Opinions on the firing line

Manifestos highlight the differences between the main parties’ views on defence

By George Paloczi-Horvath

The party manifestos, which were published last week, made a few reassuring noises about defence, but not about the defence industry.

In one sentence, the Conservative manifesto said: `We will continue to support Britain’s defence industry, and we will work with companies to identify the technologies of the future’.

In two sentences, Labour said: `We support a strong UK defence industry, which is a strategic part of our industrial base as well as our defence effort. We believe that part of its expertise can be extended to civilian use through a defence diversification agency’.

The Liberal Democrats had nothing specific to say about the defence industry, although both LibDem and Labour would ban UK production and sales of anti-personnel landmines.

Both main opposition parties make promises about not selling weapons that could be used for repression or aggression and the Liberal Democrats make a specific promise to put controls in a European Union context.

The careful wording of Labour’s promise would not stop a Labour government selling defensive arms to established clients for British weapons, such as Saudi Arabia or Indonesia.

Shadow defence secretary Dr David Clark has said Labour’s proposed `strategic defence and security review’ would be completed within six months of its launch.

Labour said the review will `reassess our essential security interests and defence needs. It will consider how the roles, missions and capabilities of our armed forces should be adjusted to meet the new strategic realities.’

A review would be `foreign policy-led, first assessing our likely overseas commitments and interests and then establishing how our forces should be deployed to meet them’.

The Conservatives said there is no need for a review, `which would raise fear and uncertainty about the future’. They said their defence plans are `based on stable levels of funding’ and promise the services `the most modern weapons they need to guarantee their superiority against potential aggressors’.

The Conservatives make specific promises to research ballistic missile defence to see if Britain needs such a system and also to develop `the ability to transport heavy equipment into an operational zone’. The latter may be a reference to possible RAF plans to acquire US C-17 transport aircraft.