SDSR: The Colander Review: 30 September 2010

One cannot help but feel sorry for Liam Fox. Not only is he being put upon by coalition partners who disagree with his stance on the nuclear deterrent he is beset by the far more difficult opponents in the Cabinet Office and Treasury – ‘we’ll sort it out, and you take the flak’. One can understand why he is beginning to sound a bit fed-up.

This week’s shocker was the leaking of his private correspondence on the SDSR to the Prime Minister (his long-time political rival) to the Daily Telegraph, who along with the Financial Times are turning into the authoritative place to look for defence news and commentary. The good Dr is clearly genuinely fed up this time, calling in the Police to hunt down the leaker – and this may well be more symbolic, a shot across the bows of those ‘senior sources’ who keep briefing their friends in the media: this time you overstepped the mark. The SDSR already had some neat colander qualities to it, now it has a massive hole with quite a good amount of water pouring in.

It is difficult to argue with Fox’s letter, reproduced in full by theTelegraph. The narrative simply isn’t there at the moment. A super-CSR is all this looks like, and the unruliness of those ‘senior sources’ is  evidence of genuine unhappiness within the senior parts of the forces, partly because they know they’re not in the box seats, partly because their turf is being eroded, and partly because they’ve a great big lid stuck on their dissent. Why hasn’t there been more work done outside of the small review unit – not a massive SDR style review from first principles, but more work fed in by the MOD’s thinking organisations in the countryside? These organisations are likely to be looking for reasons to exist after the spending review, this might have been their chance to prove it.

The SDSR looks like it’s building up to be a rich basket of goodies to the budding academic writer, but for all the wrong reasons. One can only hope that the sentiment in Liam Fox’s letter is taken serious by Number 10, it would be most odd if the Tories lost defence as one of ‘their’ issues, and even more odd if they presided over the serious erosion of British defence stature.

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