Right Reverend Matt Hancock MP for West Suffolk will now read a lesson on “Faith and Values in Public Life”, yes, he really did in 2018 …

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St Mary’s Church, Haverhill

“There are those professions that we love – nurses, teachers, firefighters – who spend their careers tending to others.

There are those we need – accountants, dentists, engineers.

And then there are those professions we know we need, but we don’t exactly love.

I think it’s fair to say that my chosen profession probably falls into the third category.

Down the ages, the art of politics has been equated to low cunning, skulduggery, and mirth.

So what is a politician doing in a church talking about value and faith in public life, except seeking redemption?

Well, I’m here because another Minister, Ian, a Minister of the Church, intrigued me with his invitation.

And I’m here because I wanted to think about the values of public service that I hold dear.

Now, we English don’t really wear our values or our faith on our sleeve. Tony Blair’s spin doctor – a profession of yet more low cunning and skulduggery – famously said “we don’t do God”. He didn’t mean that the former Prime Minister wasn’t religious – far from it. He meant that he didn’t want to talk about it. He didn’t want to answer the question.

But as your local representative I think it’s reasonable that you should ask, and that I should try to answer, so thank you, Ian, for your invitation.

I doubt my own profession of faith is very profound, nor very interesting. It’s certainly very Anglican, in that I don’t take orders on it from anyone.

And not just Anglican, I would say it’s very Church of England: steadfast, resolute, yet unobtrusive. A source of calm contemplation when things don’t make sense, and a source of joy when they do. A source of hope when things go wrong, and a source of humility when the don’t.

It’s certainly based on a strong sense of community. I believe our common faith brings us together, and I believe in a faith that helps us to look beyond our differences to that which binds us together, by reminding us that each and every person is part of something bigger than ourselves, that we have more in common than that which divides us. It is an irony that I believe this holds true between different faiths too. And I hate to see faith used as a source of division. My wife and children are Catholic, and our common faith as a family is a source of strength. After all, denominations are but nuances. I draw great inspiration from my late Grandmother, an ecumenicist who worshipped beyond her hundredth year.

That’s what I believe, it’s very personal, and I doubt it’s very important to anyone else. And I’m grateful, Ian, for you getting me to put it into words.

What I hope is more interesting, is that I think faith calls for and can underpin values in public life.

And this, by contrast, is important.

I believe very strongly in the value of public service. I believe politics, done right, is a public service. It’s one of many, of course. There are many ways to serve your community. And I don’t mean politics doesn’t have other benefits too. It gives purpose. It’s interesting, and lots of fun. Crikey, last week I was at the Brits with Ronnie Wood. Last year I got taken up for a flight in an F15. It has its perks.

Ultimately, I think politics can be a noble calling. Politics after all, is how we organise ourselves when there is no higher authority. The trick is to create and perpetuate a politics that brings out the best in the participants. It’s safe to say that doesn’t always happen. But we should strive for it.

For me, it’s the public service that makes politics rewarding. The sense that the work we do – with my talented and dedicated team – is done to help others. And I don’t know of any politician – and I know a lot of politicians – who does not find reward in helping others. In serving their community. It’s true in my experience of politicians on all sides. We may not always agree on the thing to do, or even on the goals, but by and large we do what we think is right.

That can be hugely rewarding. In my office in the Commons I have a “board of love” – of thanks and mementoes from when we’ve solved a problem for a constituent, or won some battle with bureaucracy to make someone’s life better.

Of course none of this can be done alone. Public service is mostly a team activity – another reason it’s so rewarding. I work with other public servants every day.

In London I work with my Parliamentary colleagues, with my constituency team, and with Civil Servants, who have chosen a career in service of the nation to provide the expert, objective, and stable Government machine that is so vital to make things run properly.

I work with Councillors, prison officers, and council staff here in West Suffolk, who work so hard to serve the community locally.

I pay tribute to servants of the people – and servants of the Church – who could opt for an easier life, but instead choose to serve their neighbour.

But my view isn’t panglossian. We are all fallen. We are only human. We have flaws and vices and failures of character and of resolve. But the best way to keep the powerful honest is accountability – in this world and the next – and the rough, often tough scrutiny of the press keeps us real in the here-and-now.

