Ann Pettifor

Thatcher: should we pay out all that money for Trident?

There is a fascinating review by David Runciman in the LRB of Charles Moore’s: Margaret Thatcher: The Authorised Biography, Volume ll: Everything She Wants.

In it Runciman recites the tale of Mrs T, the Labour leader Neil Kinnock’s support for nuclear disarmament, and President Reagan’s sudden conversion (in 1986) to nuclear disarmament. It turns out that at a meeting in Reykjavik in the autumn of 1986 Reagan and President Gorbachev, backed by George Shultz Reagan’s Secretary of State, agreed to eliminate nuclear weapons. The implications of this sudden meeting of minds were… ‘cosmic’ writes Runciman.

Mrs Thatcher was not happy. Suddenly the Labour Party’s position on nuclear disarmament appeared credible…”in line with the unfolding logic of superpower politics and….(where) the Tories would be the ones out on a limb.”

So Mrs Thatcher began to work to change Reagan’s mind, and “bring him back into line.” A note was written to the American President, with the emphases made by Mrs T herself:

“You will cause me very real political difficulties if you pursue your proposal for eliminating ballistic missiles too actively. In our people’s mind it will raise two questions: isn’t Labour right after all in wanting to get rid of nuclear weapons….? And why on earth should we pay out all that money for Trident, if its going to be abolished in 10 years? The next British general election could ‘turn’ on these points, so you must help me deal with these arguments.”

The fantastical ideas coming out of Reykjavik, she told Schultz in a private meeting, would ’cause you to lose me and the British nation’.  Reagan, writes Runciman, “found himself in no position to withstand Thatcher’s potent mix of moral certainty and brazen flattery.”

So here we are, nearly thirty years later living with the legacy of Trident, and debating whether its costs will rise to £30 billion or even £100 billion.  Those that argue the cost over the lifetime of the replaced Trident will be close to £100 billion also argue that this money could pay for:

► Fully funding all A&E services in hospitals for 40 years

► Employing 150,000 new nurses

► Building 1.5 million new homes

► Tuition fees for 4 million students

► Insulating 15 million homes

Perhaps such a calculation is as fantastical as the ideas that came out of Reykjavik in 1986.  Even so, this new Thatcher biography reminds us that we continue to bear the true cost of her flawed legacy – and that we are likely to bequeath those costs to future generations.


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