Secretary of State for Defence – Phillip Hammond MP
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State - Andrew Murrison MP (role to be confirmed)
The really interesting move is the loss of Nick Harvey as MINAF. This post was a particularly interesting one, as it was in essence the deputy to SofS, and the individual who most frequently would be seen as the No2 Minister within the department. For the Lib Dems to walk away from it means losing control over a particularly key Ministerial post.
In practical terms this move means the MOD as a political department is now fully under Conservative control (although this could change if a low ranking Minister is appointed tomorrow). Having delivered the SDSR, and preparing for the withdrawal from Afghanistan, one could argue that Defence now should have a relatively quiet two- three years ahead of it, with no significant policy shifts due, or major changes to the way the department does business expected. The procurement budget is balanced, and there seems to be no intent on holding any further defence reviews before the next election.
What then could have precipitated such a move? The authors very personal view is that this could be linked to the issue of Trident and Lib Dem posturing ahead of the next election. We know that a review is underway in the Cabinet Office into the Trident system and the wider provision of the deterrent. This review was conducted largely at Lib Dem behest, potentially to try and provide wider options for the really tough decisions on what to do over the replacement of the deterrent.
One conspiracy theory could be that the review may be about to conclude that it is not possible to downgrade the deterrent, nor make widespread changes. Such a move would sit uncomfortably with many party members, and Nick Harvey may have felt unable to support the results of the review.
By stepping away from the MOD, there is now time to enable the conservative party to push forward on their commitment to replacing the deterrent. The Lib Dems can step back and be far less involved in the day to day process, and perhaps open up wider opposition to its replacement. Its much easier to be opposed to something when you don’t have a Minister in the department responsible for implementing the policy. In a deeply hypothetical outlook, then come the 2015 election, it may then be politically far easier for the Lib Dems to align themselves with Labour, who themselves appear to be less than committed to the deterrent at present.
This resignation may well be for the wider sake of party politics, but it does leave a hole in the MOD. Getting new Ministers in takes time – the new arrivals today will take six months to a year to be fully comfortable with their portfolio. It will not be easy to make tough decisions on defence matters when half the Ministerial team are still brand new to their posts.
EDIT - 05 Sep
Since posting last night, it has emerged that Minister for Defence Procurement (Peter Luff) has also gone, and that the Department has lost 50% of its Ministers overnight. It remains to be seen how the deck will be shuffled to assign Ministers to roles. It is slightly depressing though that the MOD is once again seeing significant role changes - at present it seems to have lost every Minister appointed to his original role, with the exception of Lord Astor since 2010.
EDIT - 05 Sep
Andrew Murrison MP has been confirmed as a Minister now. He is an ex Naval Officer, who is still a serving RNR Officer who served in Iraq. Is this the first time the MOD has had a serving RNR officer as a Minister since the war?