Top Royal Marine standing as MP says only Labour can be trusted on defence

A high-flying Royal Marines colonel who has given up his military career to run for parliament has insisted that “only Labour can be trusted on defence”.

Colonel Alistair Carns is one of 14 veterans standing for Labour at this general election, in a significant shift since Jeremy Corbyn was leader of the party in 2019.

Col Carns was due to be promoted to brigadier at the age of 44, making him among the youngest in Britain to achieve that rank, but is instead campaigning to be the MP for Birmingham Selly Oak.

The decorated military hero has spoken exclusively to The Independent about why he decided to go into politics.

“We need leadership, and at the moment Keir Starmer, without a shadow of a doubt, is the person who can provide it,” he said. “Only a Labour government can be trusted to defend our country.

“One of the biggest points for me is Labour’s reinvestment in national security being at the centre of the manifesto, and the simple reason is that you can’t have a growing and secure economy without national security in these dangerous times. These [matters] are intrinsically linked, as is our foreign policy.”

‘Keir’s army’ of former military personnel join the Labour leader in Manchester (Getty)
‘Keir’s army’ of former military personnel join the Labour leader in Manchester (Getty)

Col Carns is running in a campaign that has seen Rishi Sunak criticised for leaving D-Day commemorations early at a time when the prime minister was trying to make defence spending and security a major issue for voters.

“It was a bad mistake for the prime minister to leave early,” he said. “We owe our freedom to the veterans who were there. Many of them will not be around for the next anniversary. They deserve our fullest respect.

“It was also a bad mistake to leave early when the world leaders were there, including Joe Biden, the leader of the free world. The prime minister of this country should have been there.”

The Tories have tried to lead on defence, but were criticised for putting out an attack post on social media suggesting that Vladimir Putin, China’s president Xi Jinping and Kim Jong-un of North Korea were hoping for a Labour victory.

One experienced officer noted that, since David Cameron’s government in 2010, successive Conservative administrations have cut the defence budget while talking up the importance of defence; there have also been nearly half a dozen defence secretaries in the last six years.

Col Carns, who was awarded the Military Cross in Afghanistan, has made clear that he believes it is the Tories who are a danger to Britain’s military readiness. He also makes clear that he is concerned at the way that many Tory MPs have flirted with Nigel Farage, even though the Reform leader openly blames the West for Mr Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Carns was in line to become a brigadier before leaving the military to enter the political fray (Supplied)
Carns was in line to become a brigadier before leaving the military to enter the political fray (Supplied)

Col Carns went on: “Of course, what Farage said has been noticed [ in the forces]. It is a complete misinterpretation of what is happening, and also the history between Russia and Ukraine. People I’ve spoken to on the doorstep want to stand by Ukraine. And that is Labour policy.”

He also questioned the military spending priorities of the last 14 years, and emphasised that he wants to help bring about change.

“We are seeing a completely different form of warfare. We are seeing, for example, the use of hundreds, thousands of drones, drones destroying battle fleets ... Are we moving fast enough to keep up with the character of conflict, and if we go to war tomorrow, are we ready?”

Carns in Afghanistan (Alistair Carns)
Carns in Afghanistan (Alistair Carns)

Sir Keir Starmer has pledged to keep Trident as part of a “nuclear deterrent triple lock”; to place Nato in the centre of military strategy; to continue to provide Ukraine with armed support; and to boost defence spending to 2.5 per cent of GDP once the economy allows it.

Col Carns is not the only former military figure to feel comfortable running for Labour as a result of the change of leader.

Early in the campaign, the Labour candidate for Dover, Mike Tapp, told The Independent he could not have supported the party with Corbyn in charge.

“I wouldn’t have stood under the previous administration,” he said, adding: “Coming from a military background, defence and security means so much to me, and you have to be able to trust your government on defence and security.

“Any wavering around the nuclear deterrent or Nato, for me, is unsuitable.”

Sir Keir has made “change” the central message of his election campaign, referring both to the change he has made to Labour, in bringing it back to the mainstream, and the change he wants to bring to the country.

On 3 June, Sir Keir was joined by 10 of his 14 military candidates in Manchester to unveil a new era for Labour and the UK “in an age of insecurity” marked by war in Ukraine and the Middle East.

Dismissing Tory claims that national security will not be safe in his party’s hands, he pointed out that the army is now at its smallest since the Napoleonic era. “National security is the most important issue of our times, and that will become our solemn responsibility,” the Labour leader said.