I think Britain should be proud that we have one of the most robustly accountable systems of Government of all the countries in the world. Is it imperfect? Certainly, yes. Must we strive to do better? Absolutely we must. I try to strive every day to make the community and country I serve a better place. That can only be done by appealing to the values we hold. These are the values I hold dear. I think they’re important and worth defending. And Ian I am grateful to you for asking me to think about them, and giving me the chance to try to articulate them today.”

Faith and Values in Public Life delivered on Tuesday 27th February, 2018, at St Mary’s Church, Haverhill

A gentleman proposes and a lady disposes …

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“Advisers advise, and ministers decide – but some ministerial decisions require far more than reliance on advisers.”

Why prime ministers and ministers should read the legal texts for which they are responsible and not leave it to summaries and advisors

I always thought it was a gentleman proposes and a lady disposes …

Any way, civil servants respect Ministers (and others) who read their papers and ask intelligent questions.

The degree of disrespect, if not contempt, held by officials for the current shower must be prodigious.

The likely successor to Len McCluskey as General Secretary of Unite, Gerard Coyne, fingers crossed, is widely respected by people on both sides of the negotiating table and the aisle, partly because he does his homework.

I have to confess, though, that Coyne is from Birmingham and he was the member of a board I served for a few years (and I know him in other contexts). I like the man.

Coyne read his papers and asked informed questions. Other board members, but not all of them, all of the time, did not and it was very frustrating (and wasteful of time) to point out the answer to a question they posed was in paragraph five on the first page of the relevant board paper.

Time is money, even in the public sector.

There is, I think, a broader point to make here. Boris Johnson attends meetings with world leaders. He will, of course, be attending fewer such gatherings from now on, because of Brexit, leaving him more time for his other Prime Ministerial duties.

That notwithstanding, Johnson will be meeting with the leaders of other nations without an army of advisers and lawyers at his beck and call in the conference chamber or the Gents. A lot may be agreed at the urinal, away from the prying eyes of the media and other meeting representatives.

If your woman or man is not familiar with their papers, how do you guard against them giving away the farm or the fishing quotas in an intimate moment? And Johnson gave away a lot before Christmas without any moments of particular intimacy.

I know there was the dinner with Van Leyen, but we heard a lot about how that went. A poorly prepared Johnson, and it was his fault he was not adequately briefed for the occasion, made an ass of himself and that before we consider the impact of his racist remarks on the negotiations.

As it happens, I sat as a representative, if not a plenipotentiary for the organisations of which I was a member, on the Birmingham and Solihull European Funding Sub Regional Group. I had to know my position inside out, particularly on the rare occasions when I was being held to account at the meeting, a fairly novel position for a civil servant in Birmingham.

I also had to have read the papers of the others at the meeting that had been issued with the agenda. First and foremost, to learn how their content related to the work of my organisation. Did it have a negative, positive or neutral impact on our work or was it something outside of our remit?

My appraisal of the content of the papers shaped my approach to the meeting.

Secondly, it was a matter of courtesy to familiarise oneself with the positions of others, even when outside of one’s remit, and displaying that insight generated goodwill with the chair, minute taker and the others around the table.

Thirdly, one might support an individual to put their case to the meeting more effectively and, thereby, support the chair. More goodwill created, especially if the matter fell outside of what was known to be your remit.

As an aside, I had been well trained in making meetings work and part of the training was about how you might help to make meetings both useful and time bound, even if you were not the chair.

Fourthly, if you have built up some goodwill, you will find it easier than otherwise to get people to listen to your concerns about their proposals. You will, all other things being equal, also find yourself getting their support for proposals you are making.

Fifthly, civil servants are not especially well liked. The fact that the stuffed shirt in the three piece suit and the bowler hat, a tale for another day, had done a sceptic the courtesy of reading their paper and, on opening his mouth, revealed he had not only read it, but understood it, broadly approved of it and was supportive of its aims, went a long way to dispel any animosity in the room.

The art of diplomacy includes seeking advantage wherever it may be found and one may not do that, if one is not well informed.

