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MoD redefines 'public' with online poll

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The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) is holding an online poll to get the views of the public on the massive reorganisation of the nation's armed forces - for which read cuts - expected next year.

In the spirit of openness with which the entire defence review will probably be conducted, the MoD has let the "public" poll proceed for several days of its fortnight-long run before announcing it. The poll is accessible from this MoD webpage, which states that it has been up and running since last week, but the official announcement came only yesterday. The poll is to close nine days from now.

All the main political parties have agreed that there is to be a full strategic review of the UK's defences following next year's election, almost certainly involving serious budget cuts given the state of the economy. However, concerned citizens should be aware that the jockeying for budget and survival among the different services, branches and projects is already well underway in MoD and corporate offices up and down the land.

It's to be expected that industry and government insiders hope to have most of the review sewn up well before the next government gets round to thinking about it seriously. In particular, British industry - and its best friend at the MoD, Lord Drayson - will want to get as many of their favoured deals down in some sort of writing while Lord Drayson remains in government.

The online poll results, to be published once it has finished running, will be just one factor - probably a rather unimportant one, unless they happen to agree with the internal consensus - feeding into the Green Paper which the present government will draft, probably early next year, to set things up for the review in advance of the election.

While the media and public argue about comparatively small programmes like the new aircraft carriers for the Royal Navy - projected cost in the region of £4-5bn - industry and the warring branches of the MoD will be seeking to slice up much more important cakes which don't get nearly as much attention.

Examples include the potential £14bn in budget lines for new army tanks and armoured-infantry vehicles, a possible increase in total cost for the Eurofighter to £25bn following upgrades to its third tranche, and various extremely lucrative long-term support deals for existing or imminent kit - for instance the astoundingly expensive "new" Nimrod MRA4s, each pair of which has cost as much as a space shuttle to buy and will probably cost a similar amount to run.

Needless to say the online poll doesn't ask for your views on any of this as such, focussing much more on the vanilla: perceptions of the armed forces vis-a-vis the MoD itself, whether it would be better for Blighty to fight its enemies overseas or here on home ground, etc.

Nonetheless, as it promises to be the only input many of us get, it would probably be a good idea to seize the chance. ®

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