The Ministry of Defence has today (Thursday) published details of how it will equip the Royal Navy, Army and RAF over the next ten years and how this will be funded. For the first time, the Government has set out a fully-funded Defence Equipment Plan totalling almost £160Bn.
Within the equipment and equipment support budget of around £160Bn over the next ten years, Philip Hammond has introduced for the first time a contingency of £4.8Bn to manage cost variation and protect existing projects.
In addition, within the £160Bn, £8Bn is currently unallocated. This will be allocated as new equipment priorities emerge over the decade and only once the MoDis confident that they are affordable and therefore deliverable. Priorities will be decided by the Armed Forces Committee, chaired by the Chief of the Defence Staff.
Structuring the Defence Equipment Plan and the budget that supports it in this way will enable the MoDto deliver Future Force 2020.
The affordability of this plan has been scrutinised by the National Audit Office (NAO) and their independent analysis is also published today.
The NAO makes clear that the MoD has:
- “substantially revised the way it compiles and manages the Equipment Plan and is now approaching the task on a more prudent basis”;
- “taken difficult decisions to address what was estimated to be a £74Bn gap between its forecast funding and costs”;
- “taken significant positive steps designed to deal with the accumulated affordability gap and lay the foundations for stability going forward”;
And concludes that if it continues along this path:
- “the Department will be able to demonstrate it has really turned a corner.”
The publication of the Equipment Plan follows the Defence Secretary’s announcement last year that the Defence budget has been balanced for the first time in more than a decade and that the MoD is taking a new approach to financial planning. The Plan includes the following major investments in state of the art military capabilities and their support over the next ten years:
- £35.8Bn on submarines and the deterrent, including a total of seven Astute Class attack submarines and developing a replacement for Vanguard Class ballistic missile submarines;
- £18.5Bn on combat air, including Lightning II and Typhoon fast jets and UAVs;
- £17.4Bn on ships, including Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers, six new Type 45 destroyers and the development of the Type 26 Global Combat Ship;
- £13.9Bn on aircraft for air-to-air refuelling, passenger and heavy lift, such as Voyager and A400M;
- £12.3Bn on armoured fighting vehicles, including Warrior, Scout and other land equipment;
- £12.1Bn on helicopters, including Chinook, Apache, Puma and Wildcat; and
- £11.4Bn on weapons, for example, missiles, torpedoes and precision guided bombs.
The Defence Equipment Plan gives the Defence industry more information than ever before about the MoD’s priorities to enable them to invest in the capabilities the military will require.
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said:
“It is essential that our forces are fully equipped to respond to the range of threats we face in this uncertain world. This £160Bn Equipment Plan will ensure the UK’s Armed Forces remain among the most capable and best equipped in the world, providing the military with the confidence that the equipment they need is fully funded. For the first time in a generation the Armed Forces will have a sustainable equipment plan.
“Step by step, we are clearing up years of mismanagement under the last Government by ending the culture of over-promising and under-delivering that created a multi billion pound black hole in the Defence budget. Today’s NAO report confirms that we were right to take the difficult decisions to cut unaffordable expenditure and balance the books.”
Whilst this improved management of the Defence budget is welcome after years of Labour mismanagement, it is still too small to maintain properly resourced armed forces to undertake the many roles expected of them by the Government. If the UK is to continue to punch above its weight on the world stage, strong and flexible armed forces are required. In recent years they have suffered cut after cut, with the share of GDP spent on defence falling to post-WW2 lows. This Government should pledge real terms increases in Defence spending after the next election with a short term aim of hitting 2.5% of GDP and rising to 3% in the longer term.
Conservative 32% (up 1%)
Labour 39% (down 2%)
Lib Dem 10% (no change)
UKIP 10% (up 1%)
NB: The weekend ComRes poll was an online poll. This one is a telephone poll. There tends to be a slight difference in findings between the two methodologies. However, this poll confirms the narrowing of Labour’s lead found in other recent polls.
In further findings:
Some 30 per cent of the public say they are now more likely to back the Conservatives following David Cameron’s EU referendum pledge, while 57 per cent disagree. One in six Labour supporters (16 per cent) and almost four in 10 supporters of the UK Independence Party (Ukip) are more likely to vote Tory. But not all Conservatives are impressed by last week’s announcement: 28 per cent of current Tory supporters and 35 per cent of people who voted Tory at the last general election say they are not more likely to back the party after the referendum promise.