And then there is the ‘small’ matter of empathy.

This has a particular relevance in the context of negotiations, because if I know the other person’s position, I have read their papers and other briefing, but I am not happy about some (or all) of what they are seeking, I may search for alternative propositions with which I am happy and which one hopes meet their essential requirements. Some times people do ask for more than they really want and will, ‘grudgingly’, settle for less.

I fear David Frost and Johnson may not have grasped that Donald Trump’s Trump: The Art of the Deal is mostly a work of fiction.

And that even busking it requires putting in hours of hard work, of preparation and great dedication to the task in hand.

That is what marks out Prime Ministers like David “I want to sit down with the expert in this policy area and pick their brains” Lloyd George; Winston “one side of well argued A4 to get my attention” Churchill and Clement “democracy means government by discussion, but it is only effective if you can stop people talking” Attlee from many another British Prime Minister.

They chlorinate chicken in Australia, don’t they?

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Divergence seems to be an example of a freedom passionately sought by the ignorant about trade and industry, on behalf of a group of people, many of whom do not want it, because they will have little use for it.

A company that exported to Europe on 31st December 2020, still doing so today has no option, but to comply with EU rules, standards and specifications.

On Twitter, it is not unusual for a certain type of Brexiteer to pop up and say, but only a small proportion of UK based businesses export into EU27.

Got you!

That is true, but there are plenty of UK based businesses who do not themselves export into the EU27, but supply goods and services to those who do. If those suppliers wish to retain that business then they, too, will have to continue to comply with EU rules, standards and specifications.

Enter the star spangled chlorinated chicken. If you export ready meals with chicken in them to Europe and, at some point in future, US fowl is suspected of having entered your supply chain then you may well kiss goodbye to any future business with EU27 countries.

In addition, many countries around the world have adopted EU rules, standards and specifications as proxies. Why bother designing your own national rules, standards and specifications when someone else has already endured the pain of doing so?

And, of course, if companies in countries around the world want to export into the EU then they too will have to comply with EU rules, standards and specifications.

And a UK based company that exports nothing to Europe, but supplies goods and services to companies in third countries that do export into the EU27 will also … I think you know where I am going with this?

For the uninitiated, the EU Single Market is the largest single market in the world, measured by per capita disposable income. I gather even Australia is eager to negotiate a Free Trade Agreement with the EU27.

By the way, they chlorinate chicken in Australia.

I would observe that I and others have had Brexiteers tell us companies might run two production lines, one producing an inferior product for sale into markets not applying EU rules, standards and specifications.

Phrases like cost effectiveness, break even points, Just in Time, fixed and variable costs have no meaning for them. Just in Time is particularly baffling to some older Brexit voters, who lasted worked decades ago.

Of those who finally come to understand an innovation like JiT, many say as it was not around when they were at work then companies will just have to drop it, build cavernous warehouses and so on.

They never say where the money will come from to pay for such unremunerative expenditure.

Finally, there is the ‘small’ matter of implied racism.

Put simply, what does it say about your mind set, if you think a consumer of your product in Buenos Aires will be happy to purchase an inferior version of the one you are selling to a consumer in Paris, just because he or she lives in South America and not Western Europe?

And if you choose to go down that road, what is to stop someone setting up to produce for the Argentinian market a better quality version of the product you are trying to sell in Buenos Aires?

The underlying rationale for divergence seems to be partly based on a pile it high, flog it cheap approach to business. The sort of nonsense that helped get us labelled the Sick Man of Europe before we joined the EEC.

Adapting to life as a business in a third country

Trading the orchard for an apple

What is sovereignty? A word …

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“We have heard the chimes at midnight, Master Shallow.”

“Well, ’tis no matter; sovereignty pricks me on. Yea, but how if sovereignty prick me off when I come on? How then? Can sovereignty set-to a leg? No. Or an arm? No. Or take away the grief of a wound? No. Sovereignty hath no skill in surgery, then? No. What is sovereignty? A word. What is in that word “sovereignty”? What is that “sovereignty”? Air. A trim reckoning! Sovereignty is a mere scutcheon. And so ends my catechism.”

With due apologies to the chap who lived a few miles down the road and Falstaff.

