Archive for Defence

Labour MPs support medals for brave bomb squads in Northern Ireland

A group of Labour MPs have called on the Government to review their decision to deny Armed Forces Personnel in Northern Ireland General Service Medals.

The decision was taken after a senior military commander who asked that Ammunition Technical Officers be awarded General Service Medals for their work tackling explosive devices in Northern Ireland had his request refused.

In a letter to the Defence Minister, drafted by Tom Blenkinsop, Chair of Labour’s backbench committee on Northern Ireland, the six Labour MPs questioned the logic behind the decision not to award these medals. They ask that the differences in ‘workload and risk’ for troops serving in Northern Ireland compared to elsewhere in the United Kingdom is ‘reflected in the recognition such personnel receive’ by allowing these troops to be awarded General Service, or equivalent, medals.

Tom said:

The support Ammunition Technicians in Northern Ireland provide the Police Service of Northern Ireland in tackling bomb threats to civilians is vital.

The level of threat and amount of incidents which these soldiers must deal with goes beyond what is required from their colleagues serving elsewhere in the UK. They carry out this work with a professionalism and bravery that deserves to be recognised.

All communities are threatened by terrorism in Northern Ireland and recognising the increasingly difficult work these bomb squads face should be non-controversial. If there is a technicality getting in the way of giving these brave men and women the medals they deserve the government should sort it now.

Northern Ireland has experienced a recent increase in dissident terrorist activity in which police have had to deal with a bomb alert approximately every week. The six Labour MPs who signed the letter are Tom Blenkinsop, Conor McGinn, Vernon Coaker, John Spellar, Ruth Smeeth and Phil Wilson.

Full letter:

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‘Labour won’t short change armed forces’

Tom has welcomed the Labour Shadow Defence Secretary Nia Griffith’s proposals to spend more money on the armed forces.

Currently, as a NATO member the UK has an obligation to spend 2% of its GDP on defence and security. However, the Conservative Government have made major cuts to the defence budget and been accused of an accounting ‘sleight of hand’ by including war pensions and other areas of spending in the 2% target. An independent review of the Government’s figures suggested that without the questionable inclusion of these areas of spending the UK would not meet its NATO target.

Nia Griffith has said she is considering plans to ensure that at least 2% of GDP is spent on security and defence capabilities, by not counting money spent on pensions as contributing toward the target.

Tom welcomed the move:

This proposal shows the Labour won’t short change our armed forces or cut corners on Britain’s security.

The Government has approached meeting the 2% NATO spending target as an accountancy problem, rather than a necessary part of ensuring our country is kept safe.

Nia’s proposal would help servicemen and women get the support they deserve. Labour’s policy would make defence spending about our nation’s security again, rather than financial manoeuvres.

Tom Blenkinsop to vote for trident renewal for jobs and security

Tom Blenkinsop, MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, has announced he will vote for the creation of a new generation of Trident submarines.

The vote, to endorse the renewal of the Trident system via replacing the current ‘Vanguard Class’ of submarines with a new ‘Successor Class’, will take place this evening.

The issue is highly controversial in the Labour Party as, although it is current Labour Party policy to endorse the renewal of the Trident nuclear weapons system, the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is strongly opposed to renewal.

Tom Blenkinsop said:

Today I will vote for Labour Party policy and support the plan to renew the UK’s at sea nuclear deterrent.

I believe Britain maintaining a nuclear capability is key to our security as a nation and therefore provides us with numerous direct and indirect benefits.

It is ridiculous that when there is a clear Labour policy on this issue no one is sure whether our Shadow Defence team and the leader of our party will vote for, against or abstain.

Not only is it policy but this is a policy which was decided by ordinary members at conference. If Jeremy actually believed in party democracy as he claims, and didn’t just support it when it suits him, then he’d be voting with me this evening.

If Jeremy were to join the Shadow Defence Secretary and abstain on one of the most important security votes of the decade it would be just another sorry example of the lack of leadership in the party at the moment.

Thousands of high skilled manufacturing jobs around the UK are reliant on keeping and renewing the system. This factor means that Mr Corbyn, if he were to vote against renewal, would be voting for a measure which would threaten union members’ jobs. This may be food for thought for influential union leaders, such as Unite the Union’s Len McCluskey, who thus far have supported Corbyn’s leadership of the party.

Tom said:

A failure to renew Trident would put thousands of Unite members’ jobs at risk.

Polling suggests union members don’t think Jeremy is the right man to lead Labour and now he is potentially voting for a policy which would make many of them unemployed!

This just shows people like Len McCluskey are so focused on keeping Corbyn they are blind to damage his policies would do to the working people and security of this country.

