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Generals as politicians - lessons from history

Mark Urban | 18:06 UK time, Wednesday, 7 October 2009

General Sir Richard Dannatt's enlistment in the Tory defence team, on the day after he left the Army is an unprecedented event.

It's also one that makes a great many people uncomfortable.

In terms of precedent, or the lack of it, there is a recent one and a historical one, but neither quite matches these circumstances.


Admiral Sir Alan West, formerly head of the Royal Navy, was appointed by Prime Minister Gordon Brown in 2007 as security minister and elevated to the House of Lords.

Lord West though followed the "decent interval" principle (one year and four months in his case) between leaving the forces and taking up his ministerial post.

The same rule is usually applied to service chiefs seeking lucrative jobs with defence contractors.

It is also true that Lord West's ministerial job is located outside the Ministry of Defence, so does not concern the narrow interests of his former service.

Going further back in time, one has to think back all the way to 1914 and Lord Kitchener's appointment as secretary of war.

He was a field marshal with a distinguished record, who was co-opted into the war cabinet as the nation entered a total war.

He was the architect of the mass mobilisation of three million men (hence the iconic recruiting poster) which arguably allowed Britain to win World War I.

Kitchener achieved great things, although his appointment was resented by a great many politicians.

Loss of a generation

As for his former colleagues, when Gen Sir William Robertson took over as head of the Army one year into the war, he did so only on condition that he, rather than Kitchener would give strategic advice to the Cabinet.

He was also regarded by many as the man who sent an entire generation to its doom - and my late grandfather, a survivor of the Somme, certainly saw Kitchener in those terms.

Serious as the situation in Helmand is though, it's hardly comparable to that moment in 1914 when the lights were going out all over Europe.

During World War I almost one quarter of all the men in Britain ended up serving in the Army - a degree of national mobilisation never equalled before or since (not even in World War II).

In those circumstances, drawing Field Marshal Kitchener into the cabinet was an understandable step - and in accepting his job he made clear he would not play the role of a party politician.

Division of power

Go further back into history and the examples of Wellington and Marlborough can be given, but the unwritten constitutional rules about separating powers were different then.

At one point in the Napoleonic wars there were more than 70 serving Army officers in the House of Commons, for example.

More importantly, despite their extraordinary success on the battlefield, Marlborough and Wellington were divisive political figures who are still viewed, centuries later, through the prism of party prejudice.

Even today the Tory will argue that Wellington won the Battle of Waterloo, whereas modern day Whigs still insist it was the Prussians who saved the day.

This then is the underlying lesson about the way power is divided in Britain.

Once a general enters the political arena, however successful he is, his achievements or reputation become the subject of a factional dispute.

Problems with prejudice

The possibility of Gen Dannatt as Lord Dannatt, with a junior defence ministerial portfolio entering the corridors of the MoD fills some with concern.

Will it prejudice the position of his successor, General Sir David Richards? Or of the Chief of Defence Staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup?

These are the men who are meant to provide ministers with military advice. They are also meant to be shaping the forthcoming defence review. For this reason, although there were reports earlier in the day that Gen Dannatt would join the ministerial team, later on, the more nebulous term "adviser" was being used.

There are those who welcome Gen Dannatt's step towards a job with the Tories - be it ministerial or something less formal - and I have been following their arguments on the blogosphere: the general is a man of integrity, and wisdom; he knows the forces inside out, unlike most ministers.

All of this is true, and any unprejudiced observer would admit it.

The problem is that once you accept a party political role, so many observers will be prejudiced.


  • Comment number 1.

    I notice that your colleague Maitlis is causing some 'collateral damage' of her own...

  • Comment number 2.

    Old Soldiers certainly carry more weight than contemporary politicians in terms of honesty and integrity.Their problem is:when they replace their uniform with Saville Row they lose credibility.Their interviews pleasantly conducted on the back lawn of their Pimlico Mansion rather than "from the front"footage of a fine Commander,tend to nullify their opinion.Paddy Ashdown being the most obvious exception to this belief,went on to do a political job no other M.P. was capable of doing.In that respect,we are lucky to have on board talent such as Dannant and I wish him well in his new Posting!

  • Comment number 3.

    'It makes many people uncomfortable'.

    Who, Mark? Name one person outside the Labour Party.


  • Comment number 4.

    Generals Eisenhower and de Gaulle are the most famous of former Commanders in Chief to reach the highest public policy positions in their countries and during modern times. I excuse Winston Churchill from that category because he didn't rise to a pinnacle in military service before entring politics. I also omit various dictators.
    Both the Generals achieved much in their political careers. Both warned us of the dangers to public life inherent in active military leaders taking up political positions. Eisenhower was the most specific, warning us - and the Soviet Leader Kruschev - of the potential misguidance of the 'military-industrial' complex creating false rivalries for their own ends. That wise advice is worth bearing in mind when we listen to Dannat's blusters. Perhaps he doesn't like to be treated with scepticism?

