As soon as the door shut behind her on entering No 10, Theresa May will have been taken aside by Sir Nicholas Houghton, Chief of the Defence Staff, and asked to handwrite four letters to the commanders of the submarines hidden away at the bottom of the sea that continuously protect the United Kingdom from an unknown enemy. .
Writing the so called ‘letters of last resort’ is the anachronistic practice that reminds Prime Ministers of the seriousness of the job. Tony Blair went white at the prospect. John Major asked for the weekend to think about it. The missives are locked away in a safe and no one knows what the Prime Minister has ordained. They are instructions from the grave.
Sir Nicholas might suggest that the Prime Minister tells the Commander to put himself ( there are not yet any women submariners)under the command of the United Sates, if it still exists, to fire the missiles or to make his own mind up. It is not a multi choice question paper. Once she had made her mind up and licked the envelopes, Theresa May could pick up the phone to offer Boris Johnson a job.
Before opening the envelope, the Commander checks that government has really been blown away by trying to tune into Radio Four. If John Humphreys is off air and Ambridge is silent, he is on his own. A 15 minute technical breakdown at the BBC a few years ago, put the Navy on full alert.
By the time the Commander reads his orders, he will have cooped up for months with no news of his family and be facing the prospect that the United Kingdom has been destroyed. The only purpose of firing his weapons is revenge. I hope the Prime Minister would tell him to beach up on a desert island and play his gramophone records. It is, after all, the only decision she can make without fear of the political consequences or the judgement of posterity.
Mrs May told the first meeting of her cabinet, cramped around a table on a very hot morning, that they were not there to play games. If games were allowed, Monopoly would appropriate but you would need more elbow room to throw the dice. They had played games the previous day with a debate on building a new generation of nuclear submarines. The event had been set up by David Cameron to embarrass the Labour Party.
Having argued here two weeks ago that big decisions are best made by Parliament, I eat my heart out. There was an overwhelming majority of 335 in favour of spending ten times the cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns on toys for the bath.
Theresa May was unequivocal when challenged in opening the debate. She would press the button sending 100,000 people and probably many more to their deaths. She would say that wouldn’t she? The whole point of the deterrent is to bluff your opponent into believing you would retaliate. I greatly admire Jeremy Corbyn’s principle of unilateral disarmament but it rather blows the gaff on a £200bn investment if you tell everyone that you would not use the weapon in anger.
The most despicable reason for building four new submarines is to save the jobs of 30,000 workers in the defence industry which is, according to Stephen Kinnock MP “reliably and consistently creating sustainable, highly skilled and well paid jobs outside London”. Ticks all the boxes then apart from fatalities.
The most savage attack came from the rising star Mhairi Black, who asked why we are denied hospitals, schools and benefits on grounds of austerity but can find the money for submarines. It is as mad as putting letters in the post to submarine commanders.
Hardly anyone, outside the Navy, has confidence in submarine warfare anymore. By the time they dive under the waves in 2028, submarines will have been overtaken by drones and cyber warfare. The money would be better spent on the conventional weapons that were so sadly lacking in Iraq. But 472 well informed and thoughtful members of parliament think otherwise, so who am I to say?
In the event, David Cameron need not have bothered. The Labour Party created far greater embarrassments of its own. After a botched coup, its leading figures are in hiding. Constituency meetings have been cancelled for fear of bullying. Newspaper adverts encourage everyone to pay £25 to buy a vote. A once mighty political force which at least anguished about whether to ban the bomb is in chaos. Come September, Jeremy Corbyn will be re- elected and the circus will come round again. Good government cries out for opposition. The job should not be left to Mhairi Black and her chums.
Mrs May has made an impressive start acting far more boldly than anyone had foreseen. But this is the most right wing government in my lifetime. It will favour the bankers, bankroll the defence industry and ignore the planet . Unless there is a stronger opposition, the Tories really will be playing monopoly with our lives. Don’t believe the fine doorstep words from Theresa May; Mayfair will win and Old Kent Road lose out as ever was.