Making ends meet: challenges for the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review for the United Kingdom
In recent years, a worrying gap has emerged between the military ambitions of the UK armed forces, and the financial resources allocated to them. The gap is likely to widen further in the coming years as the coalition government starts to cut public spending to eliminate the government budget deficit.
This is the context for the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), charged with making recommendations about the UK's future role in world affairs and about the financial resources which that role would require. In practice the SDSR must try to reduce the defence budget without incurring an unacceptable increase in the risks to national security.
In 'Making ends meet', Professor David Kirkpatrick explains the many particular problems of defence management, and emphasises that the SDSR's recommendations for UK defence policy, military capabilities and defence expenditure must be completely coherent and consistent (unlike those in the 1998 review). He suggests how the UK defence budget might be reduced by 10 per cent, in addition to savings from internal reforms and reorganisation, without the irreversible loss of any of the UK's present military and industrial capabilities.
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The Conservatives have been talking up their chances of doing a deal with the Liberal Democrats if the general election fails to deliver them a majority. Conservative shadow business secretary Ken Clarke has even suggested that “Nick Clegg is a conservative”. David Cameron meanwhile regularly describes himself as a 'liberal' and has claimed that on a range of policy issues, “there’s barely a cigarette paper between us”.
But according to a new report from CentreForum, the liberal think tank, the two parties’ similarities are being wildly overstated, as are the chances of them working together in a formal coalition if the Tories are returned as the largest party in a hung parliament.
The paper, entitled 'A Lib Con trick?', points out that although the election of a self-styled ‘liberal Conservative’ as Tory leader should have increased the likelihood of meaningful co-operation between the two parties, so far, that co-operation has been conspicuous by its absence. In part, this is down to a deep rooted mutual mistrust – policy positions may be ever changing, but the culture of a party, and the core instincts of its members, are not. In part, it is a simple result of electoral imperatives – as long as the success of each party depends on the failure of the other, co-operation will prove difficult.
‘Quantitative easing’ was meant to boost private spending by pumping billions of pounds into the economy. But CentreForum argues that it has done little for ordinary people and businesses. Without serious reform, it will prove powerless in the face of a second dip into recession.
In early 2009, with interest rates at 0.5 per cent and the deficit hitting record levels, ‘QE’ was the only policy left for fighting the recession. By trying to increase the money supply directly, the Bank of England aimed to increase bank lending, lift up asset prices and restore confidence. In many ways it worked. Banks that were almost insolvent are now recording large profits, the equity market has soared, and house prices have reversed a frightening decline. It has clearly helped the government to issue a huge amount of debt relatively cheaply.
But while the policy may have prevented financial collapse, it has done little to make life easier for small companies and households. Now, with the real possibility of a second dip into recession, CentreForum argue that QE needs urgently to be redirected towards the thousands of firms up and down the country for whom the ‘credit crunch’ is an ongoing problem.
In 'Lost labours: where now for the liberal Left?', John Kampfner, journalist, political campaigner and former editor of the New Statesman asks how, after more than a dozen years in office, Labour has done so little to produce a more liberal and egalitarian Britain. Although the hopes vested in Tony Blair were dashed early on, mainly due to the Iraq war, he argues that Gordon Brown could have breathed new life into the project. He concludes that that project has now foundered thanks to a combination of authoritarianism and a lack of political courage.
John Kampfner has long described himself as a 'Left-liberal'. He argues that the causes he believes in - the quest for greater equality, an enlightened criminal justice policy, environmental protection, civil liberties, an ethical foreign policy and a more pluralist approach to politics - may now have found a stronger home within the Liberal Democrats.
In 'Lost Labours' he explains why.
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