Generals' offer to lobby for cash is a tragedy for the British Army
Gen Dannatt wanted £100,000 for two days a month. A frontline private earns £17,000 for a seven-day week
EDITOR'S NOTE AT 14.50 PM: Since this column was posted, Lt Gen Sir John Kiszely has resigned from his role as president of the Royal British Legion. He denied breaking lobbying rules, according to the BBC, but said: "The Legion's work, including Remembrance events, must be kept free of any suggestion that they could be used for commercial or political gain."
THE sort of newspaper sting that outwitted the Duchess of York and Vince Cable seems to have ensnared some of the military's sharpest minds. An undercover investigation by The Sunday Times has caught a number of them boasting they could help lobby for defence contracts – in exchange for cash.
Financial greed continues its unattractive and inexorable march through the great institutions of the United Kingdom. Having sullied the reputations of the financial and political elites it has now dealt a blow to a number of retired senior Army officers.
Whether any of them were in formal breach of lobbying restrictions is beside the point - as they well know. David Cameron and David Laws may need a code of conduct – officers holding the Queen's Commission do not. Period.
Dodgy admirals seem to have been caught in the sting as well, but it is the generals that should particularly concern us. Their service has borne the brunt of the fighting and dying in the last ten years. They derive much of the status and influence they seem willing to trade for cash from the sacrifice of the men and women it has been their honour to command.
Physical courage in the presence of Her Majesty's enemies is the cardinal military virtue and so it is particularly depressing that two holders of the Military Cross have been caught up in the affair.
The Falklands hero Lieutenant General Sir John Kiszely, honorary president of the British Legion, is alleged to have boasted that he could push commercial interests to the prime minister and others in a private box during the Festival of Remembrance next month at the Royal Albert Hall.
General Lord Dannatt, who won an MC during the most dangerous phase of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, seems also to have let the side down. Ensconced in a grand grace-and-favour residence in the Tower of London of which he is the 159th Constable since the Conquest, he is alleged to have told undercover reporters that he would be happy to circumvent government procurement rules to engineer a meeting with the senior civil servant in charge of procurement - to lobby on behalf of a South Korean defence firm.
The fee apparently discussed was £100,000 a year for two days' work a month, which Dannatt described as "reasonable". A private soldier in Afghanistan earns £17,265 a year - for a seven-day week.
This is a tragedy for the Army. At a stroke the reputations of many of its senior officers have been diminished - just at the moment when their combined influence is needed to deal with a coalition government that privileges foreign aid and just about every other liberal fad over its principal duty – defence of the realm.
On the other side of the Tower of London from the plush Beefeater-guarded apartment where Dannatt flogs his influence you will find the regimental headquarters of a group of men more to my taste - the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers.
Their second battalion is scheduled for disbandment in the latest round of defence cuts - despite being one of the best recruited battalions in the army. They suspect a politically inspired military gerrymander to save the poorly recruited Scottish regiments in preference to them, and have quite properly refused to take this lying down.
On Thursday 18 October, a marching party of 400 former Fusiliers will march down Whitehall wearing berets with their famous red over white hackle (it was all white until 1778 when their forbears dyed theirs with the blood of defeated French soldiers after the Battle of St Lucia) to Parliament to confront David Cameron in a protest which coincides with a debate about defence cuts.
Some serving Royal Fusiliers intend to join the march despite threats from the MoD that they may face court martial for staging a political demonstration, forbidden under Queen's Regulations. They intend to break the rules, not for personal gain like the wretched generals ‘for hire', but to preserve their ancient and distinguished regiment. Good for them.