Monday, April 16, 2007

So should Swiss Toni, aka Des Browne resign?

My view is yes, and here is why.

There are three separate areas of failure.

The first is the capture of the service personnel in the first place. As I have commented before, during the first gulf war our forces did not stray into this area and the Foreign and Commonwealth office had a desk to monitor positions of inbound shipping and say which ones could and could not be intercepted, based on position. This procedure seems not to have been followed, and Des Browne and others have failed here.

Also worthy of note is that the helicopter providing air cover had to return to the HMS Cornwall because it was running out of fuel. Clearly it is daft to have forces exposed in or near disputed waters, near a country that has form for taking our Marines hostage, without adequate protection.

There will be an inquiry into this, but ultimately Des Browne has not secured enough funding to carry out the task at hand. Had he done so then there would have been more hardware in the areas.

The second area of failing is the nature of the training for the personnel involved. They were clearly in a front line role, with the risk of capture, without the necessary training to survive it. This is doubly concerning in the Royal Marines involved as they definitely should have been so trained.

Lastly there is the fiasco surrounding the sale of the stories. Des Browne appears not to have known or inquired what the rules were on the sales of stories. Had he done so he would have none that the circumstances must be exceptional, and He was the only person who could have approved them.

Now it is true these circumstances were exceptional. They were so because as far as I can remember never has a member of Her Majesty's forces nipped on telly so fast to apologies quite so fast. The rest of the circumstances are not exceptional.

Newspapers regularly wave cash under peoples noses for stories, it has happened before in MOD cases and will happen again. The stock reply in the past has been no. What for example happened to our captured marines who were held for 3 days? Did they get such permission.

We have had soldiers captured before and released before. Nothing exceptional there.

In fact the only thing that is exceptional is how easy it was for the Iranians to get the captives cooperation. It has been said by many commentators that they had a hard time. Compared to what? A walk in the park? Well yes a much harder time than that. Compared to Flight Lieutenant John Nichol who was shot down over Iraq in the first Gulf war and physically tortured over months? I don't think so. Indeed the Iranians have there own just released captive who claims to have been tortured over months. So the reality is that for the line of work, they did not have that hard a time.

So what were the Admirals who hatched this propaganda plan thinking? They allowed the stories to be sold and according to some reports encouraged it, to counter Iranian propaganda, by showing that the sailors and marines only broke after appalling treatment. Clearly they did not debrief either Faye Turney or Athur Batchelor properly, because had they done so, and realised what they were going to say to the press they would have denied permission.

Now not only is there the embarrassment that some of our service personnel are so ill disciplined that they carry iPods, and think it noteworthy that they are taken when captured there is the rather obvious effect on the morale of all our other service personnel who bear their situation with much more fortitude. No one seems to have asked how they would feel upon hearing that people were being paid for being captured, and crying like a baby? I can tell you that they are more than a tad upset!

There may be inquiries, but as Liam Fox, Conservative Shadow Defence minister said in today's House of Commons debate, Des "Swiss Toni" has shown a lack of political judgement.

Tony Blair doesn't want a with hunt. Well that is just tough. I want heads to roll, both in the Admiralty and the MOD, including Des Browne. I can't agree with Iain Dale who thinks that he survives for now. he should have gone already.

For more on the hostage crisis see here.


Anonymous said...

I don't think there's either the possibility of, or any point to, a Des Browne resignation - though in normal circumstances I'd agree that that's what ought to happen.

It's not as though Tony Blair any longer has the authority (in reality) to make cabinet appointments so he wouldn't really be able to replace him. Who'd want to be Defence Secretary for just 2 months anyhow?

Browne might as well stay until Blair goes and then it's up to the next Prime Minister to decide whether or not he's worth keeping on.

Benedict White said...

Steven I do think and said at the outset of the crisis that Tony Blair does not have the authority to dismiss him. However I do think he should go.