General Richard Dannatt

I was asked to make comment on BBC Newsnight tonight on General Dannatt . However, I was told not so long ago, by  the most insightful person on the planet, that my appearing on telly is for me a ‘negative multiplier’.  I often seemed arrogant and even hateful. A tough judgement, but right.  So I thought I’d make few points here instead.

I listened to Richard Dannatt’s R5 interview earlier. It was full of  “old chap” and delivered in a style people will come to ridicule. It seems to me that he’s quite unprepared for what’s about to happen to him. For example, he didn’t seem to understand that he’ll have to resign immediately from the job he was sworn into today as Constable of Tower of London.  And did he consider that he might have harmed this colleague Sir David Richard’s chances of becoming head of the armed services? Most significantly, his military service has been, without question, of the highest order but he will now be forced to trade on it for the Conservative party. His military reputation will be diminished by the political process as an election draws closer. That will be more painful (and more unfair) than he thinks. Politics can be the most satisfying thing to do, it truly can, yet it can also be personally brutal.

And what of the wider politics? Well, it’s a blow for Labour, of course. Commentators will say that Gordon Brown never really appreciated the military and that Labour has misjudged it’s relationship with the Armed Services. Yet no-one really doubts GB’s genuine human concern for people  here and abroad. If his deep worry about casualties is reflected in a policy decision to send as few additional troops to Afghanistan as possible) then that’ll reflect strong public opinion.

I welcome the recent elevation of Defence to the top of the political agenda but it’s unlikely to last. And General Dannatt will very soon be required to do something i know plenty about –  subordinating his views to party loyalty.  A very smart Scottish colleague told me a long time ago I’d got it badly wrong and should have stuck to speaking out for soldiers instead of sometimes looking stupid in lieu of more senior players, and of course he was right. I had a reasonably successful half-career in the services – for General Dannatt, his hugely successful full career will be the negative multiplier, I think.

As the Parliamentary recess ends and the Tory conference finishes, we seem to be moving towards a new kind of politics. Gordon Brown has made ministers of surgeons, lawyers, business people, trades unionists, Admirals – a good thing – but the very few days which have passed between the General’s retirement and entry into politics is very significant.  Until now people inside and outside the military have thought the armed services ‘different’.  Soon to be ex-constable and new Lord Dannatt, along with the Conservatives, has just put an Improvised Explosive Device under that idea.