Thursday, December 14, 2006

Naval Gazing

I know what it’s like to be skint, more now than at any time in the last ten years. I recently made quite possibly the worst decision of my life – to concentrate on writing to the exclusion of everything else in the tiny hope that it will reward me with a future. My savings are due to run out in about March so it would be handy if I reached the top of someone’s slush pile by then and that coincided with a rare ‘what-the-hell-I’m-in-a-generous-mood’ moment on their part. I have realised that it is my only hope because I cannot do anything else. My fallback position is politics, the place people go when they can’t do anything at all.

Previously I have revealed how I spend my precious spare moments doing the Government’s maths. I understand no one in Government has time to fiddle with percentages and the like but it might be useful if ministers occasionally reached for a calculator before signing off policies that affect the amount of money each of us poor folk has to spend.

Here we are, two weeks before Christmas and a giant boo-boo on the part of Navy administrators has resulted in Royal Marines serving on the front line in Afghanistan having up to £3,000 deducted from their wages, according to today’s Telegraph. What with the Farepack scandal and Grinch councils refusing to decorate trees and staging nativity plays with casts of Barbie dolls enjoying beach parties, one might speculate that there is a conspiracy afoot to wreck Christmas forever.

Some weeks ago, the Government announced generous bonuses for our armed forces serving long tours of duty in interventions that unexpectedly turned into prolonged conflicts. This seemed like a decent consolation for guns that don’t fire properly and jeeps that break down in the middle of an ambush. For a government that’s not very good at maths, they don’t half make things difficult for themselves by inventing complex and protracted systems for getting money to people. As always, getting a fix on what has actually happened is no easy matter but reading between the lines, it seems that someone at the Ministry of Defence jumped the gun and sent individual soldiers letters with actual figures on them.

In any other context promising people money may be considered a type of contract along the we agree to pay you lines. If you are the Government however, you can always pretend it didn’t happen. Whilst wishing to support his troops and manage the huge fallout that has caused a nosedive in morale, Vice Admiral Adrian Johns, the Second Sea Lord (no.. he really is called that), stopped short of an admission of error on the Navy's part in a letter to senior officers. This from The Telegraph who obtained a copy of that letter,

'Due to the complexity of new pay regulations and a "misinterpretation" of the rules, some personnel had been under an "erroneous expectation" they would receive extra daily allowances of between £1.04 and £16.74 a day depending on length of service.

The issue had been discussed with the Defence Secretary Des Browne and military chiefs but it was decided the Marines would not be given the promised money as a one-off payment.

This was "not what they may have been expecting" and commanders were instructed to tell their men "in as sensitive a manner as possible".'

You see what happens when you’re under this enormous pressure serving your country is that you fantasise that you have been promised more money for risking your life. These fantasies can be very real and very specific and you can visualise someone writing you a letter which tells you that you will receive between £1.04 and £16.74 per day extra. Wartime psychosis is very tricky to cure. But because it values so highly the job our armed forces are doing, the Government has thoughtfully sent out teams of experts to counsel the 1,000 commandos whose children will not be getting a Wii for Christmas. Just a wild guess but I’m thinking that’s probably costing more than the £200,000 (approx) committed in error.

I was confused enough to tune in to Prime Minister’s Questions today to see if I could get some clarity on this. Sure enough David ‘Dung Cam’ Cameron asked the question and Tony ‘Blah Blah’ Blair offered an ‘explanation’. He warned us it would be complicated and assured us that he had spent most of the morning ‘trying to get [my] head around it’. Dung Cam proposed he might star in a remake of Yes Minister – possibly his most useful contribution to parliament yet. Blah Blah informed us that the ‘issue’ was enormously complex as it involved switching money between The Accumulated Turbulence Allowance, The Longer Separation Allowance and The Operational Allowance.

You can see why being Prime Minister is sometimes a very difficult job and can only sympathise with how hilarious it must be to have to repeat phrases like ‘Accumulated Turbulence Allowance’ in front of a room full of stuffy old duffers, hence his giggling through most of it. He did however manage to deliver this lovely cadence with a completely straight face which is highly commendable,

‘Some will receive less than they thought they were going to get but will, in fact, get more.’

Just to show how genuinely under the cosh our Prime Minister is, he later concluded another matter with this gem,

‘I think we should learn from these lessons, but at a later time.’

I’ve decided that no matter how bad things get, I will not go into politics. I don’t really want to have to start timetabling my errors of judgment. Still, handing the maths over to someone else would be a bonus…

Picture of Popeye from


Mullet said...

This really sucks. Who'd put their life on the line for this kind of treatment.

groucho said...

Military intelligence is a contradiction in terms.

Ms Melancholy said...

If I had huge sums of money I would buy a national newspaper just so that I could pay you to write in it. I promise. But unfortunately I don't, so all I can offer you is my best wishes and lots of luck in your writing career. Perhaps you could try cosmic ordering, a la Noel Edmonds?

That's so pants said...

Hi Mullet. Yes. What really pisses me off is that the brass are far more concerned with how they look than the HUGE mistake they've made and how that reflects on those affected. They should get over it because they make nothing but mistakes.

Groucho - Helpful, as always. And as it happens, correct on this occasion.

Hi Ms Melancholy. I live for your kind words. Thank you.