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August 8th last year passed by without much comment and it will probably pass by yet again this year without any due recognition, but 8th August 1918 marked one of the most momentous days in the history of the British Army, only the context of the interminable industrialised horrors of trench warfare prevent one from calling it ‘glorious’.

8th August 1918 was the first day of the Battle of Amiens where the British Army, in making the largest single days advance in the war to date, inflicted a shattering defeat on the German Army, effectively signalling the end of the Great War which formally came to pass just 100 days later.  It precipitated a nervous breakdown on the part of the German commander Ludendorff and demonstrated that after 4 long years the British Army had learned all its lessons and become masters of the battlefield.

Indeed in that final window of time the British and Empire Army could be said to be the most (perhaps the only) effective fighting force on the allied side as it ruthlessly and efficiently pushed the Germans back beyond their own Hindenburg Line.  It is perhaps not too great an exaggeration to say that it represented the finest army that Britain has ever put into the field.  It was also the largest – an army which reflected the entire Nation.

So what relevance does this event have for us today?

Well history shows that the lessons of WW1 are more relevant to Afghanistan than one might think.  Not in scale of course but in so many other aspects.

The stalemate brought about by mass armies and trench warfare created a whole range of new, seemingly intractable, tactical problems for the British Army from 1915 onward (indeed all armies continually failed to solve the dreadful puzzle that was the breaking through of well defended entrenched positions).  The army was ill equipped for mass warfare on the Western Front. They were forced to react to circumstances and innovate and introduce new weapons – grenades, trench mortars, gas(!), scout planes, shell fuses, light machine guns, tanks and more.  But the British Army did so after a harsh learning period and evolved the combined use of all arms  —  riflemen, light machine gunners, ‘bombers’ or grenade throwers, artillery (above all artillery), tanks and air support (most importantly in ‘spotting’). The British applied science and enterprise to warfare and converted its industry to prosecute it.

In Afghanistan the terrain and prevailing conditions restrict the conventional use of armoured vehicles (indeed it makes them more vulnerable than ever before) and previous notions of how we can operate in these counter insurgency conditions are shown to be inadequate.  The enemy hide themselves away in the community and have evolved novel tactics (not least IEDs) to hamstring our operations.  In short a whole series of new and unexpected problems have been set for our Army and our Allies.  Just how far are we now along the learning curve?

Despite intense efforts it was only by late 1916 that the British Army began to solve its problems in WW1 and these solutions were refined throughout 1917.  Only now is it dawning on our military and the public that significant lessons need to be learned and new tactics evolved for Afghanistan. We should not expect solutions to be easy or quick.  Kitchener’s New Armies needed 2 years to learn their trade and a further two to master it – so we cannot expect the new Afghan Army to be self sufficient for some time yet.

WW1 saw innovations in weaponry such as tanks and in artillery tactics.  Afghanistan need similar innovation, such as in new types of armoured vehicles and drone (spotter) aircraft and it needs the same enterprise in incorporating these new arms and tactics into the whole battle plan as occurred in 1918.

There was of course considerable friction between the generals and politicians in the Great War.  And that is increasingly repeating itself now.  At the heart of the friction in 14-18 was the desire of politicians to achieve victory but the unwillingness to face the consequences in casualties. This resulted in Lloyd George refusing to reinforce the Western Front in early 1918, a decision which made the German spring offensive all the more deadly.

The parallels today are uncanny   We have spent years in Afghanistan achieving little because we were under resourced and lacking in ‘war aims’, all due to a political unwillingness to sustain the effort and casualties necessary for a victory.

The German strategy following the failure of its Schlifen Plan in 1914 was to hold what it had and bleed the allies white to end the war and hold onto its gains.  It nearly succeeded at Verdun. French lossses were truly horrific but their morale (just) held and it’s remarkable that despite unprecedented losses British resolve never broke.  Indeed it was German morale which finally cracked.

Today the Taliban expect that by simply continuing to exist and inflict what they hope will be unacceptable casualties they can prevail.  This makes it all the more remarkable that the British government are doing so little avoid the negative propaganda of pointless casualties whilst  pursuing their aims.  The British government could not have invented a policy more calculated to reduce the Nation’s morale if it had tried.

