Peering through the fog of Hammond’s war

It is almost a requirement of being a politician that you have to like, if not love, the sound of your own voice. But it is a perpetual mystery to me why so many politicians believe that jargon is, indeed, English. It is my job to point out that, actually, it is not. It is nonsense. They are speaking in tongues and no one, really, has a clue what they are on about. Here, then, is my report from the front line of the war of English being carried out by long, tall and elegant Tory Philip Hammond, then Defence Secretary.


From The Times newspaper

18 March 2014

Peering through the fog of Hammond’s war

I fear that our Philip Hammond remains at war — with the English language. The UN has asked me to be an official observer of this increasingly hard-fought battle and so yesterday, at Defence Questions, I was at my post. It didn’t take long to spot the first incursion. The Defence Secretary was trying to explain the new body that is going to be in charge of defence equipment and security. The name for this, and I think that only he could have thought it up, is DE & S Plus. It sounds like a sort of Marksmen & Spencer outlet for plus-sized types.

Mr Hammond tried to put us right. “We have agreed that this will be established as a bespoke central government entity from 1 April.” The word “bespoke” stopped me. I have only heard this applied to hotels and clothes. I feared that DE & S Plus was going to get lots of calls from larger ladies seeking kit that has nothing to do with war.

Mr Hammond “explained” (I am sorry to have to put that in quotes but the situation was escalating) that DE & S is a vital part of the “Whole Force” concept. This sounded intriguing, like some sort of new organic cereal, but turned out to be the idea of the military working with civilians at the MoD.

His voice, which almost purrs, like the Jaguar cars he loves, now became ever so slightly animated. “They are not pen-pushers as some of our media would have us believe,” he said, “but vital components of our defence infrastructure.” (Actually, given the choice of being a component or a pen-pusher, I would opt for Biro.)

I was, more or less, lost now. The fog of war is never foggier than when Mr Hammond is speaking. He told us about an “envelope” of resources. (I suspect this just means “money”.) “There will be an overall envelope of resources for operating costs which will be subject to a downward trajectory over time, representing efficiency.” (My secret translation code ring tells me this means the budget is being cut.)

There was some talk of the Crimea but Mr Hammond let others handle that. There is no need for plus-sized bepoke entities there yet. Instead he fielded a question about the military and the floods. “We want to make sure that the defence budget is neither advantaged nor disadvantaged,” he said. “That implies a full marginal costing recovery regime.” (I do hope the fully flooded non-marginal Somerset Levels are taking note.)

But possibly the worst moment came when a Lib Dem asked about conflict prevention (their pet subject and, if you were in coalition with the Tories, it would be yours too). Dr Andrew Murrison, an under-strapper, said that the MoD was a “full partner” in delivering the “building stability overseas strategy”. This meant, he said, that the MoD used a “multi-departmental approach to prioritise UK activity in upstream conflict prevention.”

As this nonsense filled the room, my head fell to the table with a thud. Mr Hammond, the mist swirling around him, had won again.

The End