  • Comment number 5.

    3. At 8:11pm on 07 Oct 2009, hubertgrove wrote:
    'It makes many people uncomfortable'.

    Who, Mark? Name one person outside the Labour Party.


    He allready named 2, Gen Richards and Sir Jock, then there is EVERY person in whitehall, I doubt any of them want to see an ex-army officer, who only left yesterday, running around telling them how to do their jobs, making "efficency" savings based on his experiance, not on sound logic, you want more people? Just about every person in any other party, from labour and the lib dems to UKIP, lots of tories (hence todays backtracking on the job) civil rights/liberties groups, constitutional reformers (who would see this as a throwback) and anyone who doesn't want to see future army heads taking decisions based on what job they want when they leave!

    So that's everyone but die-hard tories, or people who can't think through the consequences for themselves!

  • Comment number 6.

    5. At 8:44pm on 07 Oct 2009, laughingdevil wrote:

    So that's everyone but die-hard tories, or people who can't think through the consequences for themselves!

    Meanwhile back on Planet Earth.....

  • Comment number 7.

    "He was also regarded by many as the man who sent an entire generation to its doom - and my late grandfather, a survivor of the Somme, certainly saw Kitchener in those terms."

    What a load of rubbish. I've never heard this one before. It sounds like a typical comment from those who know nothing about the era, and who love to blame our leaders of the period. Kitchener was a great man. We would not have won the war without his efforts. He was dead before the Somme battles even began.

  • Comment number 8.

    I was a Senior Civil Servant. I think that to take on a role in opposition must be distinguished from taking on a role in government. The latter may possibly be non-political but being in opposition is very political. I have never been a member of any party, but I think the General demeans his position as an officer and sets a very dangerous precedent.
    It suggests that the top of the army is populated by not only rich but also biassed people. The classic role of the civil servant is to speak truth unto power but to align yourself with one viewpoint destroys your ability to offer objective advice. Very sad.

  • Comment number 9.

    When you say, "makes a great many people uncomfortable", what you really mean is it 'makes us left wingers and Labour supporters at the BBC uncomfortable'. You are trying to create a problem where none exists, purely for your own political gain, making you little better than those in the Labour government that have attempted to smear the general.

  • Comment number 10.

    some of us have been uncomfortable that the middle east advisers in the FO come from a narrow selection with a vested interest in one of countries concerned? but no blogs about that?

    Dannantt has a curious evangelical history? that christian values underpin uk society and the british army?

    given his teaming up with tories that puts his previous outbursts to the daily mail and others into light?

    " "When I see the Islamist threat in this country I hope it doesn't make undue progress because there is a moral and spiritual vacuum in this country."

    "We can?t wish the Islamist challenge to our society away and I believe that the army both in Iraq and Afghanistan and probably wherever we go next, is fighting the foreign dimension of the challenge to our accepted way of life."

    "We need to face up to the Islamist threat, to those who act in the name of Islam and in a perverted way try to impose Islam by force on societies that do not wish it."

    "It is said that we live in a post Christian society. I think that is a great shame. The broader Judaic-Christian tradition has underpinned British society. It underpins the British army."

    one marvels that someone who says things like is given access to any kind of gun?

  • Comment number 11.

    At 9:48pm on 07 Oct 2009, non_political wrote:
    " ... the army is populated by not only rich but also biassed people ... "
    For a self-styled "Senior Civil Servant" not to be able to spell is probably due to the lax educational standards of the Government he probably served. He might not have been a member of any Party but that does not preclude his natural leanings.
    To not be able to distinguish between "bias", meaning "bent, leaning or penchant" and "biass" ... which does not exist in the English language but which in the American vernacular takes on a totally different meaning ... is probably due to bad scholarship.
    Such is the problem that is institutional in the Civil Service today.
    Lowering of standards ... and even then failing! Pah!

  • Comment number 12.


    A load of disaffected troops might come back from Iraq and Afghanistan and stage a military coup under Dannatt. But the squaddies are having a ball - extreme paintball - and Dannatt is going to get an extra pip, above and beyond the pall of duty. Job's a good'n.

    Westminster will not be stormed in this reality. Plan 'B':


  • Comment number 13.

    Kitchener had one major distinction from Gen Dannatt - he led a successful campaign against Islamic insurgents in the field in the Sudanese campaign of 1898 (much aided by the acquisition of the Maxim machine gun). Dannatt criticises the current government yesterday then signs for the Tories today. Coincidence? No. An officer, but not a gentleman. More troops are needed in Afganistan? To do what, provide more targets for the Taliban? A change of tactics is needed not just more brute force.

  • Comment number 14.

