Editorial Spring 24

Europe faces a threat to its peace and security unparalleled in our lifetimes.

Europe faces a threat to its peace and security unparalleled in our lifetimes. The nightmare scenario is that China invades Taiwan, and a distracted America leaves Europe defenceless against an emboldened Russia led by a vengeful gangster bent on restoring his nation’s imperial glory. The great dictators have returned to the stage of world history and seldom have the liberal democracies seemed more exposed.

Against this backdrop, the parlous state of our national defences gives grave cause for concern. The deficiencies in weapons, ammunition, and equipment across all three services are common knowledge and were painfully visible in recent ‘deployments’ of our aircraft carriers, which lacked fighter aircraft, stand-off weapons, trained pilots, reliable airborne early warning, supply ships, and escorts. But no less serious is the decline in personnel, due mostly to cutbacks but now exacerbated by severe difficulties in recruitment and retention. The army is down from 109,600 in 2000 to 76,950 in 2023, the lowest numbers since the Napoleonic wars. And in the year to October 2023, our regular forces fell by 4 percent from 145,270 to 139,490, and our reserves by a whopping 5.2 percent from 34,760 to 32,950. All this in a single year.

Poor pay and conditions have played their part, as has the disastrous outsourcing of recruitment to Capita, which replaced face-to-face encounters with serving soldiers at local recruitment centres by a cheaper centralised online system. But there is also concern within the military that the Ministry of Defence’s strategy of ‘mainstreaming diversity and inclusion in defence culture and behaviours’, while prioritising BAME recruitment to meet diversity targets, has alienated its traditional recruiting base – the white working class.

Your average working-class white lad might not be much of a historian, but mention the Battle of Britain, Waterloo, Trafalgar, or even Agincourt, and something stirs. He recognises it as his history, his heritage. During the Peninsular War, Wellington called his men ‘the scum of the earth’, but he took infinite pains to ensure they were properly trained, equipped, and provisioned, often to the exasperation of his superiors in London. The men repaid their country at Waterloo by forming squares and withstanding the assaults of French cavalry and cannon bombardment for hours on end. By the First World War, the legend of the British Tommy had been established, a figure of courage, dogged determination, and good humour in adversity. But working-class lads who would have fought proudly for King and Country are left cold by the causes of diversity and inclusion, particularly when diversity targets have seen BAME candidates fast tracked for training ahead of white men, as happened in the RAF last year.

The wider issue is the loss of that common culture, that shared inheritance of traditions customs, habits, loyalties, and shared memories that once united us, and furnished our sense of a common home worth fighting for. A generation or two ago, every child knew of Drake, Raleigh, Nelson, Baden Powell, Captain Scott, and Group Captain Douglas Bader. It is little exaggeration to say that Nelson’s flag signal ‘England expects …’ stirred our hearts. Now, our national heroes lie forgotten, cancelled because they might cause offence by today’s liberal standards. For the prevailing dogma of multiculturalism is at heart a repudiation of our English civilization and of our English history. And the working class has been hit especially hard by a bourgeois liberal establishment that has turned its back on them, denigrating their unashamed patriotism at every turn.

Wars are won, not by utopian idealists, but by patriots. For Tommy Atkins, it was his love of his country, his attachment to old Blighty, and his loyalty to his comrades that kept him going. For many, their vision of England was of a green and pleasant land, an idyll of dreamy villages, of country cottages and gardens. A bucolic idyll perhaps, but our dreams and visions matter. Yet according to a report produced earlier this month by the environmental coalition Wildlife and Countryside Link, our countryside reflects ‘white British cultural values’ and ‘racist colonial legacies’. One is left wondering why, nowadays, any Englishman would bother to fight for his country.

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