The Telegraph 2024-02-03 20:00:34

Pro-Palestine protesters wave ‘Zionists control the media’ placards during London march

Pro-Palestine protesters waved placards alleging that Zionists control the media, as tens of thousands gathered in central London to demand a ceasefire in Gaza.

Demonstrators also chanted: “Yemen, Yemen make us proud, turn another ship around,” a reference to the Houthi attacks on shipping in the Red Sea.

Multiple banners displaying anti-Semitic tropes were displayed at the march, which began outside BBC headquarters in Portland Place and was due to finish in Whitehall.

One declared “the BBC is an arm of the Zionist propaganda machine”, while another stated “Our media, tv, radio and government are controlled by Zionists”.

Another protester waved a placard depicting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a pig with devil horns on his head.

Israel’s ambassador to the UK, Tzipi Hotovely, was also depicted with devil horns.

Further posters depicted various Jewish and international figures wearing Hitler moustaches.

Police reported two arrests, one woman who was detained in Haymarket while attempting to set off a “smoke bomb or flare”, and another for allegedly chanting slogans that could incite racial hatred.

The demonstration, the eighth such national march since the October 7 Hamas massacre that killed more than 1,300 in Israel, puts the Metropolitan Police under renewed scrutiny for its handling of such events, having previously been criticised by politicians and Jewish representatives for showing a lax approach to policing hate speech.

On Saturday, dozens could be seen chanting for an Intifada Revolution outside the entrance to Downing Street.

Women wearing medical scrubs were also filmed chanting slogans under an Iranian flag.

The flag of Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces, an Iran-backed militia, was also carried by multiple protesters.

The group is thought to have been hit by the recent US airstrikes in retaliation at the death in a drone attack of three American service personnel in Iraq.

Saturday’s demonstration was organised by a coalition including the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), Friends of Al Aqsa, Stop the War Coalition and the Muslim Association of Britain.

It follows a spat with police in which organisers say they were initially prevented from concluding their march outside Whitehall.

The Met eventually gave permission, however they withheld permission for a second stage of the march in Trafalgar Square.

Organisers have said that the decision presents a risk to safety.

However, Deputy Assistant Commissioner David Ward said on Thursday that allowing the Trafalgar Square leg “would have caused serious disruption”.

“To avoid Trafalgar Square becoming too full, we have agreed to just one stage for speakers in Whitehall,” he said.

Scotland Yard estimated around 10,000 demonstrators had marched through the West End of London, with the crowd swelling to 20,000 for the speeches in Whitehall.

Demonstrators carried banners which read “end the killing” that were accompanied by images of the bloodshed since the conflict erupted.

Other banners declared “free the children”, “freedom to Palestine” and “Boycott Israel”.

Ahead of the march, the Campaign Against Antisemitism said: “Tomorrow, London will once again become a no-go zone for Jews as yet another anti-Israel demonstration takes place.

“How much more must this country endure before proper action is taken.”

Police have made arrests at the various marches, including at an event in December when they were surrounded by protesters in London.

Earlier in the month, 13 were arrested at a march, mostly for offensive placards.

Leaflets distributed at Saturday’s march included the headline: “Zionist Holocaust backed by the West, aping Hitler.”

New-look England overcome Six Nations scare to beat Italy in Rome

This was not quite the statement of intent that Steve Borthwick demanded, nor did the contest hit anywhere near the same peaks as Ireland managed in their magnificent triumph over France, and yet there were enough moments in this victory over a rejuvenated Italy side to give England supporters at least some hope that the limited game plan of the World Cup campaign is now history.

A word too for Italy, who were magnificent in their attacking endeavour, delivering a courageous display to draw a line on their own horrific World Cup campaign. The scoreline may have flattered them in the end, with Monty Ioane’s late try not reflective of England’s dominance in the second half, but the Azzurri, like England, can now look forwards, not backwards.

For the first time since 2019, England have opened their Six Nations Championship with a win and in truth the result was never in doubt once the excellent Alex Mitchell crossed for England’s second try early in the second half to secure the lead for his side for the first time.

