The British Army Actually Just Had to Defend Its ‘Politically Correct’ Recruitment Campaign
Critics claim the diversity drive show the army has "gone soft."
The British army has had to speak out in support of a campaign that has been labelled “politically correct,” and held up as proof that the army has “gone soft.”
The £1.6 million campaign, which has been rolled out across TV, radio, and social media, is an effort by the institution to recruit a more diverse range of people.
The campaign, called “This is belonging 2018,” presents a series of questions about issues that might traditionally put people off joining the army, or make them feel like they don’t belong there.
“Can I be gay in the army?” is one. Another is: “Can I practise my faith in the army?”
The questions are based on the work of market research company Capita, which identified five groups of people who might not feel suitable for the army.
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The campaign is in response to the army’s struggles to retain recruits — with numbers falling significantly in recent years.
However, by promoting diversity within the army — including ethnicities, genders, faiths, and sexualities — the campaign has drawn widespread criticism from those who would prefer it keep its “macho” messaging.
“You are always going to get people aren’t you, who make mountains out of mole hills,” Gen. Nick Carter, the chief of the general staff, told BBC Radio 4’s “Today” programme. “I happen to be very proud of the fact the British army really does respect the background, the ethnicity, the gender of anybody.”
Carter added that the army is seeing a new kind of applicant, and these people need to be nurtured into the army.
But he insisted that “combat ethos and fighting power” remain the priority.
“This campaign is a recognition that we don’t have a fully-manned army at the moment, that the demography of our country has changed, and that we need to reach out to a broader community in order to man that army with the right talent,” he said.
“Our traditional cohort would have been white, male, Caucasian, 16- to 25-year-olds, and there are not as many of those around as there once were,” he added. “It is entirely appropriate for us therefore to try and reach out to a much broader base to get the talent we need in order to sustain that combat effectiveness.”
About 10% of members of the UK regular armed forces are women, and 7.5% come from black, asian, and ethnic minority (BAME) backgrounds, according to the BBC. These figures don’t yet represent the reality of the British population
Some 86% of the UK population identifies as white, according to the latest data, from the 2011 census, with 80.5% of these white British — a decrease from 91.3% in 2011, and 94.1% in 1991.
Meanwhile, just under 12% of the population identified as BAME.
In the UK, in 2016, just over 1 million (2%) of people aged 16 and over identified as lesbian, gay, or bisexual, according to the Office for National Statistics.
Retired colonel Richard Kemp told BBC 1 Breakfast that “the army, like the rest of government, is being forced down a route of political correctness.”
"What is most important is that the army is full of soldiers,” he added. “It is of secondary importance that they reflect the composition of society.”
But Labour MP Wes Streeting said it was “thoroughly wrongheaded” to “point out that the army has a recruitment problem and then knock the army for attempting to address that issue through a positive and inclusive recruitment campaign.”
Latest figures say the army is about 78,000 strong — and fell from 110,000 down to 82,000 in 2010 due to money-saving reductions.
Recruitment isn’t the problem, according to Sky News, which reported that 91,460 people applied to join the army in 2016. In 2017, that increased to 122,890. But the problem is instead with retention.
In the year to April 2017, 12,950 recruits joined the regular armed forces, but 14,970 service personnel left in the same period.
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