How bemusing is all the muttering from the Navy about UK warships being deployed to help rescue stranded tourists from the continent? First we had Admiral Jock Slater saying on Radio 4 that he was “uneasy” about warships being used to ferry people when no hostile environment was involved. And then yesterday, someone gave a savage anonymous briefing to the FT’s Sue Cameron:
“These are military ships, they’re all having to be moved around away from their normal duties and where do you stop?” said one senior figure. “Some of the stranded people are in Thailand and Australia. Are we going to sail there to pick them up? These vessels are totally unsuited to the task anyway. They’re not exactly fitted with safety belts for children.”
The whole idea seems to have come from Lord West, former first sea lord and chief of naval staff, and now one of GB’s ministerial Goats – government of all talents. Much of Whitehall’s angst is centred on him. Says one observer, Lord West “seems to think he is still in charge of the navy”. With a defence review coming up after the election, Lord West doubtless saw it as a way of justifying the navy’s budget and its plans for two new, hugely expensive carriers. If so it’s a costly piece of PR. Military experts put the cost of keeping HMS Ark Royal afloat at a whopping £3,500 an hour.
Right, because if HMS Ark Royal has much better things to be doing. Like maintaining readiness for a possible Soviet invasion… I… er… oh.
Truly, one could not make this up. The RN is offered a wide open goal to show itself as a flexible, can-do operator. In the middle of the election campaign. With brutal spending cuts in prospect. At a time when everyone’s suddenly remembering that Britan’s an island. Far from being a costly piece of PR, this is all the Navy’s Christmases at once – or would be, if they weren’t so apparently hellbent on cocking it up.