The sobering fact is that in the final triumphant unremittingly successful 100 days, which led to the winning of the WW1, the British and Empire Armies suffered more casualties than during the indicisive Somme campaign.  The overwhelming success which followed D-Day 27 years later resulted in a similar attrition rate.  Today in Afghanistan we have only just begun to seriously campaign to defeat the Taliban.  Are any of us ready to pay the price of success?


‘Ms Pond has a moat’ – now why do I find that funny?

Well lots of reasons but mainly to do with the hypocrisy over the MPs expenses scandal of the Labour and LibDem parties.  But also to do with the equally hypocritical attitudes of the media.  It has taken the goodly Iain Dale (admittedly with both a political and local interest) to point out the joke.

Meantime I see that Gordon Browns ‘its deflation stupid’ (sort of) remark has still to come to pass.  The Times reports RPI inflation actually rising and that CPI is still  above the government target and has fallen by far less than economists expect.

“Economist expect … “,  now there’s another funny thing.  But more seriously the news that the BoE is not to immediately expand its programme of quantitative easing has, according to the Telegraph seen,

“The benchmark 10-year gilt yield leapt by almost a fifth of a percentage point as traders abandoned UK government debt, fearing that the Bank may soon abandon its purchases of them altogether”

It’s a bit worrying that the main deriving force for buying government debt seems to be the government itself printing money to give to our debtors to buy our debt in the first place.

But then I am not an economist … or a labour politician.

Ultimately the joke will indeed be on us, especially us dumb mortgage payers. ‘City sources’ point out

“The decision underlines the likelihood that at some point in the coming year attention will turn instead to so-called exit strategies from QE, which could involve selling off some of the gilts or raising borrowing costs.”

Browns gimmicky self serving obsession with ‘deflation’ has as usual turned out to be a mistake and with billions of printed money sloshing around our good friend inflation will have to be hit on the head by the Bank.

The Spectator is pointing out that Bernie Ecclestone is seeking to apologise for his crass remark, “apart from the fact that Hitler got taken away and persuaded to do things that I have no idea whether he wanted to do or not, he was in the way that he could command a lot of people able to get things done.”

Bernie misses the point in oh so many ways.

It’s because of the useless “way that he could command a lot of people able to get things done” that Germany lost the war.

If people had been able to say ‘no’ to him (without being shot) then Germany would probably still be sole ruler of Europe even now — instead of having to share that role with a liberated France.

The extended final set battle to determine who can manage, destroy or banish the need for our vast body of quangos drags on through the TV studios, the newspapers and the blogosphere.

The inestimable Guido Fawkes is one, and he delights in listing ones the Tories will ‘create’  –  as opposed to wind up..  Unfortunately he uncritically lists a number kindly provided by the Labour Party.

Well, you need to take claims from a Labour press office with a pinch of salt Mr Fawkes (they are after all the Great Satan).  Looking a little more deeply into their list shows that not quite all is as it might seem.  Here goes ….

Office of Tax Simplification – comes from a suggestion by Lord Howe, not official policy.  God knows we need it.

Office of Budget Responsibility — a damned good idea.  But then it does come from George Osborne.

Free national financial advice service – this comes from the ‘Thoresen Review of Generic   Financial Advice’, — it was, wait for it  Commissioned by the government.

‘Sports Commission’ (Australian model) — this comes from a Conservative discussion document which suggests  — “Conservatives would create a cross-departmental Cabinet Office Committee on sport, based on the Australian Sports Commission, to streamline the delivery of sport and act as a champion for sport in government”.  ummm, not a quango.

Office for Civil Society – the BBC report, “David Cameron plans to create the office by replacing the current Office of the Third Sector, although he argues the new office will be put “at the heart of government” to fight for the interests of charities … ”  Errr … replacing a quango.

Social Investment Bank – Hmmm…   Darling championed one in his last budget. Reports say its part of Tory policy to replace the Office of the Third Sector (again). (Oh, thats charities to the rest of us).  An attempt to help charities seems good idea to me.

Military Quangos – In the current military climate I think it would be harsh to criticise the motives behind the 3 military organisations.  Unless you are the Labour Party that is.

