Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Party Lines

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Party Lines

Article excerpt

Byline: By Zoe Hughes

The battle to overhaul the Army has taken many casualties along the way, not least the morale of soldiers still serving in Iraq.

Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon started it all off in the summer when he announced plans to radically restructure Britain's infantry by reducing the number of battalions from 40 to 36.

In terms of the North, that could mean axing, disbanding or merging three regiments, the King's Own Scottish Borderers, the King's Own Royal Border Regiment and, more controversial, the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers.

Now though it appears the man heading the overhaul, Chief of the General Staff General Sir Mike Jackson is also feeling the pinch following several run-ins with his political masters.

Senior defence sources have already admitted they were struggling to meet Mr Hoon's demands that four battalions go, with the fourth option left until the very last minute.

They have also been forced to contend with Downing Street interference over the future of the Black Watch, who have just returned from serving in the Triangle of Death near Fallujah. Having your regiment axed just days after risking your life is not necessarily the best Christmas present in anybody's mind, not least the Prime Minister when considering the next day's headlines.

However there has now been another power tussle between Mr Hoon and Sir Michael over when the final announcement would be made.

It was all set for Monday this week, but pressure from on high has pushed the date back to Thursday. That though also seemed in doubt in the final hours, when someone realised that Tony Blair would be jetting off to Brussels straight after the announcement. Or as one hack put it, running away. Whenever the final decision though, soldiers waiting to hear about their regimental fate can rest easy knowing Sir Michael has not had an easy time of it either. One source admitted chairs had been thrown around the office when told he was not getting his Monday decision, with another saying: "He is not a happy man."

METRIC martyr Neil Herron has already set his sights on his next campaign ( the European Constitution. …

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