News that Defence Secretary Phillip Hammond is to speed up the review that will see female soldiers allowed to join frontline units has met with widespread approval across both sides of the Houses of Parliament.
Rare are the occasions when decisions such as Mr Hammond’s order to General Sir Peter Wall, Chief of the Defence Staff, to present his report by the end of the year are met with such unified approval in Westminster.
Tory peer Lord Astor wants the Army’s wonderful “opportunities” in the infantry and armoured divisions to be available to all. Vernon Coaker , Labour’s Shadow Defence Secretary, gave his backing to it and his colleague, Gloria Del Piero, Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities, agreed, saying the move was “long overdue”.
It’s heartening to see such agreement on the fundamental human right of “Our Girls” to close with and kill the enemy.
But it’s always useful to look behind the headlines and try to figure out whether there’s another agenda behind all the froth that’s presented. Is the policy just the natural progression of female emancipation or have our elected representatives just seen GI Jane too many times?
Is the war zone the next place that will witness mass demonstrations for all those excluded from participating in it? And what’s really motivating the powers that be to implement something that has been so widely dismissed for years?
Without a doubt, the coalition government’s controversial plan to cut back on Army numbers and replace those departed with part-timers is looking like a failure.
Heralded as the evolution of the Armed Forces into an agile, adaptive and effective organisation, the role of the Territorial Army (TA) was to be extended and utilised to make up for the shortfall in full time soldiers.
However, despite those plans, reservist numbers are actually down and well below the 30,000 figure required to fulfil the government’s target. They’ve even had to resort to offering departing regulars a 10k “bribe” to join the TA to attempt to cover the shortfall.
At the beginning of the year, Hammond had to assure us all that army recruitment was still continuing – just in case the British public had mistakenly come to the conclusion that they were now surplus to requirements.
It appears that despite all the grandstanding, keeping a steady stream of bodies through the office doors of the recruitment centres is proving to be harder than first imagined.
Unable to fill those yawning gaps by conventional means, it’s unsurprising that the government have decided to explore new avenues.
Therefore, General Wall’s report will now be four years early and no doubt present the case for women to be able to attach bayonets. And Hammond has also called for much greater efforts in recruiting form ethnic minority groups.
Of course, desperation isn’t something that can be admitted to, so it’s all painted as part of a strategy to improve diversity and bring HM Forces into the 21st century.
The truth, though, is much simpler. It’s often government policy to prey on the desperate, poor, misguided and disadvantaged. Military recruitment has also followed that strategy for many a century.
That won’t change with this policy and neither will the fact that while the sons (and daughters) of MPs are attending their private schools and elite universities, it will still be the poor doing the fighting and dying.
Thomas Paul (VFP UK) served in the Anglian Regiment in Northern Ireland.