Saturday, 13 April 2013

Thatcher and Her Elephants

Maggie Thatcher can be said to be a figure head and a mouth-piece for many "New Right" thinkers of the mid 1970s, who then found a proponent, agent provocateur and prosecutor for their ideologies.

Two areas which however bore her own brand of decision making and personal bloody mindedness, are the great white elephants of public spending: firstly the Trident Missile system.

By the late 70s Polaris was deemed obsolete: who decides that a system which could destroy the entire Moscow area several times over with very little at the time in the way of stopping the missiles once launched, is down to the USA and that most manipulatable asset, British pride. Even the "Chevaline" upgrade can be viewed as a sticking plaster on an ageing fleet of submarines which had become expensive to keep operational and were heavily manned.

The proposals were for a new multi-warhead intercontinental peri-stratospheric missile system which would have less crew and more computerisation. The alternative was for cruise missiles: medium range missiles launched from torpedo tubes, or longer range ones probably launched vertically like other submarine bourne ICBMs. The latter is now of course in debate again: on the plus side, it is a weapon system you can actually find use for in crisis, by loading with conventional warheads and firing without alerting the Russian-Chinese ICBM long range alert systems, and not causing a diplomatic incident after satellite intelligence reveals launches, given the trajectory is towards a target not sensitive to the super powers.

Trident was chosen in the 80s as the system of choice and work began in 1984 in earnest in fact. The construction phase of the "Boats" and the shore support cost a figure between four and six billion pounds. The missiles and much of the system testing of their launch and use was delivered by the US, with funding quoted as being "38%" but that is probably just the cost of the missiles, and given they produce them anyway, it is difficult to say what 'subsidy" the Uk ever actually had from "uncle Sam".

It is Ironic of course that British sovereignty was challenged by Argentina, with disregard to the potential use of Polaris. The Fascist Junta knew that the UK would never be allowed to even threaten them with it due to the Americans actually holding the finger that is under the finger on the UK "Button".

Secondly the ICBM became largely obsolete, at least for the UK's geo-strategic position with the rise of Glastnost-Peristroika-Democracia in the then USSR.

Trident then was rendered a white elephant by 1990,  when a submarine cruise launched system could have been re-tasked to conventional warhead or even intelligence "drone" flights of cruise missiles into Iraq. Also of course the UK Royal Navy has acquired medium range, torpedo launch cruise missiles since then which would have a nuclear war head capacity if rebuilding of systems was instructed.

So there it is Trident: and possibly Trident II. The modernisation and effectivisation the NHS never got and never will have.

Her next great and of course white, elephant was Canary Wharf. Over a billion pounds in subsidies in an otherwise "free market, let them eat coal" reign. A pure ideological, interventional government hand out to cronies which took years to fill and was a financial disaster for the original developers.

The last elephant was born of this ideology in fact: a birth on the alter of the anarchical finance markets: The elephant in the living room, the elephant on the stock market floor, the elephant in the EU Commission and in little Davey Cameron's bedroom, under his bed at nights. That the freedom and deregulation has inevitably lead to a vulnerable, interconnected quasi system open to the vagiaries of even a single trader or type of transaction causing turmoil. Like the butterfly effect proposed on global weather, the anarchic deregulated markets can sneeze at one end and catch a plague of multi national small pox at the other.

This is the elephant people are terrified will sit on them while they are on the sofa, sipping tea, hoping the elephant will wander out and get on with its business. But the elephant is hungry and unruly: it demands to be fed by public bail outs,  but then laughs as it rewards the top of the structure with massive bonuses.

It won't be pulled on a chain: all you can do is either ignore it and wait until it inevitably needs fed next time, hoping the rather sick elephant gets better and on with its own business: or you can tie a rubber band to its trunk and start to pull. Often you will pull a bit, and then you will end up scurrying after it in the opposite direction. But eventually it will get nagged into following your gentle pulling and move a footstep towards you just to have a little tension off its' trunk.

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