But most encouragingly for England was a shift in mindset; a clear commitment to keep the ball alive more often and attack with greater intent, looking for space when during the World Cup the first instinct more often would have been to kick, even if it came with a greater degree of risk.

Tommy Freeman, who impressed on his Six Nations debut, was testament to this intent. He regularly came off his wing and made metres while overall the passing was more accurate and fluid than we saw during all of last year. Borthwick has made it his mantra to take away from his players the fear of making mistakes that he experienced himself as an England player.

It was a break by Freeman that culminated in England’s first half try by Elliot Daly, scorching through a midfield hole after Ethan Roots had put England on the front foot with a strong carry.

“We created a bit of space, and things were heading a bit laterally, so we pinched inside a hole and created a weak-shoulder,” said Freeman. “I went to back myself, but then gave the ball to Elliot who was in good support.

“I’ve been given that licence from Steve and Wiggy (attack coach Richard Wigglesworth) and the coaches to go and do my thing outside of our basic plan we’re set and the fundamentals. The contest is massive for wingers and me but outside of that it was just about getting my hands on the ball and being a threat around the park.”

The lingering frustration is that the spark went out of the game at the point when it felt like England would kick on and make their dominance in territory and possession count. What England lacked at critical times was momentum,

 underscoring the absence of a ball-carrying midfield.

What is clear too is that the new defensive system being implemented by Felix Jones, Kevin Sinfield’s successor, is not yet aligned.

In the desire to put their opponents under pressure, both wings were encouraged to fly up and in, but the eagerness to create greater line speed and pressure became disjointed at times, with Italy’s first-half tries by Alessandro Garbisi and Tommaso Allan highlighted its fragility.

“There were fixes defensively we needed to get right…but we were trying to play at a different intensity which is what we are about,” admitted Jamie George, England’s new captain.

“We have loved how Felix Jones has come in and grabbed Kev’s defence. Felix has come in with new ideas and we want to be physical. It was not perfect, and we know we have got to be better going into Wales, but it was a pretty good start.”

But there is context here. England remain a work in progress. With five players winning their first caps, Borthwick’s side lacked the cohesion and experience of Ireland. They will have learned from this experience and Roots, in particular, made a ferocious impact.

Falling behind 10-0 could have rattled the confidence of this new-look side but instead they rolled up their sleeves and clawed their way back into the game and England utterly dominated the second period, with George Ford turning the screw by landing two more penalties.

Along with Roots, Maro Itoje built on his World Cup performances and seemed back to his marauding best, Ben Earl carried hard while Mitchell challenged the Italian defence around the fringes.

It is clear that significant improvement will be required for the challenges ahead, particularly the visit of Ireland to Twickenham in round four. But with more time together, and the return of injured players including George Martin, Ellis Genge and possibly Ollie Lawrence should add further ballast. Backing their new mindset will also be key.

“We will make mistakes because this is a new team,” added Borthwick. “We need to ensure the players will learn from it, we will get better and I want the players to keep having the ball.

“I want them to want the ball and whatever your strengths I want you to bring your strengths on the pitch. I want to decrease that concern and worry that’s been in teams previously. That’s my personal experience of playing for England. I want them to come on and put on that white shirt and grow and be even better. I want the white shirt to help them be even bigger and stronger than what they have before.”

Scoring sequence: 

3-0 Allan penalty, 8-0 A Garbisi try, 10-0 Allan conversion, 10-3 Ford penalty, 10-8 Daly try, 15-8 Allan try, 17-8 Allan conversion, 17-11 Ford penalty, 17-14 Ford penalty, 17-19 Mitchell try, 17-21 Ford conversion, 17-24 Ford penalty, 17-27 Ford penalty, 22-27 Ioane try, 24-27 P Garbisi conversion 

England edge Italy in Rome  – as it happened

Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill hails historic day as first nationalist leader of Northern Ireland

The Stormont Assembly has been restored after a two-year hiatus with Michelle O’Neill becoming Northern Ireland’s first republican First Minister.

The Assembly resumed its sitting on Saturday afternoon on a day hailed as “historic” by Ms O’Neill, who is Sinn Fein’s vice-president. The DUP’s Emma Little-Pengelly was confirmed as deputy first minister.

