Economists have observed that after buying a house, many people feel that having spent so much money, they might as well spend a bit more. Hence the new 56-inch TVs that make their way into freshly-bought homes.
If the Royal Navy wants a new frigate, it might as well pick up a couple while it’s down at the shipyard
Something a bit like that seems to be going on in the Conservative Party. For so many years it was the party of no money being left, of not running out of other people’s money, of making tax collecting a declining industry. But since being forced to nationalise much of the economy and pay large numbers of people to stay at home, it seems to have undergone a transformation. Now it’s the party of, well, if the Royal Navy wants a new frigate, it might as well pick up a couple while it’s down at the shipyard.
Boris Johnson, still somehow the prime minister, joined Parliament from wherever it is he’s isolating. Is it an office, or a cupboard? Is the government logo behind him painted onto a wall or some kind of temporary stand? A flag has made its way into shot, possibly shoved there by the prime minister’s fiancée as she tried to manoeuvre a baby buggy down the hall.
He was there, anyway, to bring us tidings of great joy, though possibly not of peace on earth. “The era of cutting our defence budget must end,” he said. “And it ends now.”
Shortage of time prevented him from mentioning that the spending cuts had almost all come in the past 10 years, when the Conservatives have been in office. Neither was Johnson very clear about who was behind the “era of retreat” that he talked about, but surely he can’t mean Tony Blair, who ordered troops to engage the enemy more closely on several continents.
Perhaps someone at the Ministry of Defence could order the prime minister a microphone
In the past, Johnson explained, governments had “ordered ever-decreasing numbers of ever more expensive items of military hardware, squandering billions along the way.” Those days were over. From now on, there were going to be drones and warships and rockets launched from Scotland. Targets would be destroyed with “inexhaustible lasers”. Enemies would be paralysed with cyber weapons.
Nothing about this picture of a British scientific wizardry was in any way undermined by being delivered over a terrible internet connection. But perhaps someone at the Ministry of Defence could order the prime minister a microphone at the same time as they’re summoning up a swarm attack.
At times, Johnson complained he hadn’t been able to hear the question he was asked. This happened, oddly, mainly with opposition MPs. It enabled him to more cheerfully answer the question he wished they’d asked instead, which often turned out to be: “Does the prime minister agree that the Labour Party are a bunch of terrorist-lovers who would hand all our aircraft carriers to the French on their first day in office?”
But in fact, the difficult questions came from his own side. Readers who have furnished a home with a partner may be familiar with discussions about whether thousands of pounds are best spent on 8K screens and Atmos sound systems or, say, curtains.
In a similar way Johnson, metaphorically hunched behind the TV trying to work out how to connect the National Cyber Force to the RAF Space Command, found himself being repeatedly asked about foreign aid spending. The idea is floating around that he may be planning to pay for the nation’s urgently needed directed energy weapons by cutting the help Britain gives to poorer countries’ schools.
Asked by Andrew Mitchell and Jeremy Hunt about this, Johnson’s reply was that Britain could be very proud of the aid it had given in the past. This is the geopolitical equivalent of arguing that the washing machine you’ve already got still works OK most days, as you unpack a new PlayStation.
Still, most Tories were happy. Weeks ago the party was arguing that there wasn’t the money to feed hungry children, but they were ecstatic to hear that £1.5 billion would be going into military research, where it is impossible to imagine it being in any way squandered.
Liam Fox was typically delighted, welcoming “promises exceeded.” He has heard that the new Spider-Man game is excellent and can’t wait to come round and have a go on it.
Fox had some advice for the prime minister, too. “We need to spend more of our defence budget on assets that we cannot see,” he told the barely visible prime minister. I really don’t think he needs to worry on that score. Taking money and not showing anything for it is something of a specialism at the MoD.
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