    By the way, Sir Jock Stirrup - surely a character in an Evelyn Waugh novel and not actually a real person.

  • Comment number 15.

    Kitchener had one major distinction from Gen Dannatt - he led a successful campaign against Islamic insurgents in the field in the Sudanese campaign of 1898 (much aided by the acquisition of the Maxim machine gun). Dannatt criticises the current government yesterday then signs for the Tories today. Coincidence? No. An officer, but not a gentleman. More troops are needed in Afganistan? To do what, provide more targets for the Taliban? A change of tactics is needed not just more brute force.
    I gather Dannat asked for the equivalent of more Maxim guns, but Brown wouldn't have it. Cynic that I am even I wonder if maybe, just maybe, Dannat thinks that he can help the troops by doing this, Labour certainly didn't, I would wait before condeming him, as long as the troops are there they should be given the tools to do the job. Whether they should be there is another matter.
    Sadly I suspect he will discover the Tories aren't as helpful as he hopes, as it wasn't Labour whose continual cutting led to Argentina thinking they could take the Falklands with impunity, and had they waited a few months longer, they'd have been right!

  • Comment number 16.

    Think Sir Richard has let down the people he represented. His claims about lack of government support, repeated on Radio Five today, have been undermined by the revelation only a few hours later that he is to take up a post on behalf of the Tories.

    His comments suddenly seem to be party political rather than as a leader of men pleading for his troops and as such are deemed worthless to me.

    He should have stayed independent and retained his credibility.

  • Comment number 17.

    Of course this could be seen n an entirely different light.

    The general responsible for the lives of soldiers sees those lives put at risk by the incompetence of the very politicians who sent them into harms way.
    The general does all he can to try to stand up for our servicemen and is eventually forced out for being "inconvenient" to the government, especially when their failing of our troops enters the public domain.

    After getting brushed off by the current government, upon retiring the general sees an opportunity to further look out for the interests of the servicemen he feels responsible for by seizing an opportunity to give what could be the next government with the benefit of his experience.

    And for that his character is inevitably called into question, which let's face it from most politicians is the height of hypocrisy.

  • Comment number 18.

    Is it just me that is concerned about the Conservative Party's increasing politicising of non-political organisations. Mr Green getting a civil servant to leak sensitive government documents; Mr Johnson's boast ofcontrolling the Metropolitan Police. Now we have David Cameron taking on board a general, and outspoken critic of the present government, as an "advisor" - straight from his role as commander of British troops in Afghanistan.

    The linkage to Kitchener seems very appropriate as military policy in Afghanistan does seem to border on trench war mentality. When commanders can see the only solution to road-side bombing attacks as putting more troops on the ground we appear to have gone back to the script of Oh What A Lovely War! or Black Adder. The British Army in the 19th century; the Russians in the 1990s and now "coalition forces" in the 21st century all faced tribal warfare in an extreme terrain that previous attempts at domination have failed. Does this co-option indicate the direction a future Conservative government would take, are they expecting to take the country back to the 1980s and need military intervention in Britain as a result of their "stringent policies"?

  • Comment number 19.

    # 18. honestgeraldinho wrote:

    "Is it just me that is concerned about the Conservative Party's increasing politicising of non-political organisations."

    Its hardly the Tories politicising this one... guess who according to reports at the time blocked Gen Dammatt's appointment as CDS in response to him pushing for better treatment of troops, yes you've got it Gordon Brown.

    In light of that response, not just a failure to support our servicemen by the government but hostility and petty vengeance directed at the man responsible for them for daring to say they deserved better; is it any surprise that Gen Dammatt sought another option which might provide that well deserved support?

    The labour tactic of attempting to attack his motivations and credibility is typical and seems to be an attempt to reduce the damage he can do.

    As to the Tories, why wouldn't they take the advice of the man who would probably have been the head of Britain's military if not for Gordon Brown's intervention? I'm pretty certain he knows more about soldiering and what our troops have to deal with than most politicians.

    So you betray a warrior and stab them in the back and expect them to just take it?
    It seems the General is a fighter and a man of principle who will continue to carry out what he sees as his and the country's responsibility to our troops... yet as is the nature of the sleazy politics of the gutter, he is virtually slandered and his opinions dismissed as politically motivated...

    Somehow I think the criticisms of him are much more politically motivated than his own comments which seem to have been backed up by several investigative journalists.

  • Comment number 20.

    Last time I looked we asked elected ministers to distribute our tax money, not senior officers from the British army. Didn't a general recently say an army can't have too much equipment, or too much funding? If military spending affects our capacity to keep ourselves healthy, educate our children, and give a fair chance to the poor, then it's definitely too much.

    I agree there are issues with the military covenant right now; but we don't have to listen to everything the generals say. Largely because we're lucky enough not to live under a junta.