The poll suggests Ed Miliband might reap an electoral benefit if he matched Mr Cameron’s pledge. Some 27 per cent of voters say they would be more likely to vote Labour if the party promised a Europe referendum, while 59 per cent disagree. But a smaller proportion (22 per cent) would be more likely to vote Liberal Democrat if the party offered a referendum, with 64 per cent disagreeing.
The public appear to share Labour and Lib Dem fears that Mr Cameron’s decision to delay a referendum until 2017 could harm the economy by creating uncertainty for companies and investors. Some 49 per cent of the public agree with this statement, while 32 per cent disagree.
Methodology: ComRes interviewed 1,002 GB adults by telephone from 25 – 27 January 2013. Data were weighted to be demographically representative of all GB adults and by past vote recall. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Full tables at www.comres.co.uk.
There is a new YouGov poll in today’s Sunday Times newspaper showing the Conservatives cutting Labour’s lead back to 6%:
Conservative 35% (up 2%)
Labour 41% (down 1%)
Lib Dem 12% (up 1%)
UKIP 7% (no change)
This is very much in accord with the ComRes poll I reported yesterday. It is worth noting that the Opinium poll in the Observer was largely conducted BEFORE David Cameron’s big EU speech and certainly before its contents were reported in the press. It is therefore now pretty irrelevant.
David Cameron continues to do better than the other two party leaders in his approval ratings which are -15%, well ahead of Ed Miliband on -26% who appears to be a drag on his party’s rating. Nick Clegg is on -51%.
Changes shown are compared to the last YouGov poll I reported on 20 January.
Conservative 33% (up 5%)
Labour 39% (no change)
Lib Dem 11% (up 2%)
UKIP 10% (down 4%)
In further findings:
Cameron versus Miliband
David Cameron is good at standing up for Britain’s interests in the European Union:
Agree: 42% Disagree: 33%
Three quarters (76%) of Conservative voters and half (53%) of Liberal Democrats agree.
If Ed Miliband were prime minister, he would be good at standing up for Britain’s interests in the EU:
Agree: 22% Disagree: 44%
Just half (51%) of Labour voters, 5% of Conservative voters and 14% of Liberal Democrats agree.
David Cameron is turning out to be a good Prime Minister:
Agree: 32% (+5) Disagree: 46% (-6)
(Change since last month) This is his best net score (-14) since June 2011.
If a referendum were held on Britain’s membership of the EU, I would vote for Britain to leave the EU:
Agree: 43% (-3) Disagree: 31% (+1)
(Change since May 2012)
If some EU powers cannot be restored to the UK, we should leave the EU:
Agree: 57% (-1) Disagree: 21% (+3)
(Change since November) Half (50%) of Labour voters agree, as do 65% of Conservative voters and 47% of Liberal Democrat voters.
The UK should leave the EU regardless:
Agree: 33% (-10) Disagree: 43% (+10)
(Change since November) This sharp change may reflect confidence that the UK will be able to negotiate better terms.
Leaving the European Union would be bad for the British economy in terms of lost jobs and trade:
Agree: 38% (+2) Disagree: 36% (-4)
(Change since May 2012)
By promising a referendum on Europe in the future, David Cameron is causing years of uncertainty which will be bad for the British economy:
Agree: 43% Disagree: 30%
One in five (21%) Conservative voters agree.
I expect a Labour Government under Ed Miliband would try to abolish the pound and replace it with the Euro:
Agree: 30% Disagree: 32% Don’t know: 38%
Methodology: ComRes interviewed 2,035 GB adults online 23 – 25 January 2013. Data were weighted to be demographically representative of all GB adults and by past vote recall. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Full tables at www.comres.co.uk.
Today’s long awaited speech by David Cameron was not delivered against an auspicious background. For a start the delivery date had to be moved several times, to avoid conflict with Franco-German celebrations and then because of the Algerian hostage crisis. There were also siren voices providing unsolicited advice from all sides of the argument, both domestic and foreign. Having announced that a speech was to be given David Cameron had little choice but to deliver one. Various commentators suggested that he was in a dangerous position; anything he said would be likely to reopen historic splits in his party, frighten the markets, and offer his political opponents an open goal. The EU and Britain’s relationship with it is something which excites deep passions amongst those who have a formed opinion but also extreme boredom amongst large swathes of the electorate. To blunder into a speech without knowing what he wanted to achieve and the likely reactions to it would invite certain disaster.