Edwin Poots, the former DUP leader, was elected as the Assembly’s independent Speaker.

Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) gathered at Stormont for a special sitting where ministers were appointed to a power-sharing executive following a two-year political collapse triggered by post-Brexit arrangements in the province.

The restoration of the institutions was enabled by the DUP finally agreeing a deal with the UK Government. Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the party’s leader said the agreement would safeguard trade with Great Britain and Northern Ireland’s place in the Union.

Earlier on Saturday, Sir Jeffrey, flanked by Ms Little-Pengelly, said it was a “good day” and that he believed the future could be one where “Northern Ireland is stable and at peace with itself”.

Ms O’Neill became First Minister because Sinn Fein is the largest party in Stormont. Gerry Adams, the former Sinn Fein president, was among those in the public gallery to watch her be nominated as the first nationalist first minister.

On Saturday morning, Ms O’Neill tweeted:

A series of ministerial positions across Stormont departments were filled.

Naomi Long, the leader of the cross-community Alliance Party, who was appointed justice minister, said she hoped Northern Ireland would soon be able to move from “drama on this hill to delivery for the people”.

“The people of Northern Ireland deserve a government that works for them, and today is the starting point for that,” she said.

While many MLAs celebrated the resumption of the Assembly, Jim Allister of the hardline Traditional Unionist Voice party criticised the “DUP climbdown”, claiming that “not one word” of the Northern Ireland Protocol has changed, and that the region remains under EU customs rules, and “ruled in a significant part by foreign laws”.

Watch: Machete-wielding youths clash in Nottingham city centre

Police are looking for three youths seen brandishing machetes at each other in the early afternoon in Nottingham city centre.

Video footage circulating on social media shows the confrontation outside the Nottingham Contemporary gallery shortly after midday on Friday.

The clash left one employee at the gallery fearing “for my life”.

Three people in the 30-second video can be seen holding what appear to be large blades and are wearing dark clothing with their hoods raised.

One member of the group can be seen putting the weapon back into a sheath.

A woman can also be seen in the clip, apparently attempting to disperse the group.

They eventually run away down some steps.

A gallery worker told the BBC: “They were wielding knives at each other, and a lady tried to stop them.”

They added: “Everyone ran away. I locked the door of the [venue], the Contemporary locked the door.”

The employee said the reported incident started at around 12.30pm, adding: “I was scared for my life. We were lucky we had no customers in.”

Nottinghamshire Police said it conducted an “extensive” search of the area, but the suspects had left.

No injuries were reported, according to the police, and additional high-visibility reassurance patrols have been in place since the incident.

Ch Insp Karl Thomas, of Nottinghamshire Police, said: “I have seen the footage of this incident and share the same sense of revulsion that other viewers will feel.

“Detectives are investigating what happened as a matter of urgency and are working at speed to identify all the young people involved.”

Officers have released CCTV images of people they wish to trace as part of their investigation, and anyone who recognises them is urged to contact Nottinghamshire Police immediately.

Ch Insp Thomas added: “I urge anyone who recognises them to get in touch as soon as possible. Although incidents of this nature are rare, we fully understand the concern they cause in the community. I want to reassure everybody about just how seriously we are treating this incident.”

Live Clapham chemical attack latest: Footage of police raid in hunt for suspect released

New footage has been released of police raiding a house in the hunt for the suspected chemical attacker Abdul Ezedi. 

Footage shows officers entering the residence in Newcastle and moving from room to room searching for Ezedi.

The Met said it had received “dozens of calls” and reports of “possible sightings” in relation to the investigation as it issued a fresh appeal for information.

Searches of five addresses in east London and Newcastle revealed empty containers with corrosive warnings on the labels. Forensic tests are now underway to see if the substances match those used in Wednesday’s attack in Clapham. 

Commander Jon Savell said: “We have received dozens of calls with information, including possible sightings, and every single piece of information has been recorded and forms part of our ongoing investigation.”

Follow for the latest updates.

Iran accuses US of ‘strategic mistake’ after strikes

Iran’s foreign ministry has condemned overnight US airstrikes in Iraq and Syria as “violations of the sovereignty and territorial integrity” of the two countries.

Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani, in a statement, said the attacks symbolised “another adventurous and strategic mistake by the United States that will result only in increased tension and instability in the region”.

He added that the US attacks were designed “to overshadow the Zionist regime’s crime in Gaza”. He did not say if Iran would take any action in response to the strikes.

Prior to the US retaliatory strikes on Friday, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said Iran would not start a war but would “respond strongly to anyone who tries to bully it”.

The US military launched airstrikes against more than 85 targets linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) and the militias it backs in Iraq and Syria, in response to last weekend’s drone attack in Jordan that killed three US troops.

The Iran-backed Islamic Resistance in Iraq took credit for the attacks, marking the first combat deaths of US troops in more than three years.

Joe Biden, US president, vowed to retaliate after the attack by “radical Iran-backed militant groups”, saying “If you harm an American, we will respond.”

US bombers, some of which had flown across the Atlantic for the mission, targeted command and control headquarters, intelligence centres and storage facilities.

How the British Army lost its way

Just before Christmas, the US Marine Corps held their 248th Birthday Ball in a hotel in London. It was a lavish evening, with medals galore on display, dinner and dancing. But the highlight of the night’s revelry was a nine-minute video. Set to a soundtrack of Future Warrior by Audiomachine, it began with a thrilling montage: of ships steaming through choppy waters, planes doing death-defying loops, helicopters buzzing low over hostile territory and lots and lots of guns, fire and explosions. “Si Vis Pacem Para Bellum” flashed up on the screen. “If you desire peace, prepare for war.”

“Even I was on the edge of my seat,” says one British Army officer who was there. “I thought, ‘I want to join the US Marine Corps right now’.” That, he adds, “is the s— we need.”

In 2022, the US Marine Corps stood at 174,577 troops, with another 32,599 on reserve. In 2020, the Corps received 358,240 applications and accepted just 38,800 of them. Its annual budget is roughly $53.2 billion (£42.1 billion); US defence spending as a whole stands at $877 billion. It’s an unholy sum, and one that throws the state of the British Forces into stark comparison.

That British Army officer is one of just 75,983 regular full-time personnel in the country, with 28,284 reservists backing them up; the lowest numbers since the Napoleonic wars – although the Army nevertheless has the largest number of personnel of all three Armed Forces. Recruiters signed up just 5,560 regular soldiers last year – well below the target of 8,200 – and the outsourcing recruitment contractor, Capita, has admitted it will probably miss this year’s target of 9,813 by a third. Reports suggest that, at the current rate of striking, the British Army will field fewer than 70,000 soldiers within two years.

Britain might be the sixth largest spender on defence in the world (the figure currently stands at £45.9 billion), but a National Audit Office report into the Ministry of Defence’s (MoD) Equipment Plan found that the Army was £12 billion short of the funding required to meet the full demands of last year’s Integrated Review Refresh. The gaps are obvious, and sometimes embarrassing. The 155th Artillery Regiment currently has no guns – we gave them all to Ukraine, along with most of the ammunition needed to fire them. Our 240 or so Challenger tanks date largely to the 1980s and 1990s; the Army has an upgraded version on order, but will only have 18 of them by November 2027 and the full complement of 148 won’t arrive until the end of 2030. There’s not enough money for basic weaponry, let alone to produce a fancy video showing hordes of soldiers blowing stuff up with it.

Little wonder, perhaps, that earlier this week, senior US generals declared Britain to be no longer a top-level fighting force. And even more alarming that the current state of the world may demand us to up our game within fairly short order. So where’s it all gone wrong? And how can we fix it?

‘Start thinking soldier’

Ask your average soldier why he signed up, and a significant majority – if they’re honest – will say they’re in it for the drama, danger and excitement. Or, as one Army officer puts it bluntly, “they want a scrap, and to be able to bayonet someone in the face.” 

In this century, the high point of British Army recruitment was 2003, when 16,690 people signed up to fight for Queen and country – just under the previous peak of 16,963 in 1999. At the time, there were plenty of opportunities to fight. In March that year, British troops joined the Americans in invading Iraq, overthrowing Saddam Hussein and occupying the country after a month of fighting that would grow into a conflict of six more years. At the same time, Britain’s Army was also deployed in Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks. Young men and women signed up in their thousands: average Army recruitment throughout the 2000s was 14,459 per year. 

