Tony's General    
    James Thurgood on Britain's top PC general    

WHEN the bombing of Belgrade was going full steam ahead last year, a face appeared on our television screens which I had not seen before. It was that of General Sir Charles Guthrie, who was announced as the Chief of the Defence Staff. In current parlance, this means he was and, until later this month, is Britain's top soldier. A few minutes of listening to the arrant nonsense spouted by Sir Charles about the obvious rectitude of the attacks on the Serbs, and how Britain must do her bit to bring the tyrant Slobodan Milosevic to heel, were enough to convince me that he was clearly a very "political" general - appointed as a thoroughly loyal and reliable servant of the liberal-globalist establishment rather than because of any special merit as a would-be leader of men in war.

In fact, Guthrie could hardly have been otherwise - and for reasons entirely separate from his enthusiasm for the crusade against Slobo. In recent years the British armed forces, not long ago envied as the world's best, have been demoralised and rotted by political correctness. Discipline has been undermined. Training has been softened, with stress counselling - introduced for recruits who don't like being barked at by NCOs. Strenuous efforts have been made to get more "ethnics" to join, and "anti-racist" drives have been launched against anyone who might object. The door has been opened to homosexual recruitment. And women have been enlisted for strenuous combat roles on a basis of complete equality with men - sometimes indeed in command of men.

None of this could have happened had the military top brass not been thoroughly compliant in its attitudes. Honourable senior officers, ordered to carry out schemes which they must know would dangerously reduce the fighting efficiency of the forces under their command, would face their political bosses down and threaten resignation - then carry the threat out if the nonsense were not stopped. That Britain's service chiefs have failed to do this simply shows that, at the very top level at least, they place careers before duty. This is a chilling portent of what Britain might expect if she is called on to fight a really serious war for national survival.

To those concerned about these matters, an article appearing in The Spectator on May 27th should be of much interest. Titled ":officer and politician", it told us a few things about General Guthrie which go a long way to explain what has been happening to the British Army. When the General steps down as Chief of the Defence Staff later this year, the article began...

‘he will do so in a haze of goodwill from No. 10. Never have relations between the commander of Britain's armed forces and the prime minister of the day been as warm as they are at present. They border, indeed, on the effusive. A year ago a group of officers were at a dinner party with the General. It was all "Tony this and Tony that," according to one of the other guests. "Some of us, all junior officers, felt a little uncomfortable."’

This simply has to be bad news. Warm relations between a prime minister and the nation's top soldier can only mean one of two things: either the prime minister has a regard for the military that is exceptionally high among politicians, or the top soldier has a regard for the political class that is unusual among the military. In Blair's case, we can straight away dismiss the former possibility. He is head of a party and government comprised of people who hate the armed forces, who have for the most part never served in uniform and who simply do not believe in defending the nation. The warm relationship between Guthrie and Blair can therefore only mean that: (1) Guthrie likes Tony's way of politics; and that: (2) Tony finds Guthrie a very willing stooge.

Considering the Blair Government's record on defence, this is nothing short of alarming.


The Spectator article, by Peter Oborne,justifies such apprehension. "It is striking," says Oborne...

‘that this unprecedented warmth and harmony have coincided not merely with a sharp decline in defence spending, but also with a sustained Whitehall attack on cherished military practices and tradition. There have been embarrassing cash crises. Ships have been stuck in port because the money to pay fuel bills has run out. Exercises have been cancelled because of lack of funds. Army, Navy and Air Force - as the Labour-dominated defence select committee in the Commons recently highlighted - are enfeebled by chronic under-manning. Defence now comes way down the list of government priorities. The clamp on defence expenditure is all the more striking since it comes at a time of strong growth in spending in other areas. Defence spending now stands at 2.5 percent of GNP, compared with 2.9 per cent the year before Labour came to office.’

But that's only the tip of the iceberg. Says Oborne:-

‘At the same time the Army, Navy and Air Force have had a series of measures imposed upon them which, in the eyes of many soldiers, are chronically damaging to morale and discipline. The decision to allow gays into the military was made in the face of sharp opposition from men and women of all ranks who believed - whether rightly or wrongly - that the measure would make the armed services less effective.