It is believed that with or without the Labour Leader’s vote the motion to endorse the £31 billion Trident renewal plan will pass and the new generation of nuclear submarines will be in service before 2030.

Tom highlights DWP ‘Bedroom Tax’ confusion in Armed Forces debate

In an Opposition Day Debate today (25th June 2013) to commemorate and celebrate the Armed Forces, Labour MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, highlighted the on-going confusion regarding the Bedroom Tax hitting families with adult children who are serving their country.

In March this year the Coalition Government performed an apparent U-turn when they made the following exemption:

Adult children who are in the Armed Forces (including the Reserve Forces) but who continue to live with parents will be treated as continuing to live at home, even when deployed on operations.

Tom believes the rushed U-turn has left the new rules unclear, with local authorities interpreting them with varying degrees of success.

Tom made his comments following communication from his constituent Alison Huggan of Coulby Newham who has twin sons in the armed forces and is still being hit by the Bedroom Tax.

Tom said:
“Three months ago we thought we had an excellent result. Under pressure from our campaigning we thought the government had realised their mistake and put it right by making this exemption.

“The rushed U-turn has left the new rules unclear, with local authorities interpreting them with varying degrees of success. Unfortunately, the way the government has worded the regulations only a tiny number of soldiers, primarily reservists, will be exempt.

“If they lived in barracks prior to going away in operations and/or prior to commencing pre-deployment training, the DWP holds that they aren’t the claimant’s non-dependent. For all intents and purposes, the Government seem to be redefining what adult children – who are members of the armed forces – have as their homes.

“It is true that you can have a number of residences, however, for tax purposes, there is only one home or domicile used. If, as Ministers who have responded to questions on this issue by myself and the Shadow Work and Pensions Minister, seem to suggest, that the Government consider barracks the home for adult children who usually live there, then the barracks should be used for tax purposes also. As far as I’m concerned it is grossly unfair to differentiate the two.

“The Government urgently needs to clarify their guidelines that were supposed to exempt the families of members of the armed forces from the ‘Bedroom Tax’, yet ministers seem to have created another cruel discrepancy that is a direct attack on those who are literally putting their lives on the line to keep all of us safe.”

Chaotic Army cuts without a plan

Local Labour MP, Tom Blenkinsop, today (18th June 2013) criticised the Tory-led Government for what he described as “chaotic cuts” to our army without a proper plan in place to ‘plug the gap’.

The criticisms came following approximately 5,000 members of the British Army receiving their redundancy notices.

Tom said:
“These cuts to our army are a represent a huge risk and it is not unfair to say that there is a massive effort going into sacking soldiers but nowhere near as much is being done to plug the gap by recruiting new reservists.

“Senior Army figures are right to warn that Ministers’ decisions could lead to a mismatch between capability and ambition. The Government’s defence plans rest on doubling the number of Reserves and yet there is a recruitment crisis and employers have not been properly engaged. These redundancies represent not just broken promises but a failing strategy, and the level of voluntary applicants will be a signal of morale within our Armed Forces.

“It is very likely that we will end up with the army losing a significant number of fully trained soldiers, who will now not be able to pass on their expertise to new recruits. It will create a ‘capability gap’ and could mean that, if an emergency were to break out, the lack of learned skills and NCO’s with field experience new recruits are put into a perilous position on the front line.”

Tom also echoed his calls for local companies to enlist in Labour’s ‘Veterans Interview Programme’.

Tom added:
“Beyond our defence capabilities we must remember that each redundancy notice now represents an out-of-work hero and, in many cases, a worried family. It is vital that local communities support our Armed Forces and, particularly now, there must be greater support to find veterans employment and enhance post-service opportunities. I’d again urge local business to enlist in the ‘Veterans Interview Programme’ as a sign of that support.”

Tom urges Local Authorities to honour fallen heroes

Local Labour MP, Tom Blenkinsop, is today (22nd Feb 2013) urging local authorities in his constituency (Redcar & Cleveland and Middlesbrough Borough Councils) to consider offering bereaved service families the chance to name streets after their loved ones.

Along with Jim Murphy MP, Labour’s Shadow Defence Secretary and Hilary Benn MP, Labour’s Shadow Communities and Local Government Secretary, Tom will be writing to both Local Authorities to propose that they offer this lasting commemoration for service personnel killed in the line of duty.

Tom said:
“My campaign against the axing to the Green Howards clearly demonstrated to me the depth of respect local communities have for our armed forces and I was overwhelmed by the level of support the campaign received. The Armed Forces have a very rich history across Teesside and introducing new street names to honour fallen heroes would be a meaningful, lasting and respectful way to show the value we place on those who have served and been lost.

