By Shaun Milne
THE FORMER head of the British Army has been branded a “Tory stooge” after it emerged he stands to become a junior minister should David Cameron’s party be swept to victory at the next General Election.
Labour reacted furiously to news that General Sir Richard Dannatt may be handed a Peerage to allow him to enter a Conservative administration as adviser on defence if they can seize Downing Street.
Mr Cameron, who is expected to unveil the appointment in Manchester tomorrow (thur), fuelled the speculation when he said: “He is a man of great talent and ability.
“He has been a great public servant and I think he has more to do.”
Such a move would be lauded by the Tory Party faithful – but fiercely rounded upon by angry Labour figures.
General Dannatt has recently pounded the current Government with claims soldiers on the front line are being forced to take on the Taliban in Afghanistan with “at least part of one arm” tied behind their backs.
He said Prime Minister Gordon Brown has left troops exposed by refusing to allow 2000 extra soldiers into theatre on grounds of cost.
It follows a previous volley from the General in January where he said a lack of equipment had “seriously stretched our soldiers”.
During a series of fresh interviews today he accused the Prime Minister of turning down reinforcements because it was “too expensive”, telling BBC Radio 5 Live: “It was very disappointing, to say the least, that the advice was not accepted and a major factor was the issue of the cost.”
But in an astonishing attack by Labour Peer George Foulkes last night, the former Chief of General Staff was accused of being disloyal by “colluding” with the Conservatives in a bid to undermine the sitting Government.
Speaking from Edinburgh, Lord Foulkes said: “All this time it has been understood that anytime he has given comment on Government defence decisions it was as an independent military spokesperson.
“In fact he is now exposed as having been colluding with the Tory Party all the way along. This shows that he was being encouraged by the Tories throughout. He has been working with them hand in glove.”
“That he had been playing party politics with defence is nothing short of disgraceful. He has been exposed as a stooge for the Tories.
“He has been clearly told what to do and what to say when he should have been loyal to the Government of the day.”
Lord Foulkes added: “The revelation that he has been working with the Tories this way, deliberately undermining the Government policy while still a serving soldier, is simply outrageous.”
Foulkes said voters and opposition parties should feel angry that the Conservatives would try and hijack the political agenda at a time when soldiers were risking their lives on the front line.
And he accused the Tories of being “underhand”.
He said: “General Dannatt and the Tories embarked on a deliberate campaign of subterfuge to take on their political aims.
“The Tory defence spokesmen Gerald Howarth and Liam Fox both attacked me viciously when I raised my fears about the General in Parliament before. As soon as I asked my questions the Tories were ready with statements to defend him.
“But now it has boomeranged back on them. They have been clearly exposed for their sleazy and underhand dealings over this. Malcolm Rifkind also said his (Dannatt) was a special case – now we know why.”
Sir Richard has been an outspoken critic of the Labour Government’s record on defence, but hostilities have increased in recent months.
He was previously attacked by Lord Foulkes who claimed he was “threatening to undermine our efforts in Afghanistan and give succour to the enemy” with his views on defence policy in a fiery exchanged in August.
Foulkes was in turn accused by the Conservative’s shadow defence minister Liam Fox of launching a “cowardly” attempt to smear the General.
That didn’t stop the Labour Peer tabling a series of Parliamentary Questions in August which revealed how the General cost the taxpayer £160,000 for accommodation and chauffer-driven limo complete with £35,000 a year driver.
General Dannatt also undertook 40 separate trips within the UK on military helicopters, at a time when there were complaints a shortage of aircraft for the front-line troops in Afghanistan.
The Labour peer tabled three written questions to the Ministry of Defence relating to Sir Richard’s expenses, via the Freedom of Information Act.
In her reply Baroness Taylor, the Minister for International Defence and Security, said: “Accomodation for the Chief of the General Staff in 2008-2009 was lease at a cost of £108,408 with £10,485 being expended for the associated contracted cleaning services.
“For the last known period, a dedicated staff car was leased, under the provisions of the UK White Fleet Contract, for the Chief of the General Staff at a cost of £4,993 per annum. With this vehicle was assigned a dedicated qualified driver at an indicative annual salary of £34,662 in 2008-2009.”
Sir Richard also took 40 separate trips in military helicopters over a combination of 20 journeys during his time in office last year.
Baroness Taylor replied: “All these journeys were for official purposes with seven being visits to units, four to attend/speak at conferences, four to attend meetings, three to attend official ceremonies, one a combination of conference and unit visit and the remaining one a combination of meeting and official representation.
“Additionally, on 5 and 6 June 2009, the Chief of the General Staff used a helicopter for the return journey to and from Normandy to attend the D-Day commemorations.”
A spokesman for the TaxPayers’ Alliance said at the time: “General Dannatt has been really good at keeping his expenses and costs down on most things, so it’s sad to see him fall short of that standard.
“There is no way anyone should fly round in a helicopter when they already have a personal chauffeur.”
Last month Shadow Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox said: “There is no target that Brown’s bullyboys will not pick upon to protect themselves or divert attention from their catastrophic management of the military.
“New Labour is now the most corrosive and corrupting influence in British politics.”
Dannatt now holds the ceremonial position of Constable of the Tower of London.