All my life, sport has been my ticket to something better.  At age 14, I ran away from a dysfunctional home to play football for a youth team in the West Country.  When my footballing career hit the skids at age 17, I joined the military because someone told me I could ‘get paid to play sport.’

Fitness has always defined me. But it wasn’t until I undertook SAS selection as a scrawny 20-year old, that I came to appreciate the connection between physical strength and mental resilience. When you’re tabbing over the Brecon Beacons in the dead of winter and your body’s in bits, fitness alone won’t cut it. You have to believe in yourself to get through it.

I continued to train hard after I retired from the SAS. The only thing that kept me from running in the hills was injury. It wasn’t much of a problem in my forties, but it was a different story when I hit my mid-fifties. I turn 58 next month, and like many people my age, old injuries have a nasty habit of wreaking havoc on my training routine. In recent years I’ve suffered from recurring muscle tears to my lower legs.   No sooner would I get into a good run than bang—the scar tissue in my calf would rip open like a zipper and I’d be grounded for weeks.

The first few times it happened, I was annoyed.  But as my injuries occurred more often, my recupperation time grew longer and I could feel my fitness tanking.  It did my head in having to lie up for weeks on end with my muscles wasting away. I felt old and useless. Washed up in every sense.

I knew I couldn’t go on that way, so I made the hard decision to give up hill running in favour of gym sessions that included the Concept 2 Rower and weight training.  But there was something about exercising indoors that just didn’t satisfy. No matter how tough I made the workouts, my mind still craved a good run over the hills. The impact on my mood was tremendous and I was rapidly turning into a grumpy old man.

I can’t imagine why, but my wife suggested I take part in a cross-country adventure race in Herefordshire called the Mud Runner Classic. I dismissed the idea straight away, arguing (grumpily) that I’d never stay injury free long enough to train properly.  But she refused to let it go, convinced it was exactly what I needed.

Finally, curiosity got the best of me and I had a sneak look on the website.  When I saw the photos of previous mud runs and read the course description—7.5 miles over undulating countryside with streams, mud and water pits as obstacles—I couldn’t resist.  I registered, paid my fee and started training. Continue reading

PLEBS Unite!

Andrew Mitchell of Plebgate infamy has finally resigned, freeing Prime Minister Cameron to rebuild his party’s credibility with the great Pleb masses before they go to the polls in 2015.  Two and a half years is an eternity in politics, but the Tories are kidding themselves if they think time alone will wipe the stain of Plebgate from the public consciousness—at least if I have anything to say about it.

As I argued in an earlier post, the precise wording of Mitchell’s rant was never the real issue.  His tantrum at the gates of Downing Street was significant because it exposed the mind-set of a ruling party that sees itself as vastly superior to the people it governs—a party which has jealously guarded the privileges of the wealthy and well-connected—a party which has done everything in its power to ensure that the income gap between rich and poor in this country continues to widen.

Labour has grasped the golden PR opportunity of Plebgate to hammer home the message that the Tories believe in ‘one rule for those at the top, another for the rest of us at the bottom.’   I agree. But the hard working people of this country need more than catchphrases from the opposition.  We need political warriors who will fight for our interests and close an income gap which has risen faster in Britain than anywhere else in the industrialized world.

Income inequality is not only a problem for those at the bottom.  The chasm between rich and poor hurts all of us by slowing economic growth and nursing a slew of social ills from substance abuse and obesity to prostitution and domestic violence.  If attitudes are anything to go by, many members of the ruling class believe these problems will never affect them directly.   All I can say is you’d better wake up before you find yourself on the receiving end of a popular blowback that has every chance of turning bloody.

I don’t want to see the country I served for 23 years as a soldier and would still die for today tear itself apart.  That’s why I’m writing this post –to reach out to people who are as frustrated as I am by the failure of our major political parties to close the income gap in Britain. We need to work together for change. I’m not proposing a new political party, but a grassroots movement advocating economic policies that benefit the majority of Brits, not the privileged few; a movement that will send a clear message that we will no longer tolerate a Government that sells out to the City of London and other powerful interests; a movement that will fight for a Progressive Liberal Economy for Britain a PLEB Movement.

There are many worthy economic changes to fight for.  I’ll kick things off by advocating for a cut in VAT—a tax which hits the poor the hardest and impedes economic growth.   I will write to my MP (who happens to be a Conservative), and tell her that if her party does not cut VAT immediately, I will lobby everyone in her constituency to vote her out of office.  A letter may seem like nothing, but multiply it by tens of millions and our government will be quaking in their boots.

As I said, cutting VAT is only the beginning.  I invite everyone who reads this post to help shape the PLEB agenda by leaving a comment below.  If you want to write a letter to your MP, you can find their address here.

Remember, we are the majority, not the elites. There is strength in our numbers that we have not begun to tap.  We’re only powerless when we fail to act. So PLEBs Unite, and let’s take back our country.

‘Generals for Hire’– Make An Example of Them

Do as we say, not as we do.’  Anyone who has served in the armed forces knows this is the ethos of many commissioned ranks, so it comes as no surprise that a group of retired military chiefs were filmed by The Sunday Times boasting about how they could peddle their influence to procure lucrative MoD contracts for private defence firms.

Exploiting professional connections for personal gain is nothing new for retired British officers. Look how many of them sit on the boards of private security and defence companies that pitch regularly for MoD contracts. In my view, this symbiotic arrangement between the top brass and private firms must be outlawed. Because not only does it corrupt our defence budget; it compromises our active duty soldiers by contaminating the motivation of serving high ranking officers as well.

I’ve said for years now that too many serving senior officers think and act more like politicians than military leaders. How else do you explain why they stick with discredited strategies that unnecessarily endanger the lives of the soldiers serving under them, such as mentoring Afghan Army and Police?  Maybe these officers know that if they toe the government line whilst on active duty, they’ll be on good terms with the MPs and Ministers they plan to lobby for defence contracts later on. Continue reading

Private Security: A Bad Deal for British Tax Payers

A no holds barred BBC Scotland Investigates documentary revealing how former British servicemen are dying in Iraq and Afghanistan while on UK government contracts paid for by British tax payers is currently playing on BBC iPlayer

I urge anyone who reads this post to please help get the word out about this very important, long overdue documentary. When a security contractor enters the public consciousness, it’s usually due to a tragic scandal that reinforces the image of a gun totting mercenary with no love for his nation and no moral foundation.

The reality is very different.

It may not sell newspapers, but the truth is the overwhelming majority of British private security contractors working in hostile environments are competent professionals who strive to do their jobs to the best of their abilities.  They are decent men and women, many of them ex-military, trying to earn an honest day’s wage for an honest day’s work.  Their attitudes and motives are no different from professional soldiers. In fact many of them are doing military jobs outsourced by Britain and its allies.  When it comes to recognition and support however, private contractors couldn’t be further from their armed forces counterparts.  Continue reading