The Rt Hon James Arbuthnot, MP for North East Hampshire and Chairman of the Defence Select Committee, addressed a capacity audience at a Conservative Political Forum Supper, held at the home of Mr and Mrs Jonathan Harvey.
On the eve of a visit to Afghanistan, James Arbuthnot was critical of the role of the Treasury in allocating resources to the Defence Budget. "Until the Chancellor is confronted by a wave of public opinion demanding a better settlement for the Ministry of Defence, our armed forces will not get the funds they need." He said public opinion was now shifting, with 36% now putting defence at the top of their priorities, compared with 1% at the last election.
"The tragic death of Sergeant Roberts, who handed his life-saving jacket to a colleague, was critical in changing public opinion. It showed in a dramatic way how costs were being cut."
James Arbuthnot went on to say that, while the Armed Forces were still capable of fighting a professional campaign on the ground, they were being less successful in winning the propaganda war in Afghanistan and Iraq.
He was critical of the corners being cut, with ships not running on all engines, and too many helicopters out of action. He believed a future Conservative administration would be more independent of the USA, and that our coat should be cut according to our cloth, when it came to matching commitments to resources.
He supported the decision to renew our nuclear capability, saying it was nonsense to believe that the £20 billion saved would be re-allocated to other parts of the Defence Budget. "Trident has always been funded separately." He was however concerned at the possibility of nuclear weapons ending up in the hands of rogue states.
The event was organised by John Winchcombe, CPF Chairman, and the vote of thanks was proposed by Mark Williams.