To summarise, “Fine words butter no parsnips.”

Herr Johnson, “I will do whatever’s needed, including bringing my marriage forward a year, to avoid my having to make difficult decisions that will make me personally unpopular.”

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“There are three possible reasons why Hitler evaded these risks in the military field. First, he may secretly have felt that he lacked the military ability to cope with them. This being so, he was even less likely to credit his generals with having it. The second reason was the fear, common to all dictators, that his prestige would be shaken by any setbacks … Thirdly, there was Hitler’s intense dislike, rooted in his lust for power, of giving up anything on which he had once laid hands.”

Field Marshal Erich von Manstein , Lost Victories.

“There was, as Manstein went on to describe, another factor. When confronted with a difficult decision, particularly where the only real option was to do something that he did not wish to do, Hitler would prevaricate and put off the decision for as long as he could, perhaps in the hope that circumstances would change and make the decision unnecessary. This was such an occasion: all of the professional opinion suggested that it was foolhardy in the extreme to leave Sixth Army in Stalingrad, but withdrawal was so contrary to Hitler’s instincts that, even before he had discussed matters with Luftwaffe commanders, he was already thinking in terms of keeping the surrounded army alive by supplying it by air.”

Prit Buttar, On a Knife’s Edge.

Divergence! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing …

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Divergence seems to be an example of a freedom passionately sought by the ignorant about trade and industry, on behalf of a group of people, many of whom do not want it, because they will have little use for it.

A company that exported to Europe on 31st December 2020, still doing so today has no option, but to comply with EU rules, standards and specifications.

On Twitter, it is not unusual for a certain type of Brexiteer to pop up and say, but only a small proportion of UK based businesses export into EU27.

Got you!

That is true, but there are plenty of UK based businesses who do not themselves export into the EU27, but supply goods and services to those who do. If those suppliers wish to retain that business then they, too, will have to continue to comply with EU rules, standards and specifications.

Enter the star spangled chlorinated chicken. If you export ready meals with chicken in them to Europe and, at some point in future, US fowl is suspected of having entered your supply chain then you may well kiss goodbye to any future business with EU27 countries.

In addition, many countries around the world have adopted EU rules, standards and specifications as proxies. Why bother designing your own national rules, standards and specifications when someone else has already endured the pain of doing so?

And, of course, if companies in countries around the world want to export into the EU then they too will have to comply with EU rules, standards and specifications.

And a UK based company that exports nothing to Europe, but supplies goods and services to companies in third countries that do export into the EU27 will also … I think you know where I am going with this?

For the uninitiated, the EU Single Market is the largest single market in the world, measured by per capita disposable income. I gather even Australia is eager to negotiate a Free Trade Agreement with the EU27.

By the way, they chlorinate chicken in Australia.

I would observe that I and others have had Brexiteers tell us companies might run two production lines, one producing an inferior product for sale into markets not applying EU rules, standards and specifications.

Phrases like cost effectiveness, break even points, Just in Time, fixed and variable costs have no meaning for them. Just in Time is particularly baffling to some older Brexit voters, who lasted worked decades ago.

Of those who finally come to understand an innovation like JiT, many say as it was not around when they were at work then companies will just have to drop it, build cavernous warehouses and so on.

They never say where the money will come from to pay for such unremunerative expenditure.

Finally, there is the ‘small’ matter of implied racism.

Put simply, what does it say about your mind set, if you think a consumer of your product in Buenos Aires will be happy to purchase an inferior version of the one you are selling to a consumer in Paris, just because he or she lives in South America and not Western Europe?

And if you choose to go down that road, what is to stop someone setting up to produce for the Argentinian market a better quality version of the product you are trying to sell in Buenos Aires?

The underlying rationale for divergence seems to be partly based on a pile it high, flog it cheap approach to business. The sort of nonsense that helped get us labelled the Sick Man of Europe before we joined the EEC.

Adapting to life as a business in a third country

Trading the orchard for an apple

Johnson says his National Flagship will be promoting an economy mired in “chronic British short-termism, inadequate management … culture of easy gratification & under-investment in both human & physical capital & infrastructure.”

