By Benjamin Zand
The U-turn came in advance of an opposition-led Commons debate last Wednesday that threatened to see a backbench revolt reminiscent of the government’s defeat over the rights of former Ghurkhas to remain in Britain.
The original plans were to stop TA training and coincidentally payments altogether until April, and then re-consider options from there. This left many soldiers pondering their future with the TA, who use this to either coincide with their civilian job, or as full-time employment altogether. The majority were then left with only two options, to leave or move to fully deployable Army Barracks.
‘Joining the Army full-time, and becoming a fully commissioned officer is definitely my ambition, but this is a major problem. If it stays like this I might have to leave and get another job, the Army is my long-term aim, but I’m a student first and foremost, and I need a way of paying my bills.’ said a member of the Edinburgh OTC, which although is a group B non-deployable branch of the TA, features some of the sharpest and brightest students from the likes of Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt University, with the majority hoping to join the Army full time.
Another expressed his sadness at potentially not receiving the correct training to become commissioned at Sandhurst, which is the British Army initial training centre, by saying it was ‘disappointing’ and ‘upsetting’.
The TA provides up to 10% of the British troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, with around 500 TA soldiers currently serving abroad, and, although the PM and MoD have decided to still allow some funding for the TA, many think the amount allocated is still not adequate, with cuts only being reduced from £20m to £17.5m. Due to this, many training exercises will still have to be cancelled, such as the ability to use live rounds, which hinders training considerably, and tank drivers only being allowed to travel 9 miles a month, which many believe to not be enough to even reach the training grounds. Drill nights will also be restricted to only one a week, and weekends to only one a month. This has lead many to believe soldiers will not be fully trained, and will not only be a risk to themselves but a liability to the people they serve with.
Another fear was that many soldiers with invaluable experience would have been forced to leave due to financial problems.
Tory leader David Cameron brandished the PM’s decisions as ‘unacceptable’ and said they ‘contradicted his pledge to ensure each soldier in Afghanistan was fully trained and equipped’. Comments like this, combined with the fierce reaction of many reservists and MPs, could be said to be a strong factor in the PM’s and MoD’s U-turn.
Gerald Howarth, shadow defence minister, said that the government’s climbdown was a victory for Cameron. “David Cameron raised this issue at PMQs two weeks ago and we welcome this climbdown from Gordon Brown,” he said.
Nick Harvey, the Liberal Democrat defence spokesman, said: “The state of the TA is much too important to be used as a political football in this way.
“It was a shocking error of judgment for the government to have contemplated this cut in the first place.”
Many prefer to applaud the Prime Minister’s decision to U-turn, praising the fact that he listened to the majority of voices and decided to make the right choice. John Reid a Labour back-bencher praised Brown for listening to the objections, saying he had taken time out from the recession and pressing European issues to listen to his concerns.
Saying “I very much welcome the fact that the prime minister has been prepared to listen to the issues and personally intervene to make sure that the Territorial Army training budget is retained,”.