International Aid Watchdog —  The Guardian reports, “The government is to create an independent watchdog to monitor the effectiveness of the fast-rising overseas aid budget, the development secretary Hilary Benn said yesterday.  .After pressure from the Conservatives, he said he was establishing a seven-strong body of experts to help him ensure the £7bn a year spent by the Department for International Development was being properly spent.”  Ho hum – a definite forked tongue from the Labour Press office there…

Innovative Projects Agency —  The Times Higher Education Supplement point out it is an idea from a Tory Study Review which, “would take on the work of the existing Technology Strategy Board, the Department of Trade and Industry’s knowledge-transfer programmes, the innovation budget, the UK high-technology fund, a slice of the Government’s £1.6 billion research and development budgets and parts of the science and technology budgets of the regional development agencies.”  ‘take the work of’ … Ho hum again.

National Foundation for STEM —  assume this is related to the Tories, ‘Science, Engineering, Technology & Mathematics (STEM) Task Force’ .  The report says, “Overall we conclude that there needs to be a single voice in the public sector championing STEM – one which brings some co-ordination, discipline and focus to the many overlapping yet diffuse initiatives in this field. Hence we have proposed a new Agency to be a champion for STEM in the public sector and across society as a whole.”
‘a single voice’ implies getting rid of other multiple voices.  Indeed the report says “We anticipate that the agency would incorporate the work and most of the staff of the existing Council of Science & Technology, the Science and Society section of the Office of Science & Innovation in the DTI and the public engagement part of Research Councils UK.”    ….  Well what the hell, we are in the 21st century!

“HealthWatch” – yep its a Tory idea, and yes it looks like a quango to me.  “And we will ensure that the voice of patients is listened to through the creation of a national consumer voice: HealthWatch”   BUT “In this plan, scrapping targets and bureaucracy will free up resources to frontline care.”

Export Services organisation – “We will streamline the procurement process to ensure the speedy delivery of equipment to the front line. And we will immediately reinstate the Defence Export Services Organisation (DESO) to ensure a healthy UK defence sector.”  ‘Reinstate’. I cannot fault this.  What do the French do I wonder?

All Age Careers Service – Well just how do you want to end the curse of NEETs? The Tories point out – “The Skills Commission says: “there has been a decline in the quality of careers guidance since Connexions replaced the Careers Service [in 2001].” ” …. “That is why we will introduce a £180 million independent careers advice service for all secondary schools. ….  And it will be an all-age careers service, to help those who are already NEET and missed out on good advice at school.”
Sounds like it will replace this ‘Connexions’ – good idea since its spelt wrongly.

Voluntary Action Lottery Fund –  Tory policy is to “Replace the Big Lottery Fund with a Voluntary Action Fund dedicated to the voluntary and community sector”  —  Err that’s ‘replace’ — again.

A development agency for libraries —  ??  You got me there.
But  …  former bookseller and now good library advocate Tim Coates (his elder son, Sam, is political correspondent for the Times) did give a speech to the ‘Conservative Party Forum on Libraries’ (its good to know I support a literate party)  — he said, “It is timely for the Conservative Party to articulate a Vision for public libraries”  “The Conservative party has a tremendous opportunity to take the lead in this matter immediately.”   ” For as long as I can remember the officers of the MLA and the London Libraries Development Agency have been on the point of trying to resolve the political and technical questions that would make such progress possible.”
So we ALREADY have a libraries development agency in London !  Does Ken Livingstone know?

In summary?  Well I see nothing here that shouts hypocrisy or dispels the basic good sense of the Conservative Party’s (quite frankly cautious) policy aims.

But hey —   that will not stop the blind gullible media (and Mr Fawkes) from taking a few easy shots.  All at the expense of good honest debate of course.

The Royal Navy’s proposed 2 new aircraft carriers are said to be vulnerable to cuts and its cost have risen by £1 billion to £5 billion.

But can we really believe that these cost will stop there?  The new Daring class destroyers (light cruisers really) with a total tonnage between the 6 ships of 40,000t are projected at £6 billion.

The total tonnage of the new aircraft carriers is about 120,000t.

Even allowing for differences such as radars and missiles – do these sums really add up?  And this is on the assumption that these carriers do not in fact have a catapult launcher.  The next generation of American aircraft carrier, of some 100,000t, is speculated to be $11 billion.

My betting is that as a Nation even if we can afford the carriers we will not be able to afford the planes to fly off them.

July 2009
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