9 July 2017

Deciders meet deliverers

On 4 April 2013 David Cameron was “winched from a helicopter onto HMS Victorious, one of our Trident nuclear submarines” to quote from his own account later that day. According to a local newspaper, the Lennox Herald:
Mr Cameron joined the submarine at sea as it finished an 88-day mission and spent time with crew members on board the giant strategic missile submarine and visited the vessel’s operations room, messes and living spaces.
Photographs of Cameron on board HMS Victorious at the end of the 100th Trident patrol appeared in the national press the following day (see above).

Then on 8 April the death of Lady Thatcher started a flood of media articles in the days before the funeral on 17 April. One was by Angela Huth in the Daily Mail on 11 April:
Back in 1986, a producer friend at the BBC suggested that a book I had written, The English Woman’s Wardrobe, would make a good documentary film. The book was not about fashion, but about women’s feelings about their clothes. Princess Margaret was the star of the printed version: we wanted Mrs Thatcher to take that role in the film. Amazingly, she agreed.
At Number 10 the PM
… led us into the sitting room. There, some 20 different garments were hanging before us on a long clothes rack. She had abandoned her lunch break to heave them from her bedroom into the sitting room. … Mrs Thatcher remembered the history of everything on the rack, and described each one with merry recall. She pointed to a severe beige suit. ‘This we wore on a visit to the Polaris missile,’ she explained, with a touch of nostalgia. The ‘we’ she referred to meant, I think, she and her dressmaker.
The beige suit is probably the garment fourth from the right below.

A clue to “Polaris missile” can be found on the Margaret Thatcher Foundation’s (MTF) excellent website, which has recently made available her private files for 1982:
On 31 July MT paid a visit to HMS Resolution, one of the four Polaris submarines carrying Britain's strategic nuclear deterrent, a visit held so secret in advance that her appointment diary was left blank for the day: we only have timings for it because she kept the tiny engagement card she received each morning detailing the appointments for the day ahead. (Generally those cards do not survive.) Admiral Fieldhouse accompanied her and afterwards she wrote to him (10 Aug):  
It was a marvellous experience - made wonderful by the superlative and yet modest qualities of the commander and crew. The feeling of comradeship and yet discipline and respect were marvellous to see. We are fortunate indeed in the high personal qualities of our ordinary folk - if ordinary is the word to use: they all seem so able to demonstrate extraordinary qualities when called upon to do so. …
A couple of aspects of this seem noteworthy. Firstly, the somewhat de haut en bas reference in 1984 to “ordinary folk”, although qualified, and the use of a regal “we” to Huth in 1986 suggest that Mrs Thatcher’s feet had lost contact with the ground earlier than indicated by some of the accounts of her despatch in 1990 by her exasperated colleagues. The well-known “We have become a grandmother” was in 1989. Secondly, and more interestingly, it raises the question of how many other Prime Ministers have taken the trouble to visit Polaris or Trident submarines. Why should they? Peter Hennessy devotes a whole chapter of The Secret State Preparing for the Worst 1945-2010 to “The Human Button: Deciders and Deliverers” and makes the point:
… the premier [with the Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS)] makes up the first of the pairs that comprise the firing chain from the prime ministerial bunker to the Royal Navy Trident submarine on patrol. (page 358)
The Royal Navy became “Deliverers” at the start of the first Polaris patrol in 1968 since when there have been eight “Decider” Prime Ministers, four Conservative and four Labour. Of the Conservatives we know for certain that Cameron and Thatcher have been on board HM submarines carrying the nuclear deterrent. John Major may have been – he visited the Faslane base in August 1996 and made a speech at the ceremony to mark the decommissioning of the last Polaris submarine, HMS Repulse, by which time the first two Trident submarines were operational. Whether Ted Heath made such a visit in the Polaris period between 1970 and 1974 is uncertain. Margaret Thatcher was Heath’s education secretary so the MTF is making papers from his government available on-line. One is a record of a conversation between Heath and President Pompidou in November 1973 indicating the former’s interest in future nuclear cooperation with France rather than the US (page 8/9). So perhaps not.

Again, it is yet to be established whether or not any of the four Labour PMs (Wilson, Callaghan, Blair and Brown) visited a Polaris or, in the case of the latter two, Trident submarine. Of course, not doing so, or not wanting it to be publicised if they did, does not mean that they failed to take their Decider responsibilities seriously. Hennessy records Lord Guthrie’s comment on his briefing when CDS of Tony Blair as to the Trident force and its capability:
He was quite quiet when he actually heard what was at the country’s disposal. (page 310)
In France, a country which embraces égalité (but is run by élites) and where a Socialist President is unencumbered by a left wing with unilateralist tendencies, the Decider can go to sea early on in his time in office to mix with les gens ordinaires who are ready to do the delivering (François Hollande on Le Terrible in July 2012, below).


Well, don't the years go by! Another French president made a visit to the same submarine (as reported by BBC News, Emmanuel Macron aboard France's Le Terrible nuclear submarineon 4 July apparently.

