The Syrian crisis has continued to dominate many of the headlines during the last month, albeit with military action now taking a backseat to diplomatic intervention and specifically efforts to secure the Assad regime’s stockpile of chemical weapons.
Domestically, the political agenda has been dominated by the annual party political conferences – and as a result of these, the House of Lords has remained in recess for the past month, with MPs returning to the House of Commons for two weeks at the start of the month and then recessing again.
During the Conservative Party conference, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond MP was heckled by audience members over planned defence cuts. Mr Hammond was criticised by former members of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, which is being disbanded as part of the Government’s Army 2020 strategy.
The Labour conference was notable principally for Ed Miliband’s keynote speech, which many commentators have interpreted as a significant shift of the Party to the left. Mr Miliband has faced criticism from business leaders for his centrepiece announcement of a two year freeze of energy prices – however, there is a general consensus that his speech had helped reinforce his leadership of the Labour Party and answered a number of questions over party policy.
The Liberal Democrats conference was principally notable for a populist announcement of a new free school meals policy, but focused principally on reinforcing Nick Clegg’s leadership and setting out the Party’s credentials as a coalition partner (for either the Conservatives or Labour) in 2015. It was notable that comparatively few of the media stories emanating from the party conferences referenced defence, indicating the parties’ thinking on the priorities for their electoral strategies in 2015 (particularly their economic credentials).
Despite the House of Commons being in recess for all but a fortnight in the last month, Madeline Moon MP has secured answers to Parliamentary Questions highlighting the scale of loss and theft from MOD establishments. The Federation has also continued to make preparations to challenge the MOD and HM Treasury’s report on MDP pensions, which must be presented to the House of Commons in December.
The political approach
As noted above, Defence Select Committee member Madeline Moon MP has secured answers to a number of Parliamentary Questions during the last month that highlighted losses from specific MOD sites; outlined the number of items lost in transit; and questioned the Minister on the MOD’s processes for identifying any acting on the loss of materiel.
The questions formed part of the Defence Police Federation’s on-going engagement on the subject of theft and loss, and were intended to put information into the public domain about the scale of the Department’s losses – so that the Federation can in turn highlight the need for better and more proactive use of the MDP.
We are separately in the process of arranging meetings with a number of prominent Parliamentarians on the subject of MDP pensions. This group includes the Federation’s longstanding Parliamentary supporters and Members who spoke during a debate on MDP pensions – and those of the MOD Fire and Rescue Service – earlier this year that was secured by the Federation and the firefighters.
The purpose of these meetings will be to update Parliamentarians on the report being prepared by HMT and the MOD; to highlight our concerns as to its scope; and to encourage Parliamentarians to make representations to the Government to ensure the report is balanced and comprehensive.
The Federation is also preparing its own report on the subject of pensions, which we intend to be a contrast to the HMT/MOD report and to highlight those issues we expect the Government to overlook.
Also this month, we have been engaging with Shadow Defence Minister Alison Seabeck MP over clauses in the Defence Reform Bill which concerns the jurisdiction of the MDP over contractors and contractor property, and have sought clarity over parts of the legislation to ascertain any potential conflicts with the MDP’s role.
During the last month we have continued to engage with the national press and have briefed journalist contacts on the Parliamentary Questions tabled by Madeline Moon MP and answered by the MOD. The purpose of these contacts has been to ensure the national media remains aware of the scale of loss within the MOD and is approaching the DPF for comment on the stories they regularly prepare on the issue.
We will be arranging one-to-one briefings with select journalists on the subject of MDP pensions and will also be using the Federation report referenced above as a tool with which to brief journalists. This activity will be focused on ensuring the MOD/HMT’s reporting is conducted very much in the public domain, and that there is an appropriate level of scrutiny and criticism of the Government’s position.
We are also working to secure opportunities for Eamon Keating to submit comment articles to selected titles.
We are currently preparing a toolkit for local reps providing guidance on how to contact local MPs on members’ behalf to highlight issues around MDP pensions.
We would like to remind members to be aware of regulations in any communication they engage in with local MPs or elected representatives.