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Back in the early 1980s (or so I was told):

“Hello, Mr British Shipbuilder, we would like you to build us a supertanker.”

“I’m, sorry, I don’t build supertankers, but I will build you two ships amounting together to the tonnage you are after.”

“Hello, Mr South Korean Shipbuilder, we would like you to build us a supertanker.”

“How big?”

I am afraid it is too easy to blame the collapse of, for example, shipbuilding on Thatcher and/or the trades unions when they were bit players in comparison with the managers and owners of and investors in UK manufacturing.

There is even some evidence that certain UK shipyards back then took a rather cavalier attitude towards Government contracts, because they were confident the Government had no choice, but to buy British.

Back in 2013, Boris Johnson said that leaving the EU would not address “chronic British short-termism, inadequate management, sloth, low skills, a culture of easy gratification and under-investment in both human and physical capital and infrastructure.”

We did not need to leave the EU to address those issues, but on leaving the EU, we are not yet addressing those issues and there is no definite evidence that the Government is planning to do so.

But then, may be now Johnson is Prime Minister those issues are of little matter as is evidenced by the ability of the PM to focus on trivia like a national flagship?

If not, then the national flagship would be promoting an economy mired in “chronic British short-termism, inadequate management, sloth, low skills, a culture of easy gratification and under-investment in both human and physical capital and infrastructure.”

No, that cannot be right, not with Captain Boris Johnson at the helm of the HBS Free(loading) Enterprise.

“Boris, darling, of course I’d just love to break a bottle of Bolly across the bows of your little flagship. Pity about our Garden Bridge, but, hey, you can’t win them all as I said to Pat Macnee, some time or the other. Love to Caz.”

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The lack of a business case for the national flagship is, perhaps, not unsurprising, given Boris Johnson’s track record with iconic projects.

The Garden Bridge project being a case in point. These extracts are from Architect’s Journal article on 15th October 2019:

“A new report by the London Assembly has accused former mayor Boris Johnson, Transport for London (TfL) and the Garden Bridge Trust of a ‘reckless’ use of public money, heaping pressure on Parliament to investigate.

The report concluded that the risks of the Thomas Heatherwick-designed scheme were ‘downplayed’ by TfL to satisfy the former mayor.”

“The report said that at the board’s subsequent meeting on 14 January, chair of the trustees Mervyn Davies discussed the prospects for signing the construction contract but advised fellow trustees not to read the contract in full.

Instead, Davies suggested they make their decision based on a summary report because ‘issues arise when trustees with little or no experience are asked to submerge themselves into something that they may not fully comprehend’.

Nevertheless, the report noted, some trustees expressed concern that the trust might be acting in a ‘reckless’ manner in signing the contract, given that they still did not have full funds in the bank and that the project was facing 22 significant risks.”

I was gobsmacked when I read those last three paragraphs. I could well imagine the reaction had I, as the chair of governors of a secondary school, told my colleagues that they were not competent to assess the project on which we were deliberating and that they should just back it.

Boris Johnson’s cavalier approach to such projects bends out of shape the very processes needed to at least try and deliver them.

Vague technical solutions were once in the offing to defuse the SS Richard Montgomery, preparatory to building the Boris Island Airport in the Thames.

In 2012, a spokesman for Boris Johnson said, “Clearly the wreck of the SS Montgomery would need to be considered however some of Britain’s finest engineers have already closely studied the area and concluded it would not prevent construction of an airport.”

Are these the finest engineers who will be designing and building the HBS Free(loading) Enterprise?

A 2004 report by the New Scientist stated, if the sunken ship did explode it would be one of the biggest non-nuclear blasts ever.

Johnson has for years never had a lot of time for experts with whom he disagrees. That does not bode well for his latest vanity project.

Birmingham New Street is the hub of Britain’s inter-city rail network. Not many people know that …

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D1052 Western Patriarch Birmingham New Street Station Spring 1975

By the early 1990s, it was clear that New Street, the hub of Britain’s inter-city network was becoming ever more of a bottleneck. British Rail considered something needed to be done to create additional capacity at track level at New Street.