The MoD spent heavily to recruit during those war-filled years: £20.5 million in 2002-03, £20.3 million in 2003-04 and a whopping £33.2 million in 2004-05. Reflecting the difficulties of attracting recruits to the infantry, in 2006 a special infantry recruitment campaign was run at a cost of £5.25 million. Soldiers were harvested from estates in the likes of Glasgow and Liverpool, where the Army offered them a way out of what could otherwise be a pretty tough life: 24 per cent of all Army applicants in 2003-04 were unemployed for a significant period before applying. There was adventure on offer, yes, but also the promise of engagement with an enemy force, and a clear moral divide between them and us. Like the recruitment posters of a century before, the harsh reality of war – the fight, but also the potential sacrifice – was not shied away from. As a recruitment poster from 1934 put it: “Members of the Armed Forces need to be capable of dealing with death and disaster on a daily basis.” The same was true once again. Plus, of course, the chance to bayonet someone in the face.

Fast forward to 2010, however, and things looked rather different. The war in Iraq was winding down. Troop numbers had reached their peak in Afghanistan, at around 10,000, but the nation was growing weary of this long, unwinnable war, especially as the number of fatalities had also peaked; over 100 personnel were killed between 2009 and 2010. Grappling with the aftermath of the global financial crisis, the coalition government was embarking on austerity measures, and in the 2010 defence review, under Liam Fox, the then defence secretary, it was announced that there would be a major cutting back. The Army would shrink from just over 100,000 soldiers to 82,000 by 2020, and would get smaller still by 2025.

“Start thinking soldier” proclaimed a 2010 recruitment video – still set in the desert of Afghanistan but notable for an absence of tanks, helicopters or additional manpower. “Would you mortar them, bug out or engage?” was the question asked of the potential recruit. It’s difficult not to wonder whether the MoD might have been asking itself the same questions. “That was in theory when they [the government] wanted to prioritise equipment, but doing that within the defence budget meant having to make savings somewhere else,” recalls Gen Lord Richard Dannatt, who handed over as head of the Army in 2009. Those savings, he points out, therefore had to be in manpower, “and most of the manpower is in the Army”. By 2012, Army numbers had fallen to under 100,000 and retention was also dropping, with the numbers leaving jumping from 11,500 in 2011 to 13,200 in 2012.

That was also the year that the Army signed a 10-year recruitment contract with the outsourcing giant Capita. Prior to this, recruitment had been carried out by specific teams within military units. Walk into a recruiting office anywhere across the country and you could have had a face-to-face conversation with a soldier, sailor or airman, and be starting basic training within weeks. But with the axe of redundancy swinging, the MoD needed soldiers back in their day jobs.

The Army said the deal with Capita would release over 1,000 soldiers back to the front line, and deliver hundreds of millions of pounds in benefits to the Forces. But the new arrangement was beset with problems from the outset, from technical difficulties with the new online recruitment system to interminable waits after signing up. Auditors found that, in the first six months of 2018-19, it took up to 321 days for new recruits to get from starting an application to beginning basic training; in 2017-18, nearly half – 47 per cent – of applicants dropped out voluntarily, with the delays believed to be a significant factor. The Army estimates there were 13,000 fewer applications between November 2017 and March 2018 than in the same period the preceding year.

The hope at the time was that the Army Reserve would grow to make up the shortfall. But there were manifest problems with this approach: first, a lack of a clearly defined purpose for reservist troops, second, a pay rate that for many didn’t seem worth it for the disruption to their everyday lives and, finally, the same lack of investment in recruitment that beset the regular Army. A 2013 White Paper under Philip Hammond, who by then had taken over from Liam Fox as the defence secretary, proposed military pensions and healthcare benefits for reservists, as well as increased pay, in a £1.8 billion bid to drive up numbers from 20,000 to 30,000 by 2018, at which point the reserves also saw a name change from the Territorial Army to the Army Reserves. But at the same time, some 26 reservist bases of a total of 334 closed down. As former regular and reservist soldier John O’Brien wrote to The Telegraph recently, “these centres served as a vital gateway, introducing young people to military life. The effort of travel within a rural county puts possible recruits off.”

