The Cyprus cash airdrop is just another military contingency plan

RAF air-lifted in one million Euros in cash.

A drop in salary took on a whole new meaning for members of the British Armed Forces deployed in Cyprus, when the RAF air-lifted in a million Euros in cash.

The emergency measures were designed to ensure troops don’t run out of cash if cash machines empty, as banks are closed until Thursday in the aftermath of a controversial plan for a one-off levy on savings, which has since been rejected by the Cypriot government.

Is it usual for British service personnel deployed abroad to be paid in local currency, and does the Ministry of Defence (MoD) regularly have to deal with the dramatic local effects of an increasingly destabilised global economy?

An MoD spokesperson said that the way soldiers are paid is up to them. Generally, for European deployments to permanent bases such as in Cyprus or Germany, personnel choose to have the majority of their wages paid into their regular UK bank account, with some “spending money” paid into local accounts in Euros.

In the case of mid-term operating bases, a unique local micro economy can spring up. At Camp Bastion, the pound can be exchanged at a favourable rate with the local currency the afghani, and Bastion shops and food outlets deal seamlessly with Euros, US dollars and pounds.

Locals are encouraged to set up shops and stalls in the camp to sell local craft mementoes and gifts, and are very keen to get their hands on dollars, the de facto universal currency. However, with the Danish military working closely with Afghanis to deliver training, the Euro is catching up in desirability.

For short-term operations like Libya with no in-country base, the MoD makes no local financial arrangements.

With the global economy struggling and the banking system of some countries teetering on the verge of collapse, does the MoD have a regular plan in place to ensure at least the military economy continues to thrive?

“Not really,” says the MoD spokesperson. “It’s the job of the MoD to react to a rapid change in any situation with a contingency plan, and the potential shortage of cash in Cyprus is just another example.”

This blog first appeared here.

Photograph: Getty Images

Berenice Baker is Defence Editor at Strategic Defence Intelligence.

Photo: Getty Images
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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.