From Johnny Mercer to Captain Tom: the weird politics of the ex-military grift

Captain Tom Grifters
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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:

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:

Also wading in was Mercer’s rival for his Plymouth seat, Labour candidate Fred Thomas, formerly a captain in the Royal Marines:

Entirely mediocre

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:

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.

Featured Image via Wikimedia Commons/Great Western Railway, cropped to 1910 x 1000, licenced under CC BY-SA 4.0.

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  • Show Comments
    1. You could argue that the annual act of remembrance has become a Christian cult. In fact, it was set up to deflect anger away from the Royal family after WW1 and it seems to have worked.

      It is also true that remembrance is based on emotion and tradition without thought. The Veterans who march are “the right sort” and not scum living on the streets or in prison. I saw plenty of this hatred and disgust for veterans in Winchester in the 1990s. Many elderly homeless, begging for money, wore medals. Unlike our Royal family, they actually earned them.

      My own Grandfather was in the Royal Navy during WW2. He met his wife in hospital after his ship was torpedoed. In 1976 (before I was born) he was made redundant and couldn’t find work. Full of shame, he went to the pub for a quick half before going to sign on (oh… the indulgence!). He never did sign on though after having a stroke as he walked out of the pub. Later that day, in hospital another one finished him off.

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