    That would be shocking. Not as shocking as a Sandhurst-graduate general joining the Tories, obviously. Now that's a real jaw-dropper.

  • Comment number 21.


    We actually elect MPs who then select ministers... to then distribute our tax money and it seems much more than our tax money.

    Its true enough that all areas will say more is better, not just the military; although I believe one of the General's expressed concerns related to accommodation for the military and their families which certainly wouldn't have been considered acceptable for those provided with accommodation in civilian life.
    That's hardly a case of military equipment and pretty poor treatment of service personnel.

    Unlike what many seem to advocate for most of the rest of the public sector, the military can't strike and have little other voice if their commanders don't speak up for them.

    Its true that the best of everything may be impractical and unaffordable, but at least we could get the basics right... it is always somewhat ironic when politicians contradict statements by the military relating to operational issues; who's more likely to be right and who's more likely to be self serving?

    As shown by Brown's intervention to stop someone who had failed to tow the party line becoming Chief of Defence Staff, claims that politics and the military are separate at that level are somewhat deceptive.

    Given that mudslinging was an inevitable consequence of the General's decision, and after a distinguished career he had no need to subject himself to this treatment, why do you think he's doing it?

    Maybe because he feels he left a job half done and wants to right a wrong?

    To say that his previous statements were politically motivated, when many of his claims tended to be verified by the likes of the BBC is pretty typical.
    Its almost like labour politicians try to have us believe that there is only their "truth" and regardless of any evidence to the contrary, if someone disagrees with them what they're saying can't be true.

    The saying used to be lies, damn lies and statistics...

    These days its more, lies, damn lies and labour spin.. (often backed by dodgy statistics).

  • Comment number 22.

    Gen Dannatt's political commitment has been in evidence for many years. I was at university with him, when the army gave him permission to take a degree during active service. He had been in Northern Ireland and claimed to have been involved in the Bloody Sunday events. He was outspoken in his political sympathies then so I am not surprised of his move today. He was an out-an-out believer in military superiority and that the army should not be restricted in its work and that the political establishment should back the army 'to the hilt'. He believed the political establishment in those days had failed to give the army enough support to do the job in Northern Ireland properly, hence the prolonged circumstances and loss of life. I don't think he has changed much so I worry about his democratic credentials.

  • Comment number 23.

    #7 -
    He was also regarded by many as the man who sent an entire generation to its doom


    This is to some extent true he was blamed in some quarters but the main person who was resented by the forces was Field Marshall Sir Douglas Hague who was felt by many to have made a series of tactical blunders especially relating to the battles of the Somme along not least the insistence of sending everyone over the top before checking whether teh artillery bombardment had actually worked

  • Comment number 24.


    In the current situation where we have soldiers dying in Afghanistan due to the neglect of this current administration isn't it time to have a defence adviser who knows what he is doing?

    Whilst the timing may not be ideal think of the lives lost under Labour's defence ministers none of whom have had any military experince, and frankly none of whom have looked like they knew what they were doing.

    Give me competence any day and I suspect the relatives of the dead and maimed would say the same!

  • Comment number 25.

    Also on the same subject if you look at Wikipedia it says the following about Kitchener wanting to hold armies in reserve against Germany but ,

    "Robertson was suspicious of efforts in the Balkans and Near East, and was instead committed to major British offensives against Germany on the Western Front - the first of these was to be the Somme in 1916."

    William Robertson was the person who demanded that Kitchener be shunted to one side so that he could speak for the army. If historical precedents repeat themselves then maybe General Dannatt should be giving the advice rather than Sir David Richards as he will at least have the advantage of detachment and objectivity.

  • Comment number 26.

    "commanders can see the only solution to road-side bombing attacks as putting more troops on the ground"

    Perhaps you've failed to notice the endless requests for helicopters and properly armoured vehicles? The Army has it right, it's the Government's failure to provide which is preventing this, not the Army.

    What is needed is for the Government to sort itself out and decide what to do in Afghanistan, instead of dithering and using military force to buy time; something the Armed Services themselves say is a bad idea...

  • Comment number 27.


    The Beeb keep wheeling out Eric Joyce - your friendly neighbourhood soldier, for 'expert' opinion. Aside from the fact that Joyce talks like a machine gun, Chris Mullin has a few choice - and revealing - comments on that particular warrior, with regard to torture, in his diaries. Beware Erics bearing arms . . .

    Is it correct that Shiny-Boy Dave studied economics? I can't help feeling that an economist sees the burgeoning 'care home industry', in UK, as a 'healthy growth sector' rather than wholesale 'storage to death' - a kind of limbo - for millions of sad, bewildered, scrap people. I have observed before, that those who look behind the arras of human existence, do not seem to hurry into governance. Is this because they know it must fail, as currently configured? I have been unable to find a breakdown (!) of MPs by aptitude/leaning. I believe it would be depressingly instructive. Thatcher was qualified in Chemistry - the manipulation of less than 100 elements with defined properties. In matters of human empathy, she proved a fine, manipulative, chemist. Will S-B Dave prove to be as good with 'applied' economics, at the 'expense' of the (already fading) contentment of the British Pawn?

