MoD tries to paper over the cracks

'O it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, go away", but it's "Thank you, Mister Atkins", when the band begins to play' (Rudyard Kipling).

This week's publication of the MoD report 'National Recognition of our Armed Forces' is a feeble attempt by the Government to address the damaged covenant between society and military. After a decade of wilful neglect, the Government is actually embarrassed about the fact that our servicemen are at breaking point because they are ill-equipped, overstretched, under-resourced and under-funded, but the report does little more than patronise them and paper over the cracks.

I served in the Army during the 1990s and witnessed New Labour's first military expedition as a uniformed press officer in Kosovo in 1999. Since then, it has been an abusive relationship. Labour took everything and gave nothing - and now the military is in disarray.

Sadly, the military must shoulder much of the blame. It shuns the limelight that the Government feeds off and, consequently, the Government is forced to fill the vacuum. In the case of Labour, it does so with the least military knowledge and experience of any government in British history.

Communications is a crucial profession that can influence morale, recruiting, budgets and, most importantly, public support. The military is no less a corporate body, with a need to manage its reputation, than Marks & Spencer or British Gas, but it doesn't see things that way.

In parallel with the civilian MoD press officers, a further 200 or so military officers are ordered into media 'posts' on a transitory basis with no PR understanding and precious little training. They despise every moment, their only thought that of a proper military career in tatters. None of the 'appointees' or their superiors seem able to recognise how much damage they potentially do.

The generals must immediately replace this 'botch it and scarper' approach with a new tri-service unit for professional communicators. The unit must have the simultaneous respect of the services, the media and its profession. It would stand up for the needs and demands of good communications in everything the Armed Forces do. It would live and work with the forces, but with one foot firmly anchored in the real world. It is a tall order, but eminently achievable.

Richard Bailey is a senior consultant at Media House International

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