Things haven’t improved much since. The number of reserve bases is now down to less than 50, and, while reservist numbers have increased marginally since 2012, at around 1.2 per cent – despite the MoD signing a further two-year recruiting contract with Capita last June, there was a 35 per cent decrease in people joining the Reserves between 2021 and 2022. The following year, 5,580 reservists left and only 3,780 joined. Part of the problem is mindset, says one frustrated Army officer who works regularly with reservists. Fundamentally, he says, “they’re civilians. They have no idea how to behave like ordinary soldiers, and have none of the credibility.” What’s more, with no requirement to actually deploy, their efficacy is perhaps questionable, especially when it takes time to train reservists up to standard. “You can’t train a reservist to use a tank overnight”, points out one officer who has done several stints on the recruitment front.

Aside from the antiquated process, part of the problem in its recruiting of both regular and reservist forces, says the officer, is that Capita “measures success as people who come through the door, instead of the people who complete the training”. To succeed in getting the right men and women into a position to fight, he says, the system needs “to move from assessments to tests. A test is something you pass or fail. An assessment means someone only needs to attempt it. But to close and kill the enemy, you need to deliver to the standard required, and the standard is a test, not an assessment.”

There’s also the issue of who’s being targeted in the first place. In recent years, recruitment campaigns have, in the view of many, “gone soft”. In 2016, military chiefs sought to appeal to a supposedly altruistic Gen Z with reverse psychology. “Don’t join the Army,” its campaign declared; “don’t become a better you.” This was followed by 2017’s “This is Belonging” campaign, telling the stories of soldiers who believed they wouldn’t fit in to demonstrate that all are welcome. In 2019, the “Snowflakes” campaign called on “snowflakes, selfie addicts, class clowns, phone zombies and me, me, me millennials” to join its ranks in a campaign that infuriated not only an older generation but many serving personnel too. In September of last year, it was “You Belong Here”, “to challenge the misconceptions among the 59 per cent of young people who do not believe they would fit in.” 

“There’s so much wokery and mixed messaging,” says one former Marines officer. And, while these campaigns may have been successful in attracting those who might not otherwise have thought of a career in the military, the problem is that they have ignored what has always been the Army’s traditional recruiting base: white, working-class boys (and girls) between 16 and 24 who want, as one Army officer puts it, “drama, danger, excitement, reasonable pay and a fight”. 

These campaigns, he says, “don’t show tanks or anything blowing up. But my bit of the Army is there to fight and kill the enemy – and we’re not very good at telling people that’s our job.”

‘Armies are not easy to create’

So what now? Europe is teetering on the brink of all-out war. If it breaks out, Britain would have to step up to fulfil its Nato commitment. So do we really need the citizen armies that Gen Sir Patrick Sanders alluded to last week? And what about the kit they would have to fight with?

“If the Government wants to make the Army as effective as it could be, it requires total governmental and political support, sustained investment, and a sense of urgency to do things quickly,” says former brigadier Ben Barry, a land warfare expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. He outlines three main priorities: accelerating recruiting, a return to fully collective, large-scale training and a renewed focus on the logistics of weapons procurement. People, says Barry, are key – and, he says, “to be brutally frank, if you want sustained readiness, the high priority has to be the regular Army” – not the Reserves. (It’s sobering to remember that in the first six months of fighting in Ukraine, the Russians took the same number of casualties as the headcount of the entire British Army.) That means improving the offer to attract and keep the good people, from implementing pay review recommendations, to retention bonuses for those serving, to a massive improvement in the standard of living accommodation. “We have to make a better offer to those who might be wanting to join,” agrees Lord Dannatt – and get front-line soldiers back into recruiting offices to attract the brightest and best.

