Labour Peer Don Touhig on why it's clear the government can't be trusted on the fate of Welsh regiments
The film Zulu was re-run on television last weekend telling the story of the South Wales Borderers' defence of the mission station at Rorke's Drift in Natal in a battle with the Zulus in 1879. Seven on the 11 Victoria Crosses awarded to servicemen after that battle went to the South Wales Borderers. And for more than one hundred years, the regiment saw no fewer than 23 VCs awarded to men in its ranks.
How sickened many of us felt then at the news that the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Welsh, the successors to the South Wales Borderers, is to go in the government's culling of the army. I can't find words to adequately express the anger felt across Wales at this decision.
My brother, who will be 80 next year, joined the South Wales Borderers at the commencement of his National Service during the war in Korea. He shares my view that if a Labour government had treated Britain's armed forces in the way this government has these past two years, there would be outrage from Tory MPs, the Tory press and many an ex-service chief!
But should we really be surprised? A year ago this week, David Cameron stood up to address the National Assembly for Wales in Cardiff. He said:
“I want to put on record my gratitude to the brave Welsh regiments. From the trenches of Northern France to the mountains of South Korea they have fought and died in defence of our nation and our values. Today, in Afghanistan, they continue to serve with courage and distinction--and I want to pay tribute to them. For them, and all the people of Wales, I will always be an advocate of this country and everything it has to offer.”
When I questioned the Defence Minister Lord Astor during last week’s statement to Peers on Army 2020, I pointed out that Wales could offer no greater sacrifice than the lives of her young men in defence of our country as we saw in Afghanistan days before.
And with David Cameron’s warm words to the National Assembly still ringing in my head – more in despair than hope – I asked Lord Astor what more we could have done to protect Welsh regiments from these savage cuts, short of threatening a referendum on independence! I didn’t get an answer.
In less than a year the Prime Minister has forgotten the words he spoke in Cardiff. I am reminded of a line in St Matthew's gospel: by their deeds ye shall know them.
Well, the British people are certainly getting to know this Tory and LibDem Coalition by its deeds. It is a government that can’t be trusted to keep its promises. And it certainly can’t be trusted with the defence of the United Kingdom.
Lord Don Touhig is a backbench Labour Peer in the House of Lords