  • Comment number 28.

    I think it is perhaps time to view the generals recent comments about shortages of troops, supplies, logistical issues etc. politically.It seems unlikely that a man who has made tactical and strategic thought his career would approach his transition to politician in any other way.

  • Comment number 29.

    The problem has always been that the Labour Party have never understood two institutions. Business and the Military.
    They do not even try, and very few Labour politicians have business experience (except recent minority and tainted Lords et al) and rarely have been in the military.
    I remember as a child Colonel George Wigg in Dudley, who was honest and respected, and would have been voted in even if he became a communist.
    The shocking conduct of the Afghanistan campaign over the last 5 years is a stain on even their lacklustre military record.
    So is it any wonder that people with great knowledge of the military should be brought into government or opposition to correct previous and current incompetence?
    Who cares about politics in the military? - Not NuLabour - at least 5 years ago they put "political" officers in the Army, who were advocating PC battlefield activities that totally riled professional officers. This was of course covered up.

  • Comment number 30.

    As Clausewitz reminds us: "War is politics by other means", and certainly in the US the fame gained in the military sphere has provided former soldiers to run for office. In fact it was often counted against you if a presidential candidate hadn't served their time in the military.

    Dannatt's appointment makes sense from an operational sense, but I agree with the author that having revealed his party political bias and his new paymaster, it perhaps gives a different perspective on his recent revelations that he sold to the newspapers (an act that I still cannot equate with the description of him being "honourable").

    I'm prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt though and wait to see how he acts once appointed. Historically though soldiers tend to make poor politicians, because service life is so totally different from the experience of ordinary people.

  • Comment number 31.

    What I find interesting are what is implied by the fact that people feel uncomfortable. Why is this?

    Is it that the heads of the armed forces will be dealing with someone who actually understands how things work and what is going on? That they will no longer be able to pull the wool over their eyes?

    Is it that Labour don't want information to come into the public arena about how the they have been managing the forces?

    Whatever the reason I'm happy to see it. The more discomfort the less chance of something sneaking past that shouldn't.

  • Comment number 32.

    Richard Dannet knows well that when the military make any request to government they overstate their needs in the full knowledge that they will receive less and that what they do receive will meet their actual needs. They have always done this and build this into their requests. Dannet is trying to spin this well known tactic used by the military and civil servants for centuries to his own advantage. He should stick to being a soldier and stay well out of politics he's using spin to feather his own nest and get himself a job now that the army don't want him anymore. Not the kind of person that should be in government.

  • Comment number 33.

    I think you will find Field Marshall Earl Alexander of Tunis became Minister of Defence at the start of Churchill's second term, 1951-55, but was not happy and later left the Government. General Dannatt, if appointed, may well find the civillian side of government an awkward sequel to his military career.

  • Comment number 34.

    The problem here is what has been alluded to by Mark Urban - ie the Service Chiefs and Chief of the Defence Staff are the ones who should advise government and in keeping to this do so in a balanced way (one of each Service plus one who holds the Chair), maintaining an eye on how we fight this war but also balanced capability for the future. I fear that a 'boots on the ground' man like Dannatt, although a great Army General, will simply look at Afghanistan as a soldier and not open his mind to alternative strategies as might be put forward by the air force (in this case, or possibly the Navy in future scenarios). Alternative strategies such as containment through the use of airpower (as used between 1991 and 2003 over Iraq) may not resolve the problems of the Afghan people but some might say they have had 8 years to do that for themselves, but it would lead to significantly less loss of British life in Afghanistan and the savings (which would be enormous) could be used to bolster the security of the UK here at home. These are the debates that need to be had and I fear that a Tory government with an ex-Army Chief advisor would simply bow to his supposed expertise - he is expert but not nearly broad enough in military terms.

  • Comment number 35.


    bookhimdano wrote:

    one marvels that someone who says things like that is given access to any kind of gun?


    On the contrary. EVERYBODY who shares that view, and there are legions of us, should be given access to guns. Or, more to the point, a much more vociferous say in the direction our country is being propelled towards. Before some 'Anglo-Saxon' group decides to take a leaf out of Al Quaida's book and the whole thing ends in tragedy.

  • Comment number 36.

    This article is so riddled with errors that I don't know where to begin. Firstly Kitchener was the first senior general to realise that the First World War would be a long, mass-army war and not like the wars that the UK was used to fighting. He asked for volunteers - the act to introduce conscription was not laid before Parliament until 1916, after Robertson had become CIGS - and literally hundreds of thousands of men responded to the call. Haig and Robinson were responsible for the Somme, which in any case has been described in a recent book as a "Bloody Victory"....

