Sunday, July 25, 2004

Pointing the finger

It is quite remarkable how the BBC insists on trotting out Michael Heseltine as the great sage, whenever it feels that the Conservative Party needs help on how to win elections.

But in a week when Hoon’s defence cuts have dominated the headlines, it is also remarkable that no one seems to be putting two and two together, and apportioning the blame for the financial disasters that are besetting the Department of Defence. And that blame, as we pointed out in an earlier Blog, lies to an enormous degree with Michael Heseltine and his enthusiasm for that disastrous European project, the Eurofighter.

That the Eurofighter is at the heart of our problems is at least acknowledged by that other "great sage", the former Europhile Max Hastings, who in an article in the Sunday Telegraph calls for boots rather than bombers.

However, instead of focusing on the progenitor of the project, the egregious Heseltine, Hastings picks on Hoon, noting that in the defence debate last Wednesday, he "dragged a cloud of obfuscation over the greatest scandal of all - the continuation of the £18 billion Eurofighter programme". "Ministers", Hastings writes:
…say there is no escape from this nonsense. Britain is supposed to buy 232 copies of an aircraft less relevant to the nation's modern defence needs than HMS Victory. Job losses would be frightful if the programme was scrapped, they claim; British Aerospace would be ruined; the bills would have to be paid anyway. Yet what a shocking commentary it is upon our procurement policies, that 14 years after the Berlin Wall came down, it is deemed unavoidable to persist with this wholly redundant programme, while infantry numbers are cut.
But it is not our procurement policies that are primarily at fault. The fault lies with the deal Heseltine signed with our European "partners" which makes it impossible to pull out of the project without incurring massive financial penalties. Cancellation would mean that we would end up paying almost as much as we are doing, but we would have no aeroplanes at all to show for the expenditure.

Thus, it was all very well for shadow defence secretary Nicholas Soames to describe the defence spending review as a "moral and political betrayal", but the actual betrayal came 14 years earlier when Heseltine locked us into an insane contract, and all because of his enthusiasm for all things European.

Yet this is the man, according to the BBC, that is best equipped to tell the Conservatives what they need to be doing. So, while Heseltine preens and pontificates, it is the Poor Bloody Infantry that are going to pay the cost of his obsession. It is a pity that media and other commentators do not point the finger at their real betrayer.

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