Birmingham New Street is handling more traffic than that for which it was originally designed in the early 1960s when two parallel stations were combined into one, but not wholly into one.

Birmingham New Street Station looking west up Queens Drive towards Hill Street with the MR station on the left and the LNWR station on the right

As part of a rational exercise as to how to proceed ie not coming up with a solution and then casting around for grounds to justify it, Your Majesty, BR undertook a traffic survey of passengers using the station. They discovered that most inter-city passengers did not start or end their journeys at New Street. When not passing through by train, they were changing trains. For them, an inter-change station outside of Birmingham city centre would be perfectly acceptable and might even prove more passenger friendly than the existing station.

Passengers travelling between London and Birmingham by inter-city were the exceptional group, but even they might not be inconvenienced by a service that whilst still stopping at New Street would also stop at a new station (in the Heartlands of East Birmingham).

Obviously, moving the bulk of the inter-city services out of New Street would create the opportunity to increase the number of regional and local services using the station.

The Birmingham Post and Mail took the view that the main station for Birmingham should be in the city centre. That view, shared more widely, and privatisation put the kibosh on the project.

A decade or so later, when the Birmingham terminus for HS2 was under discussion, the BPM argued for a new central station for Birmingham, but not at the heart of the city!

We now have the bright and shiny, much more passenger friendly Grand Central at surface level; an essentially unchanged Birmingham New Street at track level and the HS2 terminus being built on the site of the original terminus of the London and Birmingham Railway (outside of the core of the city centre).

The HS2 terminus is not integrated into Birmingham New Street (and Birmingham Moor Street), but you will, if changing stations in Birmingham be presented with the chance to really stretch your legs.

When folk consider the value of HS2 or alternative uses for the money committed to it, rarely does seeking an answer to the New Street Question come up. But then when you consider that many do not see Birmingham, the city furthest from the sea in any direction I gather, as a major destination in itself then may be that is not so surprising.

As with assessing the value of a national flagship, stakeholder analysis, despite what Dominic Cummings thinks, is a very important part of any appraisal process.

By the foregoing, you will see that there is a credible case for arguing that the iconic HS2 Birmingham terminus has not just been located in the wrong place, but has definitely not been integrated effectively into the inter-city, regional and local rail networks at the heart of which Birmingham sits.

“In 1976, BR commissioned a study which concluded that rail closures had a significant adverse effect on the quality of life of many former passengers. Only a third of people who had travelled beyond their line’s junction with the main line on a reasonably regular basis continued to do so and those without cars tended to abandon non-essential travel altogether.”

Last Trains: Dr Beeching and the death of rural England, Charles Loft.

There had prior to 1976, it seems, been an assumption that folk who travelled by a branch line to a junction and then took a train from there would continue to do so, if the branch line closed. They would travel to the junction by another form of transport and then catch a train from there. In reality, in such a scenario, most once they had got into their cars drove to their ultimate destination.

When the location of stations for HS2 was under consideration, did the planners take into account the reasonable assumption that maximising integration into the existing rail network would increase the return on the proposed investment by encouraging greater passenger travel across that existing network?

To put it in the language a Boris Johnson might understand, were they looking to get the biggest bang for our pound?

Style over substance is very much the hallmark of Boris Johnson’s Government. I give you the National Flagship, the HBS Free(loading) Enterprise …

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SPECTRUM Is Green!

If the national flagship is to “showcase cutting-edge British design, engineering and green technology while boosting trade and driving investment” then it must perforce be British, through and through.

However, the ship “will be the first of its kind constructed in the UK”. Ergo, at least some of the capacity and competence to build the ship in the UK must be created here before it may be commissioned.

If, though, the ship’s primary function is to provide British business with “a new global platform to promote their products” then it need not been built wholly in the United Kingdom. In fact, as we have considered at some length, a new build might not even be the best option for a floating conference and exhibition centre.

This is a not a new argument. Does the Royal Navy, for example, exist primarily to support the delivery of the UK Government’s defence and foreign policy or provide jobs and a spur for investment and innovation in the UK shipbuilding industry?

If the former, then buying proven, sea-tested products out of a shipyard makes the most sense. Arguably, the contractors to the US Navy would seem to fit the bill.