Will Theresa May follow in her predecessor's footsteps?  Too much else going on one would have thought.

24 June 2017

On age advantage in general elections

There have been 20 elections in the UK since the end of the second world war. A recent post looked at the vote share of the two main parties (Conservative and Labour) in these elections. Another, perhaps less well-grounded, updated the remarkable record of graduates of Oxford university being the winners – now 18 times out of the 20.

Yet another, but not altogether serious, statistic about elections which is easily captured is the age difference between the contenders (Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition), shown for the post-war period in the chart below.

The green shadow indicates where the election generated a change of governing party. 1945, following the wartime coalition led by Winston Churchill, and 2010, leading to a Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition led by David Cameron, are assumed to be changes of party. Eight of the 20 elections were then of this kind. In the four elections from 1966 to 1974 the age difference between the contenders was insignificant, Harold Wilson being born in March and Edward Heath in July 1916. For this reason, no conclusions can be drawn about the 1970 and February 1974 changes of government. However, in five of the remaining six elections in which there was a change of party, the successful challenger was younger, on four occasions by 10 years or more. The only older successful challenger was in 1951, when, having failed to displace Clement Attlee in 1950, Churchill returned to the Prime Ministership.

In the 12 continuity elections (ie with no consequent change of governing party), Wilson’s successes against Heath in 1966 and October 1974 are as before insignificant as far as age differences are concerned. Cameron’s success in 2015 against Ed Miliband, who was three years younger, and John Major’s in 1992, when a year and a day older than Neil Kinnock, are probably best regarded as inconclusive as well. In the eight remaining continuity elections, three of the victors had an age advantage of more than 10 years and two were more than five years younger. Three were older, Margaret Thatcher’s defeat of Kinnock in 1987, when more than 15 years older, being easier to understand than Harold Macmillan’s of Hugh Gaitskell in 1959 when more than ten years older.

Is there any underlying significance to all this? It could be that for the electorate to move a party from opposition to government, there has to be an appetite for change and the case for fulfilling it can be made more convincingly by a younger person – Wilson in 1964, Margaret Thatcher in 1979, Tony Blair in 1997, Cameron in 2010.

And what should the two parties’ strategies be for the next election if they were to take age advantage seriously? Labour would, it seems, be more likely to succeed in selling change to the electorate with a much younger leader than Jeremy Corbyn, 68 but now not easily dislodged. It is worth noting that while Cameron at 43 in 2010 was the youngest PM since 1812, Justin Trudeau became Canadian Prime Minister in 2015 at the same age and Emmanuel Macron was elected president of France this year at 39. Labour might well want to wait for the Tories to move first but ought already to be considering that their man or woman should be much more than five years younger than Boris Johnson or Amber Rudd (both currently 53) and significantly younger than Michael Gove (49, going on 60) or Sajid David (47). The Conservatives (on the assumption that Theresa May is no longer PM by then) should aim to nullify any future Labour leader’s age advantage by choosing someone in their early forties. It would also be to the Tory’s advantage to play it long and keep Labour waiting.   Oh, and if they'd been to Oxford ...

Anyone thinking of starting up a new party under, say, David Miliband, should remember that he is 52 next month. How time passes.

Update 27 June 2017 

On 25 June, the Sunday Telegraph carried an article by Ben Riley-Smith, Tory plot to skip 'toxic' generation and install younger face as next leader.
Tory MPs and donors are plotting to “skip a generation” and install a younger MP as their next leader after concluding the front-runners to replace Theresa May are too toxic. A growing number of Conservatives believe that Boris Johnson and David Davis have “had their day” and only younger faces can revive the party’s fortunes.  
… Hopes are now turning to the “golden generation” of Tory MPs first elected in 2010 to win back younger voters who voted for Jeremy Corbyn en masse at the election.  Sajid Javid, the Business Secretary, Dominic Raab, the Eurosceptic justice minister, and Priti Patel, the International Development Secretary, are all being talked up by colleagues.  Other ministers from the 2010 intake such as Jesse Norman, Brandon Lewis and Jo Johnson - the brother of Boris - are also mentioned as possible contenders.  
Supporters of the plan point to how David Cameron, the last Tory to win the party a majority, was barely known when he joined the leadership race in 2005.  
“If and when this happens, we need Year Zero – a real radical revolution,” said one 2010 MP about a leadership switch.  “We need an equivalent to Ruth Davidson [the Scottish Tory leader] – someone completely counter-intuitive. She is a lesbian kick-boxer who doesn’t fit the mould. When she first got elected she didn’t have much cut through. But because they are new and different it will gather stream [sic].” 
One veteran MP warned that “all the front-runners are contaminated in one way or the other". Another younger MP said: “They’ve had their day and it hasn’t worked. For the current lot – Boris and the rest of them – their time is up.

Raab is 43; Patel, 45; Norman, 55; Lewis and Jo Johnson, both 46.