Telegraph Morning Briefing, Defence cuts, 09/03/2015Posted: March 12, 2015
This political briefing was sent as an email to Telegraph readers, March 9, 2015
Good morning. Once again defence cuts lead the news agenda. Our splash today is: “Army faces cut to just 50,000 troops”. The story centres on a report from the Royal United Services Institute (Rusi), which says the military may face a 10 per cent budget cut during the next parliament. This would reduce the army’s size to 50,000 soldiers – the lowest level since the 1770s when Britain lost its grip on its American colonies.
The news is likely to rile Tory backbenchers. Many are concerned about Britain’s credibility with allies in Washington, and Britain’s standing on the world stage. They want Cameron to commit to spending 2 per cent of GDP on defence, as required by Nato. Many of them believe Britain’s power is in decline. With Moscow having increased its defence budget by 50 per cent since 2007, it is no surprise, they argue, that Putin has no qualms about provoking the British.
They are also concerned that spending on overseas aid is set to outgrow the defence budget within 15 years. As our leader points out today: “This suggests not only a very bizarre sense of priorities, it is also potentially dangerous given the tensions in eastern Europe and the Middle East.”
Yesterday on the Andrew Marr show, the foreign secretary Philip Hammond muddied the water further by saying the government remained wedded to the two per cent target. But he could not “prejudge” the outcome of the defence spending review later this year.
On Thursday there will be a backbench motion committing the next government to the Nato target. Defence has increasingly become a taboo subject during this election campaign, with received wisdom suggesting there are no votes in defence. Our MPs, however, have a duty to think beyond May 7.
IS JUNCKER BARMY WITH EU ARMY?
The Guardian splashes today with: “Juncker calls for an EU army to face up to Moscow threat”. The president of the European commission claims the EU needs its own army to persuade Russia it is serious about defending its values in the face of aggression. His proposal, however, was immediately rejected by the British government, who said there was “no prospect” of the UK agreeing.
In a sign of how austerity is changing the shape of government, officials have privately discussed cutting 30,000 employees at the Department for Work and Pensions over the next five years. This would create a full-time workforce of approximately 83,000, if a Conservative-led coalition is in power after May. While the proposed Labour slash is 20,000 posts, according to senior civil servants. The FT leads with the story on its front page. “Pensions department braced for 30,000 job cuts after election” is its splash.
MILI IN SALMOND’S POCKET
The Tories’ latest campaign will heighten fears among English voters over a potential electoral pact between Labour and the SNP. The poster by M&C Saatchi depicts Ed Miliband in Alex Salmond’s breast pocket. Tory election chief Lynton Crosby hopes to capitalise on the growing divisions within Labour over a possible SNP deal. The Times splashes the story on its front page with the headline: “Tories move to exploit Labour split in Scotland”.
At least 500 extra free schools will be built if the Conservatives win the election, David Cameron has said. His comments follow a new report from the think tank Policy Exchange, which found free schools improve local education standards.
In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, Danny Alexander claims the Liberal Democrats will block “potty” plans by George Osborne to provide a pre-election tax cut for higher earners. He described his coalition partner’s plans for Britain as “utterly irresponsible”.
GALLOWAY BLACKMAIL ROW
George Galloway and his solicitors have been accused of blackmail and fraud after demanding more than £6,000 from anyone who supposedly libelled him on Twitter. The Respect MP for Bradford West instructed lawyers to send legal threats to Twitter users who composed or retweeted posts alleging he was anti-Semitic. However, a lawyer acting for three people who received legal demands has filed a complaint on their behalf with West Yorkshire police and the solicitors’ regulator.
LOWER VOTING AGE, SAYS BEEB
In a move that is likely to create tension with the Tories, the director general of the BBC has said he supports the Labour policy of lowering the voting age to 16. Lord Hall made the comments during a speech to school pupils in London.
YOUR MONEY IS NO GOOD, TONY
A Labour parliamentary candidate has rejected a £1,000 donation from Tony Blair. Lesley Brennan, who is the party’s candidate in Dundee East, contradicted her party’s headquarters, which welcomed Blair’s donations to the 106 battleground seats.
TOO MANY TWEETS…
@LesleyEastend: Received donation from Tony Blair. Instinct was to not accept. Discussed with team. Dundee East is not accepting the £1000.
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