Mar 142010


Where the French, the Portuguese, the Spanish and the Nazi hordes failed the British government’s beancounters are winning: Bringing the Royal Navy to its knees. Latest to go is a Nelsonian tradition of holding cocktail parties in foreign ports for a cost somewhat less than a parliamentary MP’s expenses claim for garden gnomes.

MAC’s UK correspondent William Redmond reports

Royal Navy chiefs have been left stunned and furious over the Ministry of Defence’s, MoD, orders to scrap cocktail parties held on board its warships while in foreign ports, a practice that dates back to Nelson’s time. The ban marks the darkest day since July 31, 1970 when the Royal Navy was ordered to end the grog rations of over 300 years standing.

Called horse’s necks, a heady brew of brandy, ginger ale and a lemon peel, these cocktails would be served to foreign VIPs and expatriates in a jug alongside industrial amounts of gin and tonic. One senior navy commander

reportedly said: “It’s a damn shame that this important tool in international diplomacy is being discarded. We call the receptions ‘soft power’ because we are taking a bit of foreign policy to an official reception in a foreign territory. These events are ideal to get to know local politicians and VIPs but more importantly we are there representing the Queen and UK PLC. A Royal Navy vessel turning up at a foreign port does wonders for international relations, trade and being able to share thoughts with foreign dignitaries which could not be discussed in a more formal setting. It is a shame that our Royal Navy is being made to look parsimonious and this change has gone down very badly. Some of us might fund cocktail parties from our own pockets rather than let people down.”

The ban’s annual savings of £50,000 to £70,000 are so paltry that MoD bean counters have raised the level of their asininity to new peaks. Far more worrying, however, is that if the bean counters are looking at such paltry savings so as to plug a black hole in the MoD’s £36 billion budget, what are they cooking up for much greater cuts?

First Sea Lord, Sir Mark Stanhope, has already expressed deep concern that further large cuts would leave the Royal Navy unable to meet its current, global commitments, which could turn a blue sea navy into a brown one, tasked with protecting its coastal waters only. This would leave Somali pirates and Caribbean drug smugglers rubbing their hands with glee.

The biggest worry of all, however, is that the real culprits in prodigious overspending and mismanagement is the MoD’s own procurement failings, where financial/logistics ineptitude, running into hundreds of millions of pounds, have prompted the Defence Select Committee to excoriate the MoD, whose accounts have been qualified for three consecutive years. In any commercial environment it would take only one such qualification to sink a company. But Whitehall mandarins are adept at covering their derrieres and seem unlikely to walk the plank. Unless wiser counsels prevail, the First Sea Lord may be the last to preside over a blue sea navy, a thought that would leave any admiral reaching for the bottle.

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