As Ben Wallace departs he can brag of historic sums for nuclear bombs as public sector workers are expected to swallow poverty inducing pay cuts

Anti-war campaigners certainly won’t bemoan the resignation of Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace, but nor will they be greatly celebrating his departure. Wallace, who will not seek re-election at the next election, leaves a legacy of significant increases in military spending in a country under far greater threat of nuclear war than at any time in its history. If defending the country from external threats is the task at hand, he has roundly failed. Nevertheless, his successor will likely follow a similarly belligerent path, stoking threats and provoking danger with other major military powers.

The launch of the Defence Command Paper Refresh (DCP23) earlier this week saw Wallace vow that “We will spend over £50 billion on defence for the first time in our history. That is nearly £12 billion of cash investment a year higher than 2019 – when I started.” This is a sizeable increase by any standards but in the context of public sector workers recently being offered a significant real terms pay cut in the form of a 6.5% pay offer its a staggering surge.

The DCP23 also saw the announcement of “a further £6 billion over the subsequent three years” for nuclear weapons. For context, the total potential cost of Rishi Sunak’s recent pay offer is just £5 billion. So, while Wallace can brag of historic sums for nuclear bombs, public sector workers are expected to swallow poverty inducing pay cuts. It is yet another sign of how deeply dishonest this government is and how warped their priorities are. As CND’s General Secretary, Kate Hudson, said “They say there’s no magic money tree to fix the NHS, our schools, or the planet, but there always seem to be billions more pounds of taxpayers’ money available for weapons of mass destruction that can destroy us all.”

The government’s approach to the war in Ukraine also exposes their preference for international conflict over domestic welfare. At the despatch box, Wallace claimed that the focus of this week’s paper is to “drive the lessons of Ukraine into our core business” – sadly they seem to have learnt all the wrong lessons. Rather than pursuing a peaceful resolution to the conflict, the outgoing MP has been at the forefront of escalating the NATO-Russia proxy war with the supply of over £4 billion of UK weapons including cruise missiles, depleted uranium rounds and suicide drones. As Jeremy Corbyn rightly questioned from the backbenches “does he [Wallace] have any idea or process to bring about more peace in the world…or are we going to go on year on year increasing expenditure on defence?”.

Interestingly, a recent remark from Wallace that Ukraine has “tragically become a battle lab” and an admission that the “casualty rates are horrendous” more accurately reflect the true nature of the gruesome war in Ukraine. But rather than respond to these facts by pursuing peace, the Tories continue to pursue a strategy of bellicosity based on the lie that the war is ‘winnable’ in the face of overwhelming evidence that the war has become a blood-drenched stalemate.

One sector which is flourishing from the killing is the heavily state subsidised arms industry, companies such as BAE Systems and QinetiQ. A recent report from thinktank Common Wealth highlighted the billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money wasted on “corporate welfare” for arms manufacturers resulting in massive dividends for shareholders. The report found that BAE Systems pays just 14.35% of its own Research & Development costs with the rest made up through state subsidies – this despite posting the tidy figure of £21.25 billion in revenue last calendar year. The contrast of “corporate welfare” for killing machines while some nurses are using food banks is a sign of just how devastating these twisted priorities have been.

Whilst the desire expressed in DCP23 to keep the UK “on track to act as a global heavyweight both now and in the future” will allow the politicians to keep pontificating and the balance sheets of arms companies firmly in profit, it serves the interests of ordinary citizens here or in Ukraine not a jot. The fact is that the longer we allow the pursuit of a ‘more bombs, less butter’ strategy from our government the more we will suffer the consequences. We must push back.

20 Jul 2023 by Mayer Wakefield

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