“It was good to see that Redcar and Cleveland Council signed up to the Armed Forces Community Covenant to pledge their support to our service men and women and their families. I hope both local authorities in my constituency take on board how meaningful such a small gesture could be and consider other ways that they can support our service community and pay tribute to those that have made the greatest sacrifice.”

Jim Murphy MP, Labour’s Shadow Defence Secretary, said:
“This is a way for local people to show their solidarity and sympathy. A lasting personal memorial would demonstrate the value we place on individuals who have served but been lost in the defence of our country.

“Those who have been lost will always be remembered and loved by their families. Street naming will be a chance for their names to live publicly and forever.”

Petition against Green Howards axe is handed in

Tom Blenkinsop MP today (24th October 2012) handed in his petition to Parliament against the abolishment of the 2nd Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment, also known as the Green Howards.

The Green Howards recruits widely across Teesside and date back to 1688 and veterans have served in numerous conflicts including both World Wars, the Gulf War, Bosnia and Afghanistan. They were also home to war veteran Stan Hollis, the sole recipient of a Victoria Cross from D-Day.

The petition so far has reached almost 500 signatures.

Tom said:
“The reason I launched this petition was to highlight to the Coalition Government the strength of feeling that Teesside has for the Green Howards. The online petition also demonstrated how far and wide the Green Howards have an impact on.

“I hope the Government listen to the concerns of my constituents over this issue and reconsider their decision but I fear they will plough on regardless of the strength of feeling and at the very least we must ensure the dedication and bravery of our troops is recognised and that means ensuring that there is a job available for them.”

Support your local Green Howards on Yorkshire Day

Local Labour MP, Tom Blenkinsop, is calling for constituents to show their support for the 2nd Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment – the Green Howards – on Yorkshire Day 2012 (1st August 2012).

Tom said:
“Yorkshire Day is a well celebrated event and the Green Howards are a big part of that history. My petition continues to attract signatures from all across the country and I thought Yorkshire Day would be a perfect opportunity to raise awareness of the threat to the Green Howards. I would encourage my constituents to take the time to sign the petition and show their support for the Green Howards.”

Tom will be collecting signatures throughout East Cleveland tomorrow (1st August) and the petition is available to sign online at www.tomblenkinsop.com/green-howards

Tom launches Green Howards petition

Labour MP, Tom Blenkinsop, today (20th July 2012) launched his petition calling on the Government to reconsider their decision to abolish the 2nd Battalion, the Yorkshire Regiment – known as the Green Howards.

The Government’s decision earlier this month to scrap the Green Howards has been met with opposition from a whole host of sections of the community including residents, local media, local councillors and the armed forces – both currently serving and retired.

Tom said:
“I’ve not been surprised by the amount of opposition to the Government’s decision to axe the Green Howards. I described the decision as devastating and a huge blow for Teesside when it was first announced and I also said I would campaign against the proposals. This petition is the first step in showing how much the Green Howards means to the Teesside area.

“Whilst some are willing to settle for the preservation of the name I think we need to remember the brave soldiers who are potentially going to be left without a job when this cut goes ahead. Furthermore, Teesside is a rich source for Army recruitment and that has made it an integral part of our community. Losing the Green Howards would be a disaster and we must ensure the dedication and bravery of our troops is recognised by putting pressure on the Tory-led Government so that the Green Howards can carry on.”

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Axing historic battalion “devastating” for Teesside forces – Tom Blenkinsop MP

Following the decision by Defence Minister Philip Hammond to axe the historic 2nd Battalion Yorkshire Regiment – the Green Howards – local Labour MP Tom Blenkinsop described the decision as “devastating and ill-thought-out to cut such an historic battalion”.

The Green Howards is one of five historic battalions lost as nearly 20,000 servicemen and women are cut from the Army, meaning that there will be roughly only half the number of regular soldiers as there were 35 years ago.

Tom said:

“I feared this decision for some time and have been fighting to secure the future of the 2nd Battalion. The decision to scrap the Green Howards is a huge blow to Teesside and shows a complete disregard for the history, the forces community in Teesside and the impact of job losses for our armed forces in an area already on its knees with high unemployment.

“On top of that these cuts to defence lack any strategic thought and I am unconvinced that cutting our Armed Forces at such high levels is the right thing to in such an uncertain world. It has also led to a decline in military moral, with former Green Howards soldier and Tory advisor General Lord Dannatt calling on the Government to rethink their proposals.

“I’m certain that the North Yorkshire community will continue to oppose this decision and I will do all I can to ensure that such an important part of our community isn’t eroded away.”