The matter of the leadership of the Liberal Democrats is something which has not received the attention, or indeed the scrutiny, that is perhaps warrants. For one thing is certain, whoever emerges as the victor will be, barring any major political convulsion in the next few weeks, number two in Her Majesty’s Government. They will have their pick of several senior offices of state and the power to reshuffle a good chunk of the cabinet. So, with that in mind, The Spectator sat down to talk to the man who could probably call himself the frontrunner, the Secretary of State for Defence, /u/Scubaguy194.
You’ve been propelled to the frontline of politics in recent weeks after your elevation to the role of Secretary of State for Defence. Not only does this role give you a large budget, a department of your own and the opportunity to make a proper name for yourself, but it will no doubt give you a global platform and get you acquainted with big names around the world. Do you think this gives you an advantage over other candidates?
I think that the Ministry of Defence sits in a very unique position. We’re one of the only governmental departments that owns and manages a majority of its equipment, as well as commanding a large portion of the public sector workforce. I will say that we have very ambitious plans to enter into defence projects on a global scale, with our allies around the world. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t hoping that this would put my name out on the World’s stage.
Moving on to policy relating to your ministerial portfolio, do you think the UK can be adequately defended on just 2% of GDP? The previous government broke records with an £11 billion investment into defence and that has been reversed. What does that mean for your equipment and recruitment plans, and can defence really be done on budget?
An interesting point that has been made in recent years is that Britain has no immediate enemies. The years of our nearest enemy being just across the channel are now getting on for 150 years behind us. So with this in mind, we do in many ways have to take a different approach to our Defence policy. The scope of our conflicts will be thousands of miles away from the UK, realistically. The guard of the Armed Forces who saw service in Former Yugoslavia are now getting to the end of their service, and the reality of the British Armed Forces currently is that, from 2014, for the first time in a very long time, the British Armed Forces are without a war to fight. This has implications for recruitment and for procurement. In a time when the infantry doesn’t currently have a job to do, recruiting and retaining soldiers in the Military’s foremost fighting arm will be difficult. Myself and my department will be working on measures to improve retention in the Armed Forces, as this is an issue I feel very strongly about.
The Liberal Democrats rely on good relations with other parties to stay relevant and can often hold the balance of power. At the next election, and after recent ructions like rejecting the Conservatives’ coalition deal and possibly pulling your support for the Drug Reform Bill, how are you going to keep that particular door open?
The reality of being the centrist party is that we are frequently the Kingmaker. We keep the market involved in a left wing government, and we ensure that right wing governments do not slash public finances too much. Personally, I voted against the Conservative-LD coalition deal because I felt like we’d be propping up a Conservative government with nowhere near enough concessions to us. As for the Drug Reform Bill – I haven’t been involved in discussions so I could not possibly comment.
Who on the opposition benches do you most admire and why?
Two names spring to mind. Person one: /u/chainchompsky1. He is tenacious and whilst I haven’t locked horns with him personally, I love being in the room when he’s debating.Person two: /u/MatthewHinton12345. I’ll be honest if I had a pound for every time I’d read something he’d said or asked me, and I’ve privately remarked “Oh f*** off Matt” I’d be a rich man. This is though, what makes a good politician. Politically astute moves and holding your opposition to account.
Nobody can argue that you are the most experienced candidate in the field for the Liberal Democrat leadership election. In fact, you could even qualify as “old guard” compared to the others in the race. In some parties that title gets quite the stigma, do you think it will be a help or a hindrance for you?
Genuinely I never thought I’d see the day when being in a thing for 7 ½ months made me an old timer. I don’t think I’m an old timer. I think I’m just getting started. Admittedly this is my second go through of politics – and I’ve already achieved a ton more than my first go at it. At this point I’m just hitting my stride – the run isn’t finished. Let’s keep it going I say.
What an apposite note to end on. Whatever happens, it is clear the Secretary of State is someone with a newfound hunger and ambition, and if things go his way, he’ll surely become a household name before long.
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