Strategic did I hear you say?

The following are extracts from a BBC report about the Integrated Review, dated 21st March 2021:

“A new Royal Navy surveillance ship is to be built to protect “critical” undersea cables.”

“Hundreds of thousands of miles of undersea cables circle the globe, providing internet and communications links between nations and continents.

The Ministry of Defence said they are “vital to the global economy and communications between governments” and are at “risk of sabotage” due to “submarine warfare”.

The new Multi Role Ocean Surveillance ship will be fitted “with advanced sensors and will carry a number of remotely operated and autonomous undersea drones which will collect data”.

The vessel, staffed by 15 people and due to come into service in 2024, will carry out operations in both UK and international waters.

The MoD added it will also “be able to support with other defence tasks, including exercises and operations in the Arctic which will become an increasingly contested area”.”

The vessel is clearly designed to undertake an important role, but not one sufficiently important that it will be solely dedicated to it. Or may be the spooks have determined there is no imminent threat so a commissioning date of at least 2024 is acceptable and, thereafter, any credible threats to undersea cables will conveniently be detected when the vessel is available to handle them?

There does seem some confusion at the heart of Government. Defence Secretary Ben Wallace from the same BBC report:

“[The vessel’s] job is going to be to protect not only critical national infrastructure, but other things. It will be able to do other surveillance functions around the sea and everything else and I think it is really important that we invest in that because otherwise we are deeply exposed.”

Although not specified in the report, one imagines the howls of protest were the ship not to be at least partly built in the UK.

The MOD is, however, very much in synch with telling the world we are back on the high seas. So much so that when announcing the first tour of duty of the UK Carrier Strike Group, the press office listed a hunter killer submarine amongst the vessels making up the group. Not the done thing as the Commander of UKCSG proves by not making any reference to the submarine on Twitter and elsewhere.

It helps to keep a potential enemy guessing about the potency of your group (and it is a good idea not to let Vlad the Impaler know that you have one less naval asset for deployment in the North Atlantic to protect your vital undersea cables).

Style over substance is very much the hallmark of Boris Johnson’s Government.

We are hearing a lot at the moment about strategic industries from the Opposition, particularly a rehabilitated Ed Miliband, as well as from the Government.

Steel is a strategic industry. We must secure our steel industry, because we may not trust the Johnny Foreigners of the developed world to supply us with steel to order for, say, building ships.

However, we had to trust the French to provide us with the steel for the hulls of the new Dreadnought submarines, because no British company makes the steel required to resist the pressures to be experienced at the depths in which the submarines are to operate.

Hulls that might be crushed like tin cans at such depths are understandably not what the Royal Navy wants in a submarine.

There are, it seems, good commercial grounds, probably limited demand, for British business to not seek to compete with the French supplier of such specialist steel.

The Times and The Telegraph are the playthings of rich men. They do not have to turn a profit. Does Boris Johnson understand that other people not only have to work for a living, but without a generous subsidy or bung to keep them afloat?

We do trust other Johnny Foreigners (mostly of the developing world?) to supply us with the raw materials with which to make steel. We might, I gather, secure at least some of them by strip mining the Cotswolds and the Chilterns.

Steady on, old chap, I hear you cry. Green and pleasant land and all that.

Clearly there will be a limit to how far we are willing to go down the road towards full blown autarky.

The Prime Minister has said:

“This new national flagship will be the first vessel of its kind in the world, reflecting the UK’s burgeoning status as a great, independent maritime trading nation.”

We are still a great trading nation, set in a silver sea, but to trade in the 21st Century requires an acceptance that one cannot also be independent and aloof. One also has to buy as well as sell and sell what the world wants to buy.

As Mrs Thatcher once observed, although I suspect in another context, the world does not owe us a living. There is no point in conjuring up shipbuilding capacity in the UK to build a national flagship only to discover that there will be no overseas customers for such vessels. That the new industry will not be viable once the Government commission is completed.

We tried being above the fray twice in the last century and, on each occasion, we made significant contributions to the outbreak of a world war that weakened our economy, our power and our prestige.

How one may write a biography of Winston Churchill and not appreciate that beggars belief.