Former defence secretary, Geoff Hoon who was behind last week’s attempted leadership coup and now has nothing much to lose (there’s never going to be a Lord Hoon), looks set to do further damage to Gordon Brown with the disclosure that he (Brown) vetoed the purchase of vital military helicopters.
Leaked letters show that, when chancellor, Brown prevented Hoon from ordering life-saving battlefield equipment for Afghanistan and Iraq. Hoon, who was dismissed as an embittered traitor by Brown’s allies (?) for the failed email plot, has the potential to further undermine his leadership in the run-up to the general election.
According to the Sunday Times, the leaked letters show Brown personally overturned earlier Treasury assurances that the Ministry of Defence would be free to spend extra cash on troop-carrying helicopters. Hoon had warned that, if Brown refused to back down, “We would have to scale back on major equipment programmes.” He went on to claim that the helicopter programme in particular would suffer.
Last night, Hoon refused to comment on the letters, passed to The Sunday Times by Royal Air Force sources, but this is hardly important now, as the Sunday Times has it splashed over its front page. It is likely that Hoon, who is due to give information to the Chilcot inquiry, will now be asked in detail about the letters.
The leaked letters show how Brown’s actions from 2002 to 2004 meant that the military were unable to buy new helicopters which could now be in service in Afghanistan. The lack of air support has forced British troops to take dangerous journeys by road, exposing them to deadly Taliban bombs.
Military chiefs have long complained that the Treasury under Brown starved them of resources.
The revelations will be personally embarrassing to Brown, and damaging to the image of a Prime Minister who has waved the union flag and lectured us at length about showing support for the troops who are fighting (so he says) to keep the Taliban off the streets of England (by which he really means is London).