Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Will Cameron regret the General Dannatt episode?

The news that General Dannatt is to join the Conservatives as an adviser has been welcomed by the Tories today. As a former head of the army, Dannatt is a big hitter and it is a real coup for Cameron to have him on his team.

However, I think the manner in which this has happened could eventually come back to haunt Mr Cameron. General Dannatt has publicly attacked Gordon Brown's handling of the war in Afghanistan accusing him of having chosen options to save money. It is currently fairly unusual for a former army chief to launch such an outspoken attack on a serving Prime Minister and regardless of what I might think about the merits of what he is saying it sits uncomfortably with me to see the argument being conducted in such a public fashion. I suppose it shows how strongly the General feels about the issue and how badly dealt with he felt.

The problem I think Cameron could now have is that by giving the General such a high profile job, just after his outspoken attack he is effectively condoning what he has done. This is a dangerous thing for a man who hopes to be Prime Minister in 7 months time to have done. If he does become PM, it is going to be much harder for him to command loyalty from former senior army chiefs given that he has allowed the current situation to become so political.

This seems to me to be a reflection of the problem Gordon Brown faced as PM with some of his own backbenchers once he became PM. As soon as his MPs became restive on an issue it was difficult for Brown and his allies to insist on loyalty from them when they all knew that Brown and co had spent many years trying to undermine Tony Blair and being the opposite of loyal.

Cameron may face a parallel situation with the armed forces in a few years time. He has rewarded a former army chief who has effectively taken a political position. He can't now complain if future former army chiefs also take political positions, but of course next time it may be against him.

Is this another situation where Cameron has only looked a couple of moves ahead on the chessboard rather then the requisite 10 or 15?


Anonymous said...

Not just a problem for the distant future but for the very near future. By appointing someone with views that he has been pushing hard, Cameron is effectively tying himself to the same views. So he is painting himself into a corner about Afghanistan. That adventure is already unpopular with a majority of voters, and events could make it even more so.

Dippyness. said...

I was thinking the very same thing. A very sharp two edged sword I would have said.

Hywel said...

"If he does become PM, it is going to be much harder for him to command loyalty from former senior army chiefs given that he has allowed the current situation to become so political."

However remember the West Wing when Bartlett tells CJ to stop pressuring an ex Army General who was criticising him - "say what you like Ed Barrie - and I could say plenty - the man was the first in and last out of a war I wanted nothing to do with. The man's earned his right to speak".

Cardinal Richelieu's mole said...

So in your world it is better to pretend a very serious whistleblower on a most sombre of issues has spoken not at all? Better to keep such person at arm's length despite agreeing with him, despite expecting to assume a position of great responsibility within seven months where there will be a moral duty to act on what this serious whistleblower has said?

And all this to hypothetically deny in some insubstantial form any future blowers of whistles the ability to say they are only doing to Cameron what Dannatt has seemingly done to Brown? As if that would stop them, as if it ever should!

We are blessed with apolitical armed services. The fact Dannatt has chosen so soon after relinquishing his command to speak so forcefully and to ally himself to a political party is not to politicise the armed forces. Had he been listened to by this rotten government when he was in office, he might not be speaking now. If you need to blame someone for taking you away from your irrational comfort zone, blame the New Labour clowns who can count this episode as another example of their corrosive influence upon our way of life.