Sabre Rattling for the Prewar Generation
Some of you will remember the Thatcher years when, way back in 1982 she backed the extraordinary Falkland’s War (las Malvinas) in what some thought to be a cynical exercise in militarist populism. After three years in power her popularity was tanking, and the war proved a useful distraction from mass unemployment, which was reaching three million. Looking at the strange messaging coming out of the British Army and Conservative MPs – those with long memories might detect similar tactics.
In a speech on Wednesday Gen Sir Patrick Sanders described the British people as part of a “prewar generation” who may have to prepare themselves to fight in a war against an increasingly aggressive Russia. The chief of general staff highlighted the recent example of Sweden, which has just reintroduced a form of national service as it closes in on joining Nato. He said that we need to take “preparatory steps to enable placing our societies on a war footing”.
Such comments seem to have been choreographed with such as Penny Mordaunt, who promoted this piece which references the Falklands War, she said: “The Royal Navy and its partners must keep pace with the growing capabilities of other nations. If not Britain’s interests cannot be secured.”
It’s nothing short of hilarious for the Conservatives to moan about depleted army numbers, cuts that they themselves presided over. But there’s a number of other dimensions to this.
First is the idea that ‘Britain’ in 2024 is really a thing at all, never-mind am entity that people would die for. The whole ‘conscription now’ shtick is a mixture of the deeply cynical and the profoundly naive. General Sir Patrick and the platoon of Tories supporting him seem unaware that deference culture has long-gone, and that even if they live in the 1950s – most people don’t.
The second is the generational aspect of this. Describing the present as a “prewar generation” is such an insult to people who have seen their future stolen by climate breakdown, their hope of democracy quashed by 2014, and their connection to Europe severed by the Brexit debacle. This is also the generation for whom affordable housing is a utopian dream and precarious employment in the gig economy the norm.
Third, we are experiencing unprecedented levels of poverty, destitution and insecurity. Publishing its UK poverty report for 2024, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation said six million of the poorest people – those living in very deep poverty – would need on average to more than double their incomes to move out of hardship. Do they really imagine people to move from signing up for the foodbank to enlisting in the army?
Conscription has been rejected by the army for years and is now being used as a political weapon and – like most of the desperate measures by the British establishment to prop up this utterly discredited government will fail badly.