Interesting morning. On the face of it little of Sir Kevin Tebbit’s evidence was new. We had already heard from a bevy of defence secretaries and the Treasury’s top civil servant about the Whitehall turf-war in 2003 that led to huge MoD expenditure cuts.
What were damning today were the language and the detail. Chancellor Brown didn’t just cut the MoD’s spending, he “guillotined” it. Throughout his time at Defence Tebbit said he had been forced to run a “crisis budget.” (Governments don’t like the word ‘crisis.’ Oppositions do.)
Then came the casualty list, fleshed out with much more information than we’d ever heard before. Destroyers and frigates, Nimrod aircraft, submarines, helicopters, minesweepers, patrol vessels, AS90s, Challengers, tank squadrons, 10,00 civil servants, a reduction in headquarters size and more.
Tebbit gave his evidence between roughly 9am and 10am. PMQs began two hours later. Had the Tories always intended to go in hard on kit shortages, on the back of a few similar allegations by past witnesses, or was this a late spur-of-the-moment call after hearing what Tebbit had to say?
Either way it led to stormy exchanges and, despite its best intentions, the inquiry once again morphed into a political football.
My abiding memory of Dr Reid’s evidence will be anger. Anger at the Americans for not sharing technology, anger at the state of armed forces accommodation, anger at the “salivating” British 24-hour media for predicting civil war and almost even anger at the inquiry itself for daring to ask whether he had over-stretched the Armed Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
On the latter the line was insistent and repeated: ‘the generals gave me advice, I followed it. They didn’t have any difficulty with that’.
And of Ann Clwyd, who was given but to be brutally honest did not need (or end up using) three hours. Well, hers was the only session of the entire inquiry to open with Chilcot paying warm tribute to the work the witness had done, which probably speaks for itself.
A short break now then back on Monday for a senior Army man and, more importantly, the return of Jack Straw. See you then.