It was obvious at the time that Margaret Thatcher’s South Atlantic adventure was a last imperial hurrah. But none of us would then have guessed that today, not merely the ships and planes, but the very Armed Forces which fought the war, would be on their way to the scrapyard. Soldiers are being made redundant. I do not mean merely those thousands of men and women who have lately been handed P45s as part of the Coalition Government’s defence cuts. Britain’s entire Armed Forces are shrinking towards a point where, like Alice’s cat, soon only the smile will be left.
This represents a big cultural change. Yet despite all the public’s enthusiasm for supporting soldiers through such charities as Help for Heroes, there is no sign that they have noticed the draconian implications of the defence cuts – or if they have, that they much care. Amid disillusionment following perceived military failure in Iraq and Afghanistan, the British people have lost enthusiasm for our traditional role as a warrior nation.
David Cameron’s Government is cutting the regular Army to its lowest manpower strength for centuries: 82,000. When the downsizing is complete, more than 20 per cent of our soldiers will have gone. I must confess that I am profoundly sceptical whether it will prove possible to recruit the 30,000 reservists the Defence Secretary promised this week.