PETER HITCHENS: Posing in one of our few tanks, Liz Truss, is not the same as being an Iron Lady
PUBLISHED: 09:34 AEDT, 5 December 2021 | UPDATED: 10:12 AEDT, 5 December 2021
I was there. We all gasped as Mrs Thatcher appeared in the turret of a British Army Challenger tank, dressed like Lawrence of Arabia in flowing prophetic white garments and a cruel-looking pair of goggles.
No doubt she was wearing high heels too, whatever the Army might have advised her about how unsuitable they were in a tank. She was a woman in the tradition of Boadicea and the first Elizabeth, and she was not going to get herself up in battledress and pretend to be a man.
As I recall the day in September 1986 at Fallingbostel, amid the war-scoured bleakness of Germany’s Luneburg Heath, the Cold War was still pretty cold.
Poor Ms Truss, despite the efforts of her official photographer, was engulfed by the warlike garments she had unwisely donned. Lefty liberals, such as she is, never look quite right in combat gear
About a million Soviet troops sat a few miles to the East, and Moscow was deploying menacing SS-20 medium-range missiles which made the danger of nuclear war a lot bigger. Silly Left-wingers were camping at Greenham Common to stop Nato from responding to this threat.
The occasion was an attempt at friendship between her and the German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, a lover of cream cakes and vast meals, who had somehow crammed his considerable bulk into a German Leopard tank to take part in an officially good-natured shooting contest. The guns boomed. Mrs Thatcher won, of course. The shell she fired would not have dared to miss, and Herr Kohl, who was terrified of her, knew his place.
So you will have to forgive me if I laugh when people say that the Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss, resembled the Iron Lady when she clambered into a British tank in Estonia last week.
Poor Ms Truss, despite the efforts of her official photographer, was engulfed by the warlike garments she had unwisely donned. Lefty liberals, such as she is, never look quite right in combat gear.
The ugly helmet she was persuaded to wear made her look as if a tortoise was nesting on her head. She looked much more like the failed US presidential candidate Michael Dukakis, who in 1988 unwisely rode on top of a US Army tank to try to look tough. Most people cackled at the sight.
We all gasped as Mrs Thatcher appeared in the turret of a British Army Challenger tank, dressed like Lawrence of Arabia in flowing prophetic white garments and a cruel-looking pair of goggles
As for the circumstances, oh goodness. In 1986, Estonia was a Soviet possession and the idea of Nato tanks within a day’s drive of what was then Leningrad would have given the Kremlin kittens.
It does now, actually. It is, after all, not that long since the Nazis besieged that city and starved many of its people to death. Russia, lacking any natural frontiers, has been invaded a lot (even we have done it), and it likes to keep its possible enemies at a safe distance. In 1986, Britain had a serious Army, reasonably well equipped. This was no bad thing, because in those days we faced, as we do not now, the colossal, sprawling iron might of the Soviet Union, with giant armed forces deep inside Germany, driven by the aggressive dogma of Communism.
Today, Ms Truss says she wants a strong Nato. Back in the 1980s, as a child, she was singing CND songs at Greenham with her mum, campaigning for a weak Nato, and if anyone had paid any attention to her, the USSR would still crouch menacingly on the eastern horizon.
Now, as we posture as the defenders of Europe against a much-touted Russian threat which may or may not exist, Britain has a mere 227 Challenger tanks and is busy reducing its Army from 82,000 personnel – already a record low in modern times – to 73,000.
If we really believed the speeches we made, would we actually be cutting our Armed Forces as we are?
You tell me, but I have always thought that actions spoke louder than words.
I note there is also an official drive to double the number of women in the British Army and to ‘tackle its male-dominated culture’. Well, such quotas usually lead to a lowering of physical standards, and, as most women aren’t especially keen on being soldiers, the main outcome is that more weedy men can join up.
I can promise you that the Russian Army continues to have a ‘male-dominated culture’, to put it gently, and does not plan to tackle it any time soon, and I am concerned about what might happen if our feminist forces ever actually clash with it.
Our moronic response to the Omicron threat
I wonder why hardly anyone has pointed out that the anagram of ‘Omicron’ is ‘Moronic’. It is quite easy to work out, and I suspect that the reason is the sort of hushed reverence everyone has now for everything to do with Covid.