I was therefore rather nervous about the speech and the possible hostage to fortune it posed. I listened to David Cameron deliver it this morning on my way to work. He spoke with confidence and clarity about his vision for a more flexible and less bureaucratic EU which respects the differences between nations, and stated his determination to lead a drive to protect and expand the single market. He rejected the EU aspiration of “ever closer union” and described the reforms he wanted to see which, if enacted, would see an EU that is far more aligned to what I hear so many people from across the political spectrum say they want. His concluding remarks set out the terms for a binding “in/out” referendum in the next Parliament. This was music to the ears of Eurosceptics of all parties, whilst his pledge to campaign to stay inside a reformed EU will reassure Europhiles.
Cameron’s tone throughout the speech was measured and convincing. He introduced the speech well and developed his argument logically with specific examples. His message was clear:
1. Britain firmly supports and wants to develop the single market but resents the “one size fits all” approach of the Commission
2. A more flexible and outward looking EU is in the interests of all member states
3. Britain will press for the ability to repatriate powers for all nations whilst pressing Britain’s specific case
4. When the renegotiation is complete the whole package will be put to the British people in a referendum when the choice will be simple, stay in a reformed EU or leave
Of course the package is conditional on the election of a Conservative government in 2015 with a working majority. If the Conservatives are in coalition with the Lib Dems once again they would likely veto any referendum. Despite months of notice of the speech and its likely content, Labour was caught flat-footed. At Prime Minister’s Questions today Labour leader Ed Miliband attacked Cameron’s speech and confirmed that he would not call a referendum, only for Labour spin doctors to seek to reverse the position immediately. Other senior Labour spokespeople were equally at sea on radio and TV during the day.
What was more surprising was the universal praise from all sections of opinion in the Parliamentary Conservative Party. Hardened Eurosceptics were singing David Cameron’s praises, while Europhiles welcomed his commitment to campaign for the UK to stay within a reformed EU. In one speech Cameron has united his party, exposed Labour’s inconsistency, marginalised UKIP and put clear blue water between the Conservatives and Lib Dems. A side benefit may well also be uniting the bulk of the print media behind a totemic Conservative Party policy.
I suspect that we will see a small boost to the Conservative position in the polls with the Labour lead narrowing further over the next week or so. Whether that lasts will be dependent on many factors, especially a credible Budget and an improving economic situation. The Government was given some good news today with a further fall in unemployment, a record number in employment, and a fall in the long term unemployed numbers. With the stockmarket continuing to climb the signs are there that we are heading into calmer waters. Even the higher than expected borrowing figures released this week undermine Labour’s economic case that what we need is more borrowing!
Very rarely is a single speech or a single event transformational but I think that today’s speech will prove to be one such event.
Watch the full speech here:
There is a new ICM poll in the Guardian today showing Labour’s lead being cut back to just 5% as the Lib Dems rise. UKIP is a poor fourth place:
Conservative 33% (up 1%)
Labour 38% (down 2%)
Lib Dem 15% (up 2%)
UKIP 6% (down 1%)
Conservatives are one point ahead of Labour among men, by 36% to 35%, but among women are 16 points behind, 29% to 45%. Conservatives will be pleased at their strong showing among older voters aged over 65, who are the most likely to turn out to vote. Among this group, the Conservatives lead Labour by 39% to 30%.
This poll supports the findings of yesterday’s YouGov poll in that UKIP are well behind the Lib Dems after their brief surge at the end of last year, and more importantly Labour’s lead is very fragile and vulnerable to a Conservative and/or Lib Dem revival.
The ICM poll is always keenly awaited by those interested in opinion polls. As my article this morning indicated, ICM is considered the “Gold Standard” amongst polling aficionados.
ICM Research interviewed a random sample of 1,001 adults aged 18+ by telephone on 18-21 January 2013. Interviews were conducted across the country and the results have been weighted to the profile of all adults.
As regular readers will know I follow and report on opinion polls. I have done so for the last 30 years and have developed a keen sense of which polls can be trusted and which have less credibility. At present the pollsters which have the most credibility, based on a reputation earned in the run up to recent elections, are ICM and YouGov. They should therefore be taken more seriously than some other pollsters.
However, even the best pollster can get things wrong and public opinion can shift significantly between a poll being conducted and actual votes being cast. Polls are a snapshot of current opinion not a predictor. Some people therefore argue that votes cast in real elections are the only true indicator of public opinion. That of course is a statement of the obvious as far as it goes but there are few real elections between General Elections and even those we do have, such as local elections, by-elections and Euro elections, are often affected by unusual factors. Euro elections have little impact on the individual elector and they are conducted under the party list system of PR, they also suffer from a pretty low level of turnout, together making them a very unreliable indicator of likely General Election voting.
