Dannatt defends decision to accept Conservative position

General says he accepted because the Tories lack "expert understanding" of defence

General Sir Richard Dannatt said last night that he was offered a defence role by David Cameron because the Conservative leader's team "lacked expert understanding" of defence.

The former head of the army said that the urgency of the situation in Afghanistan had persuaded him to accept Cameron's offer.

"It is to do the right thing for the defence of the realm and for the armed forces. They come together in Afghanistan. What happens there is absolutely critical to the safety and wellbeing of this country. We must succeed but we must be properly resourced," he said.

Cameron plans to elevate Dannatt to the House of Lords, putting him on course to become a minister.

Dannatt made his remarks after delivering a lecture at the Windsor Leadership Trust on Thursday night. He told an invited audience that he had been approached by Cameron a "short time ago" while he was on holiday in Scotland. He said he was then offered a post a few weeks ago.

He added: "He put it to me that he was concerned that his defence team - at a time when defence was really important, and Afghanistan was really critical - lacked expert understanding, and would I be prepared to advise his team, and, if the Conservatives win the election, would I be prepared to take a peerage and maybe join his ministerial team."

A number of senior military and political figures have expressed concern that the appointment risks politicising the Army.

Gen Lord Guthrie, an ex-chief of the defence staff, has advised Dannatt not to become a Conservative peer.

He said: "If he is going to the House of Lords, it's best to be a crossbencher.

"I will give advice to anyone, Labour or Conservative, but I wouldn't want to be associated with any one political party."

Further questions over Dannatt's position were prompted by Cameron's conference speech on Thursday. The Tory leader had planned to say that Dannatt would "join our benches in the House of Lords". But this was changed to simply say that Dannatt would "sit in the House of Lords". Some Tories have suggested that Dannatt will not take the Conservative whip if he continues in his non-party roles as constable of the Tower of London and chairman of Rusi.