Now there is the prospect of the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into British law. In February General Sir Peter de la Billiere, hero of the Gulf War, expressed concern at the way ministers are to permit soldiers to sue their commanding officers for giving orders that with the benefit of hindsight turn out to have been "wrong." Sir Peter - who shares Guthrie's SAS background but little else - declared that he could "think of no measure which would do more to undermine the necessary self-confidence of junior officers." He asked to know why Britain had failed to follow the example of Spain, France, Portugal and Russia and the many other nations which have secured an exemption.’

Oborne underlined the visceral anti-military mentality of the Labour hierarchy, while making the rather questionable observation that it was not shared by Blair himself. In their attitude to the armed forces, he said, some of Blair's ministers...

‘are openly contemptuous. New Labour has developed a habit of casually insulting the selfless men and women who risk their lives to serve their country. In March, Keith Vaz, Minister for Europe, linked the Parachute Regiment to right-wing extremism in a press release. The Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon let this offensive attack pass without protest. Indeed, when I raised the issue with the MOD, the official spokesman appeared to come to Vaz's defence, offering up in mitigation the undeniable fact that Vaz's remarks had been made during an election period.

‘This Vaz episode should be seen in the context of Peter Mandelson's description of the Household Cavalry as "chinless", and the recent government readiness to countenance a plan for a "National Day of Reconciliation in Northern Ireland." British troops and the IRA were to join in a gesture marking an "end to conflict", with the attendant message that terrorists and British soldiers are morally equivalent.’

Well, whether or not the Parachute Regiment is "linked to right-wing extremism," as Mr. Vaz has claimed, this should not be seen as "offensive." The regiment is supposed to be an institution comprised of some of the very cream of the British Army, and able to acquit itself in battle to the very highest standards of valour and efficiency. The politics of its members should not be an issue of any consequence, but if by "right-wing extremist" is meant "ultra-patriotic" then government ministers should be grateful for that tendency rather than condemning it. Perhaps though, the background of Mr. Vaz makes it harder for him to appreciate the glorious traditions of this fighting force than is the case with indigenous Britons of whose heritage it is a part. As for the "Day of Reconciliation" in Northern Ireland, officers who would lend themselves to such a hideous charade would deserve no better fate than the traditional one meted out over the ages to those in uniform who declined to do battle with the enemy.

For services rendered?

Guthrie, however, seems to belong to that class of Briton who finds it difficult to determine just who the enemy is. Perhaps he appears to the General in the form, not of a foreign army threatening this country, but of those modern Labour demons "racism", "sexism" and "homophobia." Hence the high esteem in which he is held in Westminster. Says Oborne:-

‘The mood of anger and dismay at all levels of the British armed forces runs deep. It is shared by men serving in the ranks, by junior officers and by a number of retired generals. But evidently not by Sir Charles Guthrie. Some military sources are convinced that the prime minister is ready to bestow on his friend the ultimate favour. They say he is ready to break the iron rule which prevents peacetime generals being made up to field marshals. Such a move would almost certainly be accompanied by a peerage, not in every case assured for a retiring CDS.’

In this regard, the good General seems really to be in no different category to the legions of chief constables of police up and down the United Kingdom, who have prioritised their duties first and foremost as being those of combatting politically incorrect tendencies in their forces and among the public at large rather than fighting crime. Lucky Britain - to have this huge and growing network of public servants to whom career promotion, a good pension and perhaps a place on the Honours List are the number-one imperatives, and who, it seems, will toady to any political boss, of whatever complexion, to secure these goodies!

In the case of Guthrie, it appears that he is destined on retirement to that kind of lucrative job in the City that is the reward of countless politicians who have done nothing for their country but have been conscientious servants of their party.

Oborne says of Guthrie:-

‘Even his friends admit that he is a "political general" and agree that it is debatable whether he is better at representing the military position to the government or the government position to the military...’


‘Others are vitriolic in their criticism. One senior figure still on the active list comes close to accusing Guthrie of placing private ambition before the well-being and professionalism of the men under his command. Earlier this year Guthrie was obliged to send out a sharply worded warning to all brigade commanders advising officers that they should stop leaking details of government defence cuts. The indications are that these leaks have come from middle-ranking officers driven close to despair by government cutbacks.’

Now that Guthrie is stepping down, who will be his successor as CDS? According to Oborne, military traditionalists favour General Rupert Smith, "a brave officer who has served only one tour of duty at Whitehall." His chief rival seems to be Admiral Nigel Essenhigh, "who recently caused purring at Westminster by writing a letter to The Times insisting that government cuts had not damaged the operational effectiveness of the British fleet."

So who would you bet on?

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