Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Corridors of Powers


It seems a while since Johnathon Fryer disturbed my breakfast with his Thought for the Day. I trust that he he using effectively his polished arts of persuasion on the London electorate. His place today was taken by someone from Sheffield who started his thought by recalling that it was the 50th anniversary of C P Snows famous lecture on the 'two cultures'.

Back in the days of 'O' levels one of C P Snow's books, The New Men', was a set text at my school. I was much taken with it and read most of the Strangers and Brothers series in the summer holidays that followed those exams.

I found myself thinking of those novels last week when I heard David Davis and Patrick Mercer cautiously advancing the suggestion that Trident may well end up being axed after an incoming Tory Government had held a Defence Review. In essence that is the central theme of C P Snow's 'Corridors of Power'. Roger Quaife is a Tory MP destined to go far. His first ministerial appointment is in defence and he is trying to steer a Bill through parliament that would renounce nuclear weapons. The action is set in a fictional Tory administration of the mid 50's.

In part C P Snow is arguing that a Labour Government can never get rid of Britain's supposedly independent nuclear deterrent, that can only be done by a Tory government. It is a bit like 'welfare reform' -which by the same logic need a Labour government to take on the vested interests for it to be successful

Personally I have never been persuaded that Britain should be a nuclear power. It has always seemed to me even in long hot summer that followed my 'O' levels that it was more a macho symbol desperately designed to proclaim to the world that we were still a first rate military world power. As such it represented a embodied a proclamation that we had not adjusted to our new position in the world.
40 years on little has changed. Ukip, BNP, the Tory party and large swathes of Labour (new and old) still have not adjusted to the new world established after WW2-let alone the one that is emerging in the 21st century. Sadly there are some Liberals who also have the default view that Europe should be shunned believing that we could go it alone, or mysteriously believing that the rest of our partners will acquiesce to whatever condition we lay down. They have not grasped that we are all in this together and that it is only together that we can successfully deal with the environmental, world development and security issues that confront. There is no point in embracing what the old Liberal Party constitution called 'the warping influence of nationalism'.
The debate about nuclear weapons and the wider matter of other defence cuts is going to be central to politics over the period. Jo Grimond made a speech up the road in Bolton in 1958 when he asked: 'Does this country need to build a nuclear striking force itself?.......I doubt it..if we were to decide not to continue to manufacture nuclear weapons nor to compete with America and Russia in arms, then we gain elbow room not only for diplomatic negotiations but for strengthening our economic situation'.
Liberal Democrats have the chance to grasp the political initiative on this matter. Like Grimond half a century ago we can offer a vision of a new and relevant role for Britain which is not based on nuclear might or on toadying up to the Americans but rather as a self confident, forward looking partner in Europe. And no doubt when this Euro election is done Johnathon Fryer will make that case in Strasbourg and Brussels or failing that will interrupt my breakfast to put the moral case on Thought for the Day.