Parliamentary by-elections are often given a great deal of scrutiny by the media and commentators. However, the best that can be said for them is that they are reflections of local opinion in the affected seat, levened with a hefty dose of protest voting, and are no more than a very rough guide to the wider national mood. Governments (of all parties) in mid-term tend to lose seats to the principal opposition party and opposition seats are normally held with increased majorities.
Local Council by-elections (which occur every week up and down the land) can be a reflector of national mood as well but they are usually very heavily affected by local factors. An individual local council by-election is of little significance in determining the national mood but every now an again one occurs which stands out from the crowd. One such occurred this week in Merseyside when Conservative Ian Lewis gained a seat from Labour with a swing of over 15% on a turnout of over 30%. The gain in a ward which voted Labour in 2010, 2011 and 2012 was remarkable, even more so in the north of England and in Merseyside.
Whilst the Conservative gain in Merseyside was noteworthy it should not be taken as an indicator of national mood. For that we would need a series of by-elections up and down the country in authorities of all political persuasion and in wards of all types. Fortunately such a set of statistics exist. I am grateful to the reader who has sent me a link to an article on PoliticalBetting.com where the votes cast in all 198 local Council by-elections held in 2012 have been added up and the vote shares calculated. These 300,000 real votes show the Conservatives leading Labour by 34% to 29%, with the Lib Dems on 19% and UKIP way behind on just 6%. This suggests that the Lib Dems are far better at holding onto their support in real elections than in the hypothetical situation of an opinion poll interview. If this is the case in the next General Election then it is very bad news for the Labour Party, as it suggests that the 10% transfer to them from the Lib Dems may revert when people come to decide who they want to represent them in their local Parliamentary seat. It is also a far more realistic indication of likely UKIP support at the next election when many seats will probably not even have a UKIP candidate.
There is a new YouGov poll in today’s Sunday Times newspaper showing UKIP dropping back significantly putting them well behind the Lib Dems:
Conservative 33% (no change)
Labour 42% (up 1%)
Lib Dem 11% (no change)
UKIP 7% (down 3%)
YouGov also asked about voting intentions in the 2014 Euro Elections and they found: Lab 38%, Cons 30%, LD 13%, UKIP 12%. This marks a significant drop for UKIP from the previous findings which had them on 17%. As usual when sharp changes are seen in a poll a note of caution should be sounded and we should see if the same trends are found in other polls before jumping to firm conclusions.
David Cameron has seen an improvement in his approval ratings to -14%, well ahead of Ed Miliband on -22% and Nick Clegg on -47%.
Changes shown are compared to the last YouGov poll I reported on 21 December.
There is a new online poll from TNS-BMRB published today. The Conservatives have closed the gap significantly on Labour and UKIP have doubled their lead over the Lib Dems:
Conservative 31% (up 2%)
Labour 37% (down 2%)
Lib Dem 9% (down 1%)
UKIP 13% (up 1%)
TNS BMRB interviewed a representative sample of 1,198 people between 11th-14th January 2013.
There is a new Opinium poll in tomorrows Observer newspaper showing Labour’s lead at 10% but UKIP 5% ahead of the Lib Dems:
Conservative 31% (up 2%)
Labour 41% (up 2%)
Lib Dem 7% (down 1%)
UKIP 12% (down 3%)
In further findings:
53% of the British public believe that the UK should withdraw from the EU if David Cameron cannot negotiate a significant return of powers, while 19% disagreed.
A majority (57%) also believed that the UK’s interests are fundamentally different to other member states. However, there was little optimism about the government’s ability to renegotiate a return of powers while remaining a member of the single market.
Only 25% of people believed it was likely that the prime minister would be successful in taking powers back in areas such as employment, compared to 47% who said it was unlikely.
Opinium Research carried out the online survey of 1,964 British adults aged 18+ from 8-11 January 2013
I think this should be adopted as a recognised event in the UK and across the remaining British Dependent Territories.
Conservatives have condemned the chaos across Reading resulting from the discarding of Christmas trees in parks and car parks across the Borough. Hundreds of Christmas trees have been taken to former collection points across Reading by residents to be recycled as in previous years. However, Labour-run Reading Borough Council has scrapped the collection facility and has completely failed to communicate this to residents.
Conservative Councillor Isobel Ballsdon said “I was surprised to learn from a Council officer this week that the service has been axed by the Labour Administration. No press release was issued and there is no obvious notice on the Council’s website or at the former collection points. Apparently this year the Council advises that residents should cut up their Christmas tree and put the pieces in their green waste bin or alternatively take it to the Civic Amenity Site at Smallmead but residents are clearly as unaware of this change of policy as I was.”
