The Liberal Democrat Party has for some years supported the cause of representation for armed forces personnel, and formally adopted it as a policy at its 2013 conference, so some British Armed Forces Federation members were surprised to note that it was left out of the party's General Election manifesto. BAFF took this up with the Lib Dems, and has now received confirmation from its defence spokesman that representation remains an official party policy.
Statement from Lib Dem defence spokesman Sir Nick Harvey
BAFF has received this statement from Sir Nick Harvey, who is the party's Shadow Defence Minister in the outgoing coalition government, and was Minister of State in the Ministry of Defence 2010-12:
The Lib Dems fully support the right to organise representation for Armed Forces personnel. We place enormous physical and mental demands on our troops and families, who deserve first rate welfare protection. It's only fair that our servicemen and women are entitled to the same representation as other professions like the police force, and at a time of major changes to the forces this is even more important.
BAFF comment: We welcome this reaffirmation of the Liberal Democrats' commitment to the cause of representation for service personnel. Although not in the manifesto, we accept that it's consistent with previous indications of that commitment, such as:
- Early support from a Lib Dem spokesman in the House of Lords, the late Air Marshal Lord (Tim) Garden, who as an individual ex-serviceman was also a founding member of BAFF.
- Confirmation of support from Nick Clegg's office prior to the 2010 General Election.
- Adoption of "Official representation of service personnel" as party policy by the 2013 Autumn Conference: See Lib Dems: 'Give the armed forces the right to organise representation'.
Party officials have explained that omission of the policy from the manifesto was due to lack of space and having to prioritise what went into the document, there being many other policies that similarly didn't make it into the manifesto.
Coalition Government policy 2010-2015
The Lib Dems failed to achieve personnel representation in the course of the 2010-15 coalition government. We think this was hardly surprising given that the policy wasn't in the Coalition Agreement, and given the prevailing (but not universal) attitude in the larger party.
In fairness to both parties in the outgoing coalition, BAFF has continued to be "tolerated" much as under the previous Labour administration. At the tail end of the outgoing parliament, Anna Soubry MP (Conservative), Minister of State in the MoD, confirmed in a written answer that "Armed Forces personnel are free to join trade and professional associations. They may also join other organisations representing their interests such as the Forces Pension Society, the British Armed Forces Federation, the single Service Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender fora, and the Armed Forces Muslim Association."
That was a welcome reaffirmation of the existing position, but fell short of full recognition of the right of association for armed forces personnel.
BAFF and the General Election
BAFF encourages its members, and others in the armed forces community, to register to vote, and then to exercise their own voting choice in any election or referendum. British Armed Forces Federation's political neutrality is not only hard-wired into its Constitution, but also demonstrated by its consistent track record while operating in the public arena and online over more than eight years. BAFF continues to build cross-party support for the principle of service personnel representation, and remains available for consultation by any registered political parties or candidates.