    Your point about "70 MPs served in the Napoleonic Wars, although true, is deeply misleading. MPs have ALWAYS been allowed to serve in the armed forces in major wars, as a quick look at the casualty list would tell you(although MPs are not allowed to be regulars). For instance in WW2 10 MPs were killed as a direct result of enemy action (9 KIA and one killed when the ship he was in was torpedoed) and another 12 died whilst in uniform.

    As for the canard about Waterloo, Bernard Cornwell (ok not an academic historian) has pointed out that Wellington would not have fought the battle unless he was pretty certain that the Prussians would join in. It was a JOINT victory as most people Tory or otherwise would recognise.

  • Comment number 37.

    It's also one that makes a great many people uncomfortable...

    ...The problem is that once you accept a party political role, so many observers will be prejudiced.

    Indeed. But... am I prejudiced or just justifiably 'uncomfortable' that such as Mr. Bradshaw has oversight on the BBC in his government position, given his earlier employment and possible sympathies?

    Or that when many in the media refer to 'great many people', in less than specific terms, they tend to mean their mates in other, complementary media organisations, who agree with them, to the extent that they refer to each other as validation... and expect to be taken seriously as a consequence.

    Sadly, Michael White or Kevin Maguire are hardly objective observers, and hence rubber stamps, to some.

    Sort out your own house before seeking the higher ground to comment on others, and you may be worth paying attention to.

  • Comment number 38.

    It just goes to show, all the criticism that he's been pointing at the Government in the last few weeks for ignoring him has been down to political motivation and not his former position.

    How can we trust the man, if he lets his politics get in the way?

    More stinking Tory games. We aren't stupid.

  • Comment number 39.

    A much better exammple of a Political General is Field Marshall Sir Henry Wilson who was CIGS from 1918 - 1922, who at the Paris Peace Conference acted as Britain's principle military adviser but found himself increasingly at loggerheads with Lloyd George and the government over the ever widening role of an overstretched post war army spread thinly around the globe whilst trying to maintain power in Ireland.

    He resigned from the army in February 1922 and became a Member of Parliament for North Down after a by-election as well as being a member of the house of lords. In March 1922 he became military adviser to the Northern Ireland Government and was assinated in June 1922 by the London IRA.

    Ironically the two men who killed him where both former British Soldiers during the Great War.

  • Comment number 40.

    In response to #3, #5, #9 - hubertgrove, laughingdevil and Igurisu-jin

    You've asked me to name officers who have questioned the wisdom of the appointment - well Col Richard Kemp and Lord David Ramsbotham have both appeared on the BBC output doing so.

    Ld Ramsbotham as a former lieutenant general and head of the Prison Service is indeed a shrewd observer of the Whitehall scene. My contacts who criticsed Gen Dannatt yesterday spoke on condition of anonymity.

    I'm sure there will be many in the army who relish the idea of the former CGS getting involved in running defence - but most insider-types that I have contacted on this are opposed, particularly to the party political nature of his step.

  • Comment number 41.

    In response to #7 - notts-man

    Yes indeed, I agree Kitchener was a great historical figure - rush out and buy my book 'Generals' and you'll see I said so in my chapter on him!

    The fact that you and I think so doesn't change what my departed grandpa felt though, and since he fought throughout 1914-18 including at the Somme, I don't really think we can say he didn't know what he was talking about...

  • Comment number 42.

    In response to #33 - sonbinor39

    Good point of FM Alexander! Thank you for making it. The differences between what Adm West and Kitchener did and the current situation were what I sought to explore. But I should have considered FM Alexander too.

  • Comment number 43.

    In response to #36 - unixman2

    Full of errors? I don't think we disagree about any significant point.

    Please could you rush out and buy 'Generals' too ;-) and you'll see from my Kitchener chapter that we would entirely agree about the importance of his mass mobilisation and other issues.

    I also look at the issue of declining representation of serving officers among MPs in that book - esentially it happened in the second half of the 19th Century.

    'Canard about Waterloo'? I'm not saying that I believe that, but surely you would accept that some people still argue 'it was the Prussians wot won it'.

  • Comment number 44.

    In response to #39 - The_Croydoner
    Your FM Wilson point is well made. But surely he was not a party political figure?

  • Comment number 45.

    I guess we're more uncomfortable over here (compared to the States) with politicising our military commanders. With, I think, good reason. We don't wish to live in a military dictatorship afterall. The role of the CGS/CDS is to advise the government, not to decide policy.

    But it isn't just the party political nature of this move by Gen. Dannatt which makes things uncomfortable. It's the fact that if (as is likely) we have a Tory government after the election the Services Chiefs will be sidelined or at least be drowned out by Dannatt.