Any sort of mockery or criticism of the authoritarian state we are building on the basis of virus-fighting is now treated as a wicked heresy. Voice such doubts and you will be falsely accused, at top volume, of desiring the deaths of the vulnerable and of wanting to let the virus rip, or of being a crazed ‘anti-vaxxer’.
But there is something idiotic, if not actually moronic, about the response of this country to the new variant. We simply do not know enough to justify this level of alarm.
As even the pro-panic semi-official newspaper The Times explained on Friday: ‘There is so little data that everything is informed conjecture – back of the envelope calculations with uncertainties so large that the same figures can be used to give succour or presage doom.’
You should know that when The Times says ‘informed conjecture’, it is trying to avoid saying ‘guesswork’.
I wonder why hardly anyone has pointed out that the anagram of ‘Omicron’ is ‘Moronic’. It is quite easy to work out, and I suspect that the reason is the sort of hushed reverence everyone has now for everything to do with Covid
We have already seen, as I predicted long ago, the ghastly long-term damage done to such things as cancer treatment by the subjection of the whole state machine to Covid priorities.
I mourn for the businesses, small and large, struggling to stay above water through repeated restrictions, and for the children and students whose education has been ripped apart by the same thing.
Not to mention the sinking of this country and Europe into unbelievable and increasingly permanent restrictions on our personal freedom.
I must ask again, have we really got this in proportion? I know many people were, to begin with, completely overcome by the fear of the unknown. But I sense a growing number of doubters, no longer persuaded that the measures work or that they are worth it. Or both.
Make your voices heard, reasonably and patiently, please. It may not save Christmas but it might save Easter.
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PETER HITCHENS: Posing in one of our few tanks, Liz Truss, is not the same as being an Iron Lady
Liz Truss defence spending to cost £157bn, says report
2 September, 2022
Liz Truss posed for official shots in a tank whilst visiting British troops in Estonia last year
Tory leadership hopeful Liz Truss would have to raise taxes or make cuts elsewhere to meet her spending pledges on defence, a think tank has said.
In a report, the Royal United Services Institute (Rusi) said her commitment to spend 3% of national income on defence by 2030 would cost an extra £157bn.
This would be the biggest increase since the 1950s, it said.
It added there has been little attempt to prepare the public for the "sacrifices" involved in meeting it.
The UK currently spends just over 2% a year on defence. Outgoing PM Boris Johnson argues it is 2.3% including support for Ukraine.
The 2020 spending review allocated an additional £16bn to defence spending over four years.
Foreign Secretary Ms Truss is the pollsters' favourite to win the Tory leadership race ahead of Rishi Sunak, with the winner announced on Monday.
In its report, Rusi calculates that, accounting for increased inflation, she would have to increase defence spending by 60% in real terms to meet her spending pledge if she wins power.
Its author, Prof Malcolm Chalmers, wrote that funding this through taxes would require income tax to go up by 5p in the pound, or the standard VAT rate to go up from 20% to 25%.
Alternatively, he said funding the increase through savings would require "significant" cuts to public services or other departments.
Of these two options, increasing taxes was most likely, he added, given the "difficulties involved" in finding big enough savings elsewhere.
In contrast to spending increases on the NHS and social care, he said, there had been "very little attempt to ready the British public for the sacrifices that will be needed for a similar level of increase for defence".
He estimated that meeting the 3% target would likely require Ms Truss to boost troop numbers, currently due to fall to 72,500 by 2025, by 25-30%.
The report added that making sure the extra money is not "eaten up by increased inefficiencies" would require boosting industrial capacities.
It warned that more British pilots, nuclear engineers, aircraft and shipyards would be needed to ensure spending could increase enough towards the end of the decade to meet the pledge.
However, it added that given the UK's "relatively small manufacturing sector," the government might also have to buy more equipment from abroad to meet the target on time.
Ms Truss has said she will meet her defence pledge by delivering a new fleet of submarines and more investment in cyber and space technology.
She has also pledged to review the size of the armed forces, and update last year's UK foreign policy review with a renewed focus on Russia and China.
She has pledged around £30bn in tax cuts if she wins power, and has ruled out introducing new taxes if she enters Downing Street.