That’s not to say there isn’t a role for reservists, who might also be bolstered by a larger, better and more engaged regular force. Should we introduce some form of national service – that citizen army that Gen Sanders referred to – in the manner of our European counterparts in Sweden, Finland and Norway? Difficult, when military life has become so segregated from its civilian counterpart. As Richard Munday wrote to The Telegraph recently, even “organisations like the National Rifle Association, and events like the King’s Prize at Bisley, are ghosts of their former selves because their objectives have been countered by political decisions that have sought to segregate the military from civilian life, and sporting skill and interest. If we are serious about the need to maintain a credible Armed Forces in the future, we must bridge that divide.”

“Armies are not easy to create”, points out Maj Gen Chip Chapman, a former paratrooper and senior British military adviser. “You need motivated people who will join because they see it as vital for the UK’s interest. The worst thing you could have is people being coerced to join.” Instead, says the Army officer with recruitment experience, “more effort needs to be made to get people who have previously served back in [as reservists] – because it’s experience we’re lacking now.” Another suggestion is for all fit and willing former regular soldiers, numbering some 200,000, to be invited to take part in annual military exercises.

Next is kit, which Britain is woefully lacking: we’re low on guns, we’re low on the ammunition to shoot them, we’re low on tanks and the two aircraft carriers on which the majority of the defence equipment budget was blown in recent years are undeployable as Britain doesn’t have enough sailors to man them. We’re also majorly lacking in layered air defence – the ability to fight off attacks at both short, mid and long range. Recent suggestions that the carrier HMS Elizabeth could be deployed to fight off Houthi attacks in the Red Sea ignores the fact that we are lacking the jets to put on them that would provide the long-range cover.

“The situation could be better,” admits Nick Reynolds, research fellow for land warfare at the Royal United Services Institute. Part of the problem, he says, is that modernisation across the board was delayed by the Helmand campaign, which means everything needed to be brought up to date at once. But, he says, the Ukraine war has highlighted some stark requirements: first, the need to produce and stockpile munitions quickly and on a mass scale; second, to simplify the bureaucratic procurement system, cutting out the cronyism, and third; invest in air defence capability across all ranges. “Unfortunately, we’re now in a position where having sovereign capability and a large workforce with a significant amount of expertise is a very valuable thing – but we allowed that to atrophy,” he says. “We need a more sustainable arms industry, to produce things in-house.” 

It would, he says, involve a massive expansion of the UK domestic arms industry – a prospect many might feel uncomfortable at. But doing so could also bring job creation and boost the economy. The question, says Reynolds, is whether – as a country – we are willing to have that conversation with ourselves.

Of course, all of this doesn’t come cheap. The Army has a £44 billion procurement plan over the next 10 years, but, as Gen Sanders has pointed out, just 18 per cent of that money is committed – a dangerous position to be in during an election year. And, says Lord Dannatt, we should mind the lessons of history. In 1935, for example, Britain was spending less than 5 per cent of GDP on defence. When war broke out that figure shot up to 18 per cent, and when the country was fighting for survival in 1940, it went up to 46 per cent. “18 to 46 per cent is the price you pay for disaster,” Lord Dannatt warns. “We have to be prepared to pay the price for deterrents. Even going up to 3 or 4 per cent of GDP would buy us sufficient Armed Forces to be credible within Nato.” Russia is right now spending nearly 40 per cent of its GDP on defence.

The MoD is aware of the problems. Last June saw the publication of the Haythornthwaite Review into Armed Forces incentivisation. Its brutal conclusion was that the current system doesn’t really work for anyone; it proposed a radical overhaul to resolve the tensions between career progression, operational effectiveness and family life. “Future recruitment is a top priority,” said an MoD spokesman, adding that the measurements the Haythornthwaite Review set out, from zig-zag careers where people can leave and re-join the Armed Forces, through to reviews of pay and progression, are being trialled and piloted. In December, meanwhile, more than 400 soldiers were ordered back into recruiting offices in a bid to get more people to enlist. And, said Grant Shapps, the Defence Secretary, in an interview with The Telegraph on Thursday, Army recruitment almost doubled last month alone amid growing fears of a confrontation with Moscow.

But as Britain looks to the future, the official British Army motto might be a salutary reminder. “Be the best”, it proclaims. To do that, it needs commitment, cash and political will. So, what will the recruiting video of 2024 show?