    Oh, just a quick factcheck - #34 - Dannatt was never a theatre commander in Afghanistan, he was Chief of the General Staff (CGS) which is the head of the Army. And to those who like the "conspiracy" theories that Brown blocked Dannatt from becoming CDS, historically the CDS role has rotated around the services. It was the RAF's "turn" to hold the seat, and - for future reference - the next CDS should be from the Senior Service (RN). When someone becomes CDS out of turn there might be cause for wondering about political interference... ;-)

    Of course, what makes that all the more fustrating is that Gen. Dannatt isn't worth listening to anyway. And I'm not just referring to his nonsense about the "Christian" values of the UK. His comments about the Eurofighter and about the new aircraft carries prove that though he may be a competent Army officer he hasn't really moved on to grasp the broader strategic picture. Afghanistan is important and is currently our primary combat theatre, yes. But we still need to maintain our capability to fight in different scenarios in the future - not to mention keep up the many other important tasks that the RN in particular are doing now that rarely make the news.

    Inter-service rivalry is hardly new and is just one of those things but one would expect someone at the level of Gen. Dannatt to have a better understanding of the roles of the other services. Then again the bosses of crab air never seem to understand why they shouldn't be running everything so maybe I'm being over-optimistic.

  • Comment number 46.



    Before his retirement, RN Frigates- that did not have 'outer layer' anti airborne threat defence systems- had their 'Phalanx' 'inner layer' anti airborne threat defence systems removed and sent to Basra, southern Iraq to provide protection against home-made rockets, artillery and mortars for British troops deployed there....

    Royal Navy personnel were sent to Iraq to support the Army in operating these 'land based' Phalanx systems...

    This, instead of the Labour govt approving funding to buy new 'land-based' Phalanx systems for use in Iraq, and training Army personnel to operate them:

    This is not to say that General Dannatt approved of this 'rob Peter to pay Paul' acquisition method...

    Only to point out that this occurred while he was head of the British Army...

    The facts are:

    The facts are:

    1) surface ships of all countries' navy's are, without modern-technology defences, extremely vulnerable to current anti-ship airborne weapons...;

    2) potent, easy to transport and hide, anti-ship weapons such as the SS-N-27 class of missiles can- in addition to being launchable from aircraft hundreds of miles from target warship(s), also be launched from shore, surface vessels and submarines and have been widely marketed during the last decade....;

    3) Royal Navy 'picket vessels' such as the brand-new Type-45 Destroyers, that have 'some capabilities' to defend against SS-N-27 type anti-ship missiles, can not defend themselves from sub-surface threats- due to their Labour-dictated weapons system build-deficiencies (motivated by Labour's grievously irresponsible cost-cutting strategies);

    4) Due to this, and Type-45's:

    - not being fitted at commissioning with 'Cooperative Engagement Capability' (CEC) sensors/equipment*; and

    - their absurdly puny abilities to stock ANTI AIRBORNE THREAT missiles*...

    .... Type-45's would not be in a position to defend any aircraft carriers- or other ships- in their battle group/squadron... for very long (if at all)... if up against a moderately smart, and medium technology-equipped foe...

    (* due to the Labour govt's highly innapropriate cost-cutting interference in the Type-45 programme's design/build processes)

    Comparable class Destroyers from other 1st world nations' navy's- such as the US's, South Korean and Japan's (Burke, KDX III and Kongo classes)- each have a capacity to stock over 360 'outer layer' anti airborne threat missiles, whereas a Type-45's maximum capacity is only 48 'outer layer' anti airborne threat missiles...

    Burke's, KDX III's and Kongo class Destroyers' 'outer layer' anti airborne threat missiles can also be targeted at surface threats whereas Type-45's can not...

    Similarly, Burke's, KDX III's and Kongo class Destroyers are, upon commissioning- fitted with 'inner layer' anti airborne threat systems, whereas Type-45's are not...

    Although there are plans to fit a 25-year old inner layer defence system to the few Type-45's that the Labour govt has committed to fund the construction of- once these inner layer defence systems become available for cannibalization from retired/decommissioned Type-42 Destroyers...

    5) The speed at which up to date airborne anti-ship weapons travel- and close on targets when in 'terminal mode'- obviates any possible argument that might have existed, pre-1970, for aircraft carriers to not possess their own airborne threat defences...

    6) In the 21st century, all 1st world nations with carrier forces- except the UK- recognize the above and are providing their aircraft carriers with both outer layer and inner layer anti airborne threat defences...

    7) Failure by the UK to do this as well- for its existing and any new carriers that may be provided to the Royal Navy- is inviting disaster- and ridicule worldwide....

