Iain Duncan Smith – 2000 Speech to Conservative Party Conference


Below is the text of the speech made by Iain Duncan Smith, the then Shadow Secretary of Defence, on 3 October 2000.

Last week the Prime Minister said he had reached his irreducible core. We may not know what his irreducible core is – only his focus groups can tell him that – but we do know that he has reached it. The question is what does he do now he has reached it. I always thought that once you had finished eating an apple you threw away the core.

Today’s debate is not about the Prime Minister’s core, but about what his Government has done to the Armed Forces and how we will rectify that.

We are proud of our Armed Forces. We only need to look at the rescue of the British Army hostages in Sierra Leone to see how good they are. We are proud of their outstanding success. Yet it was not without loss. I would like to pay tribute today to all those who took part, particularly Bombardier Brad Tinnion who gave his life fighting for his comrades and his country.

Yet behind the headlines, in the Gulf our RAF pilots are fired upon nearly every day by the Iraqis. And in Kosovo and Bosnia our forces patrol an uneasy peace with calm assurance. And last week the Navy came to the rescue of the victims of the Greek ferry disaster.

Still in Northern Ireland our troops stand in support of the brave men and women of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Let me say that again, Royal Ulster Constabulary.

Peter Mandelson says that the name conjures up the wrong image. This should come as no surprise from someone who has called our own troops ‘chinless wonders’ But for me RUC stands for dedication, service and sacrifice.

In many other areas around the globe they are the unsung heroes. But the armed forces are leaving in droves. Do you blame them?

Exercises are cancelled, soldiers are being sent into action with guns that don’t work, whilst having to use mobile phones on the battlefield, upgraded bombers that can’t drop bombs and short of enough pilots to fly them anyway.

Fighter jets that won’t have guns, ships without missiles, sailors shouting ‘bang’ in gunnery training instead of firing live ammunition. And service families living in sub-standard accommodation for too long.

Conference, a few weeks ago, people couldn’t get fuel for their cars. Well at the end of last year Navy ships were unable to leave port because they couldn’t even afford the fuel.

The result is that the Armed Forces have 5,000 fewer servicemen and women than they did when we left office. That’s the equivalent of 10 Army battalions. Or 20 destroyer crews.

Last week the Prime Minister pompously talked about difficult choices. What he didn’t say was that because of cuts, the RAF has to choose either to scrap its Tornadoes or Jaguars.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is defence of the realm – Labour style.

Yet today Robin Cook struts his stuff on the world stage, only too happy to commit our overstretched forces everywhere and anywhere. The Armed Forces are the best in the world. But the truth is that behind the gloss, they are being really hurt – yet despite that they show dedication and professionalism in marked contrast to this Government. But whilst they squabble, new threats around the world are emerging.

We are seeing a dangerous and widespread proliferation of long-range missiles, biological, chemical and even nuclear weapons taking place amongst the rogue states of the world. Missiles are now capable of reaching from the Middle East right to the heart of Europe. It won’t be long before they are able to strike here.

The Americans are responding to this new threat, developing anti-missile systems to defeat this new danger. But instead of supporting our American allies, Mr Blair has run away from the problem and instead is playing games with his plans for a Euro Army.

The Blair Government has led the creation of a Euro Army to rival NATO, and the EU is busy creating what Mr Prodi has confirmed is a European Army of some 200,000 men. Blair’s short-sighted short-term use of Defence as a bargaining chip in the corridors of power in Brussels has risked all our security.

A Conservative Government will support the Americans in their development of defences against weapons of mass destruction. And we will put paid to any divisive and political notion of a Euro Army. We want to improve European defence capabilities – but within NATO, never outside it.

But even worse, Labour believes that the Armed Forces are a social experiment in human rights. But what they don’t understand is that being a member of the armed forces isn’t about rights. They give up many of their rights to defend ours. They are expected if necessary to kill or be killed – events just a few weeks ago in Sierra Leone are a stark reminder of this fact.

Yet by applying the European Convention on Human Rights to our forces this Government is putting their effectiveness into the hands of campaign junkies, jobbing lawyers and even judges. Theirs is a creeping tide of political correctness threatening to overwhelm our forces’ military effectiveness.

So when we return to Government we will take the Armed Forces out of this politically correct morass, safeguard their unique ethos, and uphold the primacy of military effectiveness.

Labour’s policy of asking the forces to do more with less has damaged all three services. Labour’s cut of 18,000 men from the Territorial Army was vindictive. Less than a year after the cut was made they were getting ready to call them up for service in Kosovo.

In Government, I promise we will return the Territorial Army to its full effectiveness and restore their important place in support of our regulars. The Army is overstretched and 8,000 men understrength. Full manning will be a priority for a Conservative Government.

We also appreciate and value the dedication and loyalty of service families. And they will be at the centre of our thinking and our policy making.

For us defence of the realm is the first consideration of any Government. Some people say defence doesn’t matter but sixty years ago what Churchill referred to as that brilliant youth risked all in the skies above in the defence of their country and the people they loved.

My father was one of those few. And he never ceased to tell me the reason so many of his friends died was because politicians had failed to heed the warnings and left us without strong defence. But then this Government doesn’t like history ……

It’s a Government which seems to hate the country it was elected to govern, which sets one part of the country against the other. That pours hundreds of millions of pounds into a shapeless piece of foreign plastic, which no one wanted, whilst insulting pensioners and service families.

But what we understand is that no country ever created a future by making war on its past.

At the election there will be a choice between spin and substance, between being embarrassed about our nation and being ambitious for our nation.

Confident and united at last behind William Hague, ours will not be a battle just for Government but for the heart and soul of the country that we love.