Public Services

Why politics needs more forces’ veterans

As a veteran, I am acutely aware how I, as an individual, benefitted and grew from my experiences on the frontline, writes Hannah Jarvis – Welsh Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner candidate for Gwent. 

The qualities I developed as a soldier contribute to both my professional and personal life and even in my role as a mother.  The collective experience of former soldiers who’ve served on operations and unique attributes veterans bring to the table is therefore, one I firmly believe is of massive benefit to politics and should be further encouraged.

I recently hosted Johnny Mercer MP, Minister for Defence People and Veterans, on an online fundraising event, where he said: “There are no friends in politics.” 

This really struck me, because true as it is, it’s so far removed from army life. When you deploy on ops and share a bedspace with another person, you instantly become friends. We are all on the same side and by necessity, must have the utmost trust in one another, as one day, your life, quite literally, might be in that person’s hands. 

The greatest friendships I have, are the ones I formed whilst serving in Iraq. It’s not a romantic story of meeting through shared interests, or a common background. Far from it, we were chucked in a tent together in Basra and told to get on. And get on we did. Initially because we had to, but we rapidly learnt lessons together, because we were at war, we were taking incoming fire up to ten times a day and never really knew if that day would be our last. So developing trust in one another was paramount. 

There were highs and there were lows; we repatriated friends together; we learnt to depend on one another and that to take direction, is as important as to lead. We realised that the person who most benefits from hard work is one’s self. And above all, we genuinely learnt to recognise the bigger picture – that to serve, is far more important than any element of self. 

Politics is a savage place. When it comes to it, there is only one name on the ballot paper, which makes for a cut-throat environment. Bearing in mind the selflessness and devotion to service that you tend to get from servicemen and women, it’s critical we support more of them to enter political life.

It’s also why I’d favour a trial of a form of national service – I think it could end many of society’s problems, by forcing a step-change in the attitude of our young people, but I’ll leave that debate for another day!

Of course, whilst I think veterans have much to offer and their skills perfectly equip them for political life, it will take more than an increase of veterans in politics to solve all the country’s woes and I’m reminded of the old adage I often hear from elderly relatives: “What this country needs is a good war”.

Whilst this is a flippant comment and nobody really wishes for war, the essence of what they’re getting at is worthy of consideration and particularly of relevance, in light of the covid battle the nation has just fought. 

We are all covid veterans and will forever bead the scars of the trauma, but the pandemic has evoked a community spirit and galvanised our senses of duty and belonging, the likes of which has not been since World War II. We’ve been prompted to check on our neighbours, to take better care of our elderly and to house our homeless. 

We have all experienced sadness and hardship and changed in the same way a soldier is forever changed by war. We have grown in maturity and compassion and I hope with all my heart we maintain this. 

Another parallel with soldiers we’ve developed this past year is surely a greater sense of perspective. I’m certain, that having experienced road-side bombs and seeing friends blown up, very little in civvi street phases me, which stands me in good stead for staying calm in debates and even on social media, when some idiot is saying black is white for the sake of it and calling me something super-original like a nasty Tory, just to get a rise out of me. I’m also certain my wicked forces sense of humour helps too.

It’s a long standing tradition for recruits to be teased and put through their paces when they first join their unit, which is not only great fun for those who’ve served a while, but serves the purpose of teaching new soldiers not to take themselves too seriously and help them develop a thick skin. Famously, newbies are sent to stores, either for tartan paint, or a ‘long weight’, only to be perplexed by the storeman laughing hysterically at them, before the penny drops. And this universal quality common to the forces community, to not take one’s self too seriously, is perhaps the most critical characteristic of all, for a career in politics.

Hannah Jarvis is a veteran and the Welsh Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner Candidate for Gwent