misguided ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ which probably accelerated the COVID-19 second wave, there is a better way to support economy:
- Helicopter money of £4000 per adult to counter personal financial hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and to support economy to avoid recession (there are around 50m adults in the UK).
PM Johnson’s £12bn “Green Industrial Revolution” is far from adequate, “not remotely meeting the scale of what is needed.” PwC estimated that £400bn of investment in green infrastructure over next decade is essential for the UK to meet its net-zero target. PM Johnson’s defence spending of £200bn over 4 years could easily fund this:
- £200bn over 4 years if extended over 10 years amounts to £500bn, more than enough (£400bn over 10 years) to fund the essential investment in green infrastructure for the UK to meet its net-zero target.
The Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn proposed a “Green Industrial Revolution” in their 2019 manifesto with a £250bn “Green Transformation Fund” over 10 years.
- Fully funds Labour’s £250bn “Green Transformation Fund.” (PM Johnson’s defence spending of £200bn over 4 years if extended over 5 years amounts to £250bn.)
The question ‘what is defence spending of £200bn over 4 years getting us?’ is more important now than ever.
Aren’t there better uses that this sum could be applied to in the next 4 years in the face of the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis?
According to this new announcement of “technologies that will revolutionise warfare“, the future is drone, AI, cyber, space, robot soldiers and laser guns. It is also floods and drought; water and food shortages; climate refugees; more pandemic; and as a result of all this, more economic instability, inequality and social unrest.
So, incomprehensively, is development aid going to end up diverted to fund the MOD budget extravagance, including new show-off equipment procurement, in the effort to reassert the UK’s ‘place in the world’. As an aside, since the 19th century did the UK ever not assert itself?
And at the same time as we marginalise and profoundly underfund the greatest threat to our collective human security − climate chaos and pandemic − we ramp up investment in ‘the future of warfare technology’, including the next generation pilotless jet. Someone ironically saw fit to name it Tempest.
Back in the real world… did someone say the ‘battlefield of international aid’?
What did he just say?
British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, speaking of the £24bn increase in defence budget announcement, told Sky News: “Part of Britain’s overseas assistance is defence and security.”
Mr Wallace insisted the Government was not “abandoning the battlefield of international aid”, but stated the “decisions on the numbers” will be revealed by the Chancellor next week.
“Do I support more money for defence? Yes, I do, that’s why I put in for a bid. Did I get it? Where it comes from is a matter for the Chancellor,” … adding that foreign aid and military spending are not “mutually exclusive”.
As we wrote in June, thanks to merger of DfID with the Foreign Office, international development is now just a metaphorical heartbeat away from the MOD. It didn’t take this Johnson government long to lay bare their plans to both further compromise the integrity of overseas UK aid as well as siphon it off to subsidise the MOD.
As UK PLC sets sail from the EU into its new Brexit unchartered waters, it is shamelessly politicising international development further to its dated view of ‘Global Britain’, whilst laying the ground for funds to be redirected from aid to the MOD. We are reminded of Anthony Mighella’s ‘drop the debt‘ video, made for Christian Aid in 1998 on the scandal of the debt crisis forced upon developing nations by the banks.
Why the comparison? Because just as the banks ripped off developing countries with unpayable debt and made profit at the expense of the poorest, is the defence sector about to set off down the same path, courtesy of this shift in UK foreign and defence policy?
Watch this space: the integrated review of security, defence, development and foreign affairs
And so to our final question, how is the £200bn MOD budget over the next 4 years going to defend us from the very real and present threats of further pandemic and coming climate emergencies?
Speaking of this announcement today, Meg Hillier, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee said on Channel 4 News (19/11/20) ‘the devil will be in the detail’ and in truth, no one knows the detail – not least since this announcement comes well before the already stalled publication (sometime next year) of the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Affairs. It’s all back to front – making the announcement before the review is done – but the urgency to get the PR ‘Global Britain’ message out there pre-Brexit and post-Biden election win trumped waiting for the Review.
But when we do finally get to see the Review, we will fully see how this announcement – the budget increase, Global Britain post Brexit and pre-President Biden, the merging of development with defence – proved to be an indicator for what’s coming down the line.
And we can likely take a bet that it won’t be good for development, climate mitigation or global health protection but great news for the defence sector, already proven wasters of taxpayers’ money.
HC and Deb