Army of clerks

It is not true that the Ministry of Defence has more civil servants than there are soldiers – there are only half as many. That is still shocking though:  one clerk for every two regular soldiers. What do they do all day that is not already done by the General Staff or the regimental staff?

The navy, army and air force are already top-heavy in senior officers. The structure is basically that which served an army of millions and has not come to terms with shrinking to the mini-army we have today, which does not need such a multiplicity of generals let alone field marshals.  They are all fine gentlemen, no doubt, but you begin to suspect that they were promoted out of politeness. Balls at Mansfield Park may have glittered with admirals, rears and vices, but their great fleets of ships to command are no longer there, and mass retirement is something to be discussed in quiet corners.

The excess of generals is one thing, but being overbalanced by civilian clerks is a humiliation.

Maybe a cure could be to stick each one in uniform with a rifle and bayonet in their hand, and they might be an effective rearguard force – the Civil Service Rifles were a well-regarded volunteer unit from the Victorian period and formed a regular regiment which fought with distinction in the Great War.  I can see no sign of the desk-wallahs of today following their forebears though.

We come back to why we need a civil servant for every two soldiers.  It is not as if the clerk ever meets his two Tommies. It is a waste of breath: I do not know either.  Only those who have spent time in the depths of Whitehall will have any idea of what is actually done, and where the redundancies are, and those who have been there will soon go native. Maybe now we have a new army, of defenestrated ex-ministers, there is someone who can suggest what to do, from the outside and with knowledge of the inside.

The Ministry of Defence is a model of inefficiency, as were its predecessors it must be said.  Basic items that can be picked up for a few bob in civvy street are billed to the MoD at a 1000% mark-up and more, and soldiers still buy their own boots rather than rely on the dodgy stock issued to them, or did in my day.  The equipment is every more sophisticated and expensive, and sits in storage its whole life because a soldier’s work in the field still comes down to pushing a piece of steel through the enemy just as it was at Thermopylae.

(Imagination and innovation are the best weapons for an officer, which is seen in every great general and admiral from Caesar to Montgomery. Imagination and innovation are a horror to the civil service mentality. How the two can work together is a mystery.)

The men are not coming forward to serve these days. We no longer have starving men ready to join the ranks to fill their bellies, and no constant colonial adventure to draw the adventurer. Neither are there six-foot bewhiskered sergeants causing women to swoon at the sight and young men to join up in envy and emulation. What we do have is an inhuman, limp-wristed, computerised, out-sourced recruitment system that every soldier hates and which has presided over the greatest fall in numbers since the first day of the Somme. No minister may criticise their own contractor. Perhaps those who have escaped may do so.

Perhaps the Ministry of Defence is kept at in such numbers to administer a shell of the armed forces, which are ready to fill up to full strength when there is a major war, and the army is swollen to six million men as once it was. Still, it has been seventy-four years since the end of the War, and thirty years since the end of the Cold War, and even the Blair Wars did not appreciably increase the army (or even the Royal Marines, who get handed the brunt of special operations). Are they dreaming of greatness never to come again, like a country house once teaming with glitering parties and a battalion of staff, now left an echoing shell in case the days come again?

Another thought comes to mind: increasing defence spending is a vote-winner, but having got the funds, what can it be spent on, where there are no men to fill the uniforms? Petty clerks is the answer. There – we can have increase spending on “defence” but not a penny more going to war-fighting capacity.

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Author: LittleHobb

Solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short

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