The shocking nerve agent attempted murders in Salisbury, together with the development of world events over the last few years, point to the fact that we have been far too complacent about our intelligence and defence capabilities. To be frank, we have neglected them for far too long.
Our decision at the end of the Cold War to cash in a ‘peace dividend’ by reducing our defence and security expenditure, now with hindsight seems to have been seriously misguided.
Instead, we have had years of growth quite properly in NHS expenditure, and in Education –where we now spend more per pupil than either Germany or Japan. We have also seen very substantial growth in our overseas aid budget: we are now the world’s second largest donor. I support this because I see it as a vital way that we project power and influence in our own national interest. It is designed to address at source so many of the problems and conflicts which, left to themselves, end up coming our way.
The budget that has grown exponentially while defence has languished is our expenditure on welfare benefits. Increasingly these are paid to families who are in work. Perhaps we should consider to what extent the growth of tax credits and other in-work benefit payments, have actually kept wages lower than they otherwise would have been, and subsidised employers accordingly.