Serving in the military doesn't make you a political superhero but it means we can never question your commitment to our country, says Colin Brazier
Veterans aren’t like most of us. There’s an authenticity to their back-story that civilians sometimes lack. Iron in the soul. Grace under pressure
How do we judge a politician’s patriotism? They all say they love the UK. They’re often pictured in front of our flag. But is there any metric by which this vague idea of love of country can actually be measured? Any way of testing that national pride is more than just something a candidate feels they have to talk about to win over the masses.
How about this? Any politician who has risked their life in defence of their country deserves to be taken more seriously. The obvious contemporary example is Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
A year ago, he was an international joke. A comedian, who stood for high office almost as a send-up. But now, having repeatedly risked his life to rally Ukraine against Russian invaders, he is a global symbol of heroism, democracy and commitment to high office.
There was a time when military service was the norm here. Even when Margaret Thatcher came to power in 1979, many members of her Cabinet had worn khaki.
Some of them were highly decorated. Lord Carrington, her foreign secretary, had won the Military Cross, for his part in Operation Market Garden. The man she leaned on most in government, deputy prime minister Willie Whitelaw, had also won the MC, for his part in the battle for Normandy.
Try, for a moment, to think about what this means. Thatcher sat around a Cabinet table with several men who had killed for their country. Who had sat in tanks, expecting any moment to be vaporised by German shells. When a modern career politician says they love their country, having waged battles against corruption or the unions of the Establishment, it’s really not the same kind of conflict.
Of course, veterans turned politicians are now a rare breed. They’re more noticeable in politics in the United States, where more than two million Americans served after 9/11.
But there are also Brits who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq before turning to politics. A cross-party cohort that includes someone like
Dan Jarvis, who became the Labour MP for Barnsley after fighting in Helmand Province as a major in the Parachute Regiment.
The Conservatives have several MPs who swore an oath to protect our country, even at the point of a bayonet. The Conservative leadership hopeful Tom Tugendhat was wounded in Iraq during a ten-hour-long firefight with insurgents. Yesterday he was asked in an interview to name the naughtiest thing he’d ever done. He joked that he’d once invaded a country.
As we saw with Covid, there’s something about serving in the military which creates a can-do mindset. Prime Ministers have got into the habit of calling on the army to get things done, whether it’s dealing with flooding or the vaccine roll-out, when everybody else has failed.
Veterans aren’t like most of us. There’s an authenticity to their back-story that civilians sometimes lack. Iron in the soul. Grace under pressure.
If, say, Matt Hancock tells you he loves his country, he deserves to be taken less seriously than a former soldier.
Ben Wallace, who was mentioned in despatches in Northern Ireland.
The public are rightly cynical when they hear that at least one candidate hoping to become our next prime minister held a Green Card – allowing him to live in America – until fairly recently.
That said, just because someone served in the military doesn’t make them a political superhero.
But it does mean we can never question how committed they are to our country.