A keen observer of the ex-military gravy train, I’ve been entertained by the likes of Johnny Mercer and the Captain Tom phenomenon for years. There are no normal weeks in the weird politics of British veteranhood, but this one has been especially unhinged.
Johnny Mercer is a man whose whole brand and, in fact, personality is based on a job he no longer does: that of army officer. This week, the self-appointed veterans champion got rightly panned. On this occasion (it happens quite a bit) it was for saying foodbank use was down to poor personal budgeting.
Around the same time, Captain Tom’s daughter landed in hot water again. Business ‘guru’ Hannah Ingram-Moore has been ordered to tear down a pool and spa built in Tom’s name, allegedly with charitable donations, but apparently for private use only.
Commando Alan Partridge
Mercer’s latest idiocy came during a heated interview with Kay Burley. It’s not for nothing I refer to him as ‘Commando Partridge’. He tried to blither and contort that foodbank use among military personnel was a matter of personal choice:
#KayBurley – Is there any need for military personnel to be using food banks?
Johnny Mercer – "These are personal decisions around the way people are budgeting every month… I don't want to see anybody using food banks, but being in the military still affords you a good wage.." pic.twitter.com/ju0E1Lo43G
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— Haggis_UK 🇬🇧 🇪🇺 (@Haggis_UK) July 4, 2023
This led to censure from, among other people, TV maths genius Carole Vorderman. Vorderman also helpfully tweeted Johnny Mercer’s own personal burden on the taxpayer:
NEWS@JohnnyMercerUK thinks food bank use is "a personal decision"
I grew up in poverty, mum had 5 jobs, nearly killed her. It was NOT a choice
Total cost to taxpayer of Mercer is £373,663
Wife works in his office
Their total taxpayers' salary is approx £120,000 pic.twitter.com/chAg4KeUXR
— Carol Vorderman (@carolvorders) July 4, 2023
Also wading in was Mercer’s rival for his Plymouth seat, Labour candidate Fred Thomas, formerly a captain in the Royal Marines:
— Fred Thomas 🌹 (@FredThomasUK) July 4, 2023
Now, three entirely mediocre, hyper-privileged people arguing about poverty is probably a net good on the face of it. What interests me is how each individual demonstrates the militarisation of our culture and politics. Mercer trades off his association with the military, clearly. But so do the other two.
Vorderman, for her part, has been fully engaged in military cosplay for years. The honorary group captain and RAF ambassador likes nothing more than cutting around in uniform for a photo op:
— Airscene (@Airscene) February 11, 2016
Meanwhile, Thomas has clearly been parachuted (he is actually parachute-trained) into Plymouth to unseat Mercer because of his military credentials. This is a policy entirely in line with Keir Starmer’s flag-shagging strategy. I note that his endorsements page is filled with sycophantic comments about the candidate’s military service.
In our militarised democracy, all parties labour under the delusion that military service equals credibility, leadership ability, and morality.
Captain Tom’s Daughter – again…
Then, onto the new Captain Tom debacle. Hannah Ingram-Moore was already under investigation by the charity commission when the latest story broke. In this new twist, she has been ordered to demolish a pool and spa.
As the BBC has it:
It has emerged the Ingram-Moores requested planning permission for a “Captain Tom Foundation Building”, which was “for use by occupiers… and Captain Tom Foundation”, according to documents submitted to Central Bedfordshire Council in August 2021.
Then in February 2022, revised plans were submitted:
The plans included a spa pool, toilets and a kitchen, which the Design & Access and Heritage Statement said was “for private use”.
The specifics are not entirely clear. This led to questions around whether charitable funds were being used to build what appears to be a personal suite of nice things.
Either way, the Captain Tom Foundation has now announced it has ceased taking donations for the time being. Plus, the new facilities have been ordered to be demolished by the council.
It’s what he would have wanted…
Captain Tom Moore came to prominence during the first year of the pandemic. The elderly veteran raised funds for the NHS by walking up and down his garden. For some, he captured the heart of the nation with his selfless efforts.
A closer look suggests that his story was used for far more nefarious ends. My opinion is that the Captain Tom story was a way of draping the Union Jack over the Tories’ appalling – and, for many, deadly – Covid-19 response, with the added bonus of framing the NHS as a charitable cause.
These latest events further advance my theory that large parts of the British public are so inured by an imperial fantasy of Britain that they would marry a river turd if you put it in a beret and pinned some medals on it.
British military identity has become a truly strange thing. We are expected to praise and admire the military institution above all others. Yet at the same time it has become a cheap corporate and political brand. Even tenuous associations with Britain’s war machine can now bestow authority and credibility.
The fact that this is the case should be of concern to us all. Military worship is based on emotion, not reason. As a result, using it to grift people is easy.
As a veteran myself, that could never be me. Instead, you can buy my latest book – with chapters on Captain Tom and Johnny Mercer – here.Support us and go ad-free
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