    In the near future, the RN and other UK armed forces branches don't just require reasonable increases in annualized funding- they also need objectively-set, responsible capability benchmarks to aim at (and updated at a minimum every 2-years)... both of which have not been provided and/or facilitated by the Labour govt during the last 12-years!!

    Today, in addition to its new Type-45 Destroyers being equipped- at commissioning- with the weapons and defensive systems required so that they can legitimately function as 'multi-mission/multi-role' Destroyers- the RN urgently requires the expedited construction of at least 12- 14 of these warships- not 6 as Labour has begrudgingly agreed to....

    Additionally, the RN needs- at the minimum- either:

    1) its 2 operational aircraft carriers' weapons and defensive systems updated to 21st century standards- starting immediately!!;


    2) the immediate lend-lease of 2 or 3 up-to-date, fully equipped-with aircraft/weaponry/etc replacement carriers from the US...

    These ships' serving in the RN at least until the UK commissions- with a full compliment of fixed-wing and other aircraft- UK-built aircraft carriers*...

    (* designed with 21st century military-capabilities as a first priority, instead of cost effectiveness and 'make-work-project' political objectives dominating design decisions...)

    Roderick V. Louis,
    Vancouver, BC, Canada

  • Comment number 47.

    PART 3:


    Before his retirement, for the better part of 1/2 a decade: 2003-2009, the Royal Navy's 2 operational aircraft carriers- HMS Illustrious and HMS Ark Royal- had their entire supply of fixed-wing aircraft (Harriers) plus their pilots and maintenance personnel 'hijacked' and sent to British bases in Landlocked Afghanistan...

    This has so severely damaged the Royal Navy, that it has lost the ability to operate an air arm...

    Today, after 12-years of astonishingly irresponsible, short-sighted armed forces funding strategies, the RN can not conduct:

    1) extended, fixed-wing aircraft dependent missions; and not even

    2) 'small scale focused interventions' (SSFI):

    "Back on board: regenerating UK carrier strike capability", 04

    "... there is no disguising that the extended commitment of (Royal Navy Harriers) to the Afghanistan theatre has over the same period significantly curtailed the availability of the UK's ground attack Harrier force - particularly its maritime-oriented Naval Strike Wing (NSW) - to exercise in the carrier-borne strike role...."

    "... As a result, HMS Illustrious, currently the UK's high readiness strike carrier (CVS), has frequently found its hangar and flight deck empty of fixed-wing aircraft over the past three years...."

    "... This is not good news at a time when the RN is attempting to practice and hone the strike potential of its existing carriers in the run up to the introduction of the two new 65,000-ton Queen Elizabeth class vessels from the middle of the next decade...."

    "... The impact of this lack of sea time has been keenly felt in (Royal Navy air wings) and on board Illustrious."

    "... Pilots have not been able to maintain (skills) in the art of operating from the cramped and moving flight deck of (an aircraft carrier)..."

    "...Meanwhile, the lack of fixed-wing aircraft on board Illustrious has led to a skill fade in both flight deck crews and the ship's air management organization..."

    "... Deputy Assistant Chief of Staff (Carrier Strike), Navy Command Headquarters, Captain Jock Alexander: '... it is a fact that given the tempo of operations in Afghanistan, a lot of Harrier pilots have seen little or nothing of a carrier in four years.

    "'... The same goes for the air engineers...'"

    "... '(today) there is a need for the (Harrier pilots/support personnel/engineers) to understand and appreciate how the ship works...'".

    The above is not intended to say that, during 2002-2009, General Dannatt approved of this 'rob Peter to pay Paul' method of acquiring 'air cover' resources for his Afghanistan-based service personnel...

    Only to point out that this occurred while he was head of the British Army...

    And also to make plain that whatever party forms govt next and whoever is Minister of Defence or responsible for armed services funding and strategies/policies- they will be faced with a stark choice of:

    1) allowing the continued severe degradation of the UK's military capabilities- in particular the Royal Navy; or

    2) fixing today's disastrous, highly dangerous situation by reversing Labour's willfully-blind-to-consequences defence-expenditure policies 1998-2009...

    Roderick V. Louis,
    Vancouver, BC, Canada

  • Comment number 48.

    Dannatt's appointment is a gimmick, low politic's, one of the bad side effects of Britain's "War on Terror" is the creeping politicisation of the Armed Forces, Police and Intelligence Forces.

    He is illsuited to his role being used to giving orders, added to his rather forthright views.
    As a General with a deep commintment to the Army, he is likely to press their interests above the other two services.
    As the armys main theatre is Afghanistan, Dannatt could persuade Senior Minsters to deploy asserts to the country to the detriment to the overall Defence priorities.
    Indeed there is growing evidence that AFPak Tail is beginning to wag the UK Defence Dog!
    Overall it looks like we are starting a very dangerous descent to a "Political Military.


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