Britain’s military must embrace the country’s racial, gender and religious diversity after a string of controversies and scandals, the new head of the armed forces said as he rejected the idea this amounted to “wokefulness”.
In his first speech, Adm Tony Radakin pointedly declared that the armed forces had to “strive to do better” in every “aspect of our leadership” in a speech to the Rusi thinktank. “That includes reflecting the diverse nation we serve. Because if we don’t, then quite simply, we risk looking ridiculous.”
The chief of the defence staff, the first to come from the navy for two decades, said diversity was “not about wokefulness”, adding: “It is about woefulness. The woefulness of too few women. The woefulness of not reflecting the ethnic, religious and cognitive diversity of our nation.
“And the woefulness of not following our own values, whether respect for each other or the simple integrity of claiming expenses. This affects our culture, our fighting power, our prowess.”
A parliamentary report in June concluded that two-thirds of women in the armed forces said they had experienced bullying, sexual harassment and discrimination during their career and that the three forces were “failing to protect” female recruits.
It prompted the Ministry of Defence to say last week that it wanted to dramatically increase the proportion of women serving in the armed forces, setting a new target that 30% of new recruits should be female by 2030. Women currently account for 11% of service personnel while the proportion who are from black and minority ethnic backgrounds is 9.2%.
In March, a senior army officer, Maj Gen Nick Welch, was found guilty at court martial of dishonestly claiming almost £50,000 in allowances to pay for his children’s boarding school fees. He is believed to be the most senior officer to have faced a court martial since 1815.
Radakin, 55, was picked from a field of five by Boris Johnson to replace Sir Nick Carter in the £270,000-a-year role. Born in Oldham, he trained as a barrister but has served in the navy since 1990, working his way through the ranks until becoming head of the navy in 2019.
The speech avoided a lengthy analysis of geopolitical issues, characteristic of Carter, although Radakin argued that the rise of China and Russia over the last 20 years showed that state power “is back with a vengeance”.
Instead, in places, the new forces chief sought to justify the military in domestic political terms, citing three of Johnson’s political slogans – “Global Britain. Levelling Up. Strengthening the Union” – as providing benefit in terms of jobs and status around the UK.
“If you are in any doubt you only need look to Barrow-in-Furness. It’s a community whose very identity is rooted in a sense of purpose that comes from building nuclear submarines – and the feelings of pride and accomplishment are palpable inside and outside the factory gates,” he said.