Cllr Ballsdon who represents Mapledurham Ward continued, “I went to Mapledurham Pavilion’s car park this afternoon and saw three massive piles of discarded Christmas trees. I understand from colleagues that the same is true at Clayfield Copse and the other former collection sites. This wasn’t a great surprise given that households were taking down their decorations by the 6th January. The Labour administration has once again completely failed to communicate the change of policy and now any financial saving they had budgeted for will disappear due to the unplanned for cost of clearing up their mess.”
Conservative Leader Cllr Tim Harris said, “Once again Labour has failed to communicate effectively with residents. At a time when the Coalition nationally is clearing up Labour’s mess, they are wasting public money locally and letting residents down.”
UPDATE: It seems that Labour has done a swift U-turn as today a press release was belatedly issued naming last year’s tree collection points as tree collection point. Right result but a planned saving not made!
Today the national Labour Party published its list of 106 target seats which it wants to gain at the next General Election in order to achieve an overall majority of 60 seats. Unsurprisingly the list includes the Reading West seat, which Labour only lost at the 2010 election but which now needs a swing of over 6% to win back. More surprising was the absence of the Reading East seat from the list. Rob Wilson gained the seat from Labour in 2005 with a tiny majority but consolidated his position in 2010 gaining a substantial majority (7,605) and pushing Labour into third place.
Seats designated as “target seats” by the major parties receive extra campaigning resources and visits from senior party figures during the run up to and during the election campaign. Whilst the press release does say that the list will be kept under review, Reading Labour Party members in the West will get extra resources, and once again members in the East will be the poor relations. This will be a big blow for their local Councillor candidate who has already crossed swords unsuccessfully with Rob Wilson MP.
Perhaps Labour has concluded that with their candidate in third place last time and a popular and active local Conservative MP readopted unanimously their chances in Reading East are slim. It does seem so!
The Reading East Labour candidate Matt Rodda has not got his campaign off to a good start with a petty, personal and inaccurate attack on sitting Conservative MP Rob Wilson. Rodda, who is also a Reading Borough Councillor for Katesgrove ward, is quoted in a Labour press release at the end of December attacking Rob Wilson for planning to bring Government Minister Helen Grant to visit the women’s centre at Alana House in South Street in support of their campaign for continued funding.
Rob Wilson has a long history of working with local groups and societies to support their activities. When Rob was approached again by Alana House last year he spoke to Ministers and raised the matter of their funding in the House of Commons on 18 December. In response Minister Helen Grant acknowledged Wilson’s long interest in Alana House and promised to visit the centre.
In the Labour press release (which can be found in full here) Rodda is quoted as saying, “Rob Wilson visited the centre before the 2010 General Election to get a photo taken which then appeared in his election literature, but slowly over the last two years since the election, the budget has been cut…… The reality is that this excellent project, which supports 300 women, has deliberately been run down by the Coalition Government in which Rob Wilson is a Minister…… What Alana House needs to hear from Rob Wilson is not that he is bringing a Minister so he can have another photo-call but that the Minister is bringing a cheque.”
However, Rodda failed to check his facts. He also appears to have not actually visited the centre despite it being in Katesgrove ward. Had he done so he would have discovered that it was Rob’s intervention which stopped the previous Labour government from cutting the centre’s funding in the past.
Rob Wilson, who has now put out his own press release, said, “This is a very disappointing start for the Labour candidate, who appears to be putting Labour politics before achieving a successful outcome for Alana House. He has never visited Alana House and never shown any interest in it before I raised the matter in Parliament, despite it being in the ward where he is a Councillor. He also does not appear to understand the history of its funding. It was the last Labour Government that proposed cutting the Ministry of Justice funding but I managed to stop that in its tracks. I have already fought and delivered for Alana House, and they will no doubt vouch for that fact. My visit in 2009/10 to Alana House, at their request, was not for a photo opportunity but to celebrate securing the funding.”
Labour Parliamentary candidates in Reading do not have a good track record for displaying local knowledge but I would have expected better from Rodda who is at least a local Councillor. Sadly, the poorly judged Labour attack has only served to politicise what is a very deserving cause.
Rob Wilson highlighted this point in his final comments, “Instead of embarrassing himself with his lack of understanding and local knowledge I would urge the Labour candidate to do something more positive than simply sending out inaccurate and negative press releases. If he had contacted me I would have been happy to give him the true picture. He should work with me to resolve the funding shortage not jeopardise the funding by making this matter political.”