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Thatcher: should we pay out all that money for Trident?

Trident II missile (US Defense Dept)There is a fascinating review by David Runciman in the LRB of Charles Moore’s: Margaret Thatcher: The Authorised Biography, Volume ll Everything She WantsIn it Runciman recites the tale of Mrs T, the Labour leader Neil Kinnock’s support for nuclear disarmament, and President Reagan’s sudden conversion (in 1986) to nuclear disarmament. It turns out that at a meeting in Reykjavik in the autumn of 1986 Reagan and President Gorbachev, backed by George Shultz Reagan’s Secretary of State, agreed to eliminate nuclear weapons. The implications of this sudden meeting of minds were… ‘cosmic’ writes Runciman.

Mrs Thatcher was not happy. Suddenly the Labour Party’s position on nuclear disarmament appeared credible…”in line with the unfolding logic of superpower politics and….(where) the Tories would be the ones out on a limb.” So Mrs Thatcher began to work to change Reagan’s mind, and “bring him back into line.” A note was written to the American President, with the emphases made by Mrs T herself:

You will cause me very real political difficulties if you pursue your proposal for eliminating ballistic missiles too actively. In our people’s mind it will raise two questions: isn’t Labour right after all in wanting to get rid of nuclear weapons….? And why on earth should we pay out all that money for Trident, if its going to be abolished in 10 years? The next British general election could ‘turn’ on these points, so you must help me deal with these arguments.”

The fantastical ideas coming out of Reykjavik, she told Schultz in a private meeting, would “cause you to lose me and the British nation.”  Reagan, writes Runciman, “found himself in no position to withstand Thatcher’s potent mix of moral certainty and brazen flattery.”

So here we are, nearly thirty years later living with the legacy of Trident, and debating whether its costs will rise to £30 billion or even £100 billion.  Those that argue the cost over the lifetime of the replaced Trident will be close to £100 billion also argue that this money could pay for:

  • Fully funding all A&E services in hospitals for 40 years
  • Employing 150,000 new nurses
  • Building 1.5 million new homes
  • Tuition fees for 4 million students
  • Insulating 15 million homes

Perhaps such a calculation is as fantastical as the ideas that came out of Reykjavik in 1986.  Even so, this new Thatcher biography reminds us that we continue to bear the true cost of her flawed legacy – and that we are likely to bequeath those costs to future generations.

This article previously appeared at Debtonation


  1. Bazza says:

    Excellent piece Ann!
    Clearly demonstrates that Thatcher was put Tory party political interests above the needs of the British people and World!
    I think you could also add adult social care (and sadly) spending more money on flood defences to the list!

  2. stewart says:

    maybe i am thick,but i have always wondered why instead of having nuclear weapons,why cant in a time of war where there might be a reason to have a nuke we could not borrow or lease one of the 10.000 nukes the americans have to threaten are enemy, just think of how many billions we could save with this proposal of mine,quiet alot i reckon.

    1. Robert says:

      The idea was the cost would be cheaper if the UK and the yanks built one delivery system, the actual nukes pay load is build in the UK. so all we are paying for is the delivery system.

      What is the cost of a new delivery system. the design the testing and keeping it secret it must be into the hundreds of Billions so I suspect £35 billion is pretty good costing for the UK.

      or of course we could save it all and become Nuclear free.

  3. Tony says:

    This is not new.

    Reagan was a complex character and had a deep and longstanding unease about nuclear weapons and nuclear war. This is an excerpt from his self-penned speech to the 1976 Republican convention. I always find it very moving.

    “And then again there is that challenge of which he spoke that we live in a world in which the great powers have poised and aimed at each other horrible missiles of destruction, nuclear weapons that can in a matter of minutes arrive at each other’s country and destroy, virtually, the civilized world we live in.

    And suddenly it dawned on me, those who would read this letter a hundred years from now will know whether those missiles were fired. They will know whether we met our challenge. Whether they have the freedoms that we have known up until now will depend on what we do here.”

    After narrowly avoiding assassination in 1981, one of his first acts was to write to Brezhnev in order to help avoid nuclear war.

    His views often deeply troubled many in his administration. Generally, however, he struck out on his own.

    Incidentally, It is worth bearing in mind that the original decision to purchase Trident was opposed by two-thirds of Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet.

  4. Bazza says:

    Yes and just read that in the new Tory Housing Bill they plan for all NEW council tenants to have fixed term tenancies of probably 2-5 years after which councils may be allowed to extend them or they ask people to leave!
    Thus driving people into the more expensive (and often poorer quality) private sector.
    So it’s back to slums with the Tories!
    So an end to security for new council tenants, further destabilising communities because of Tory ideology.
    Wonder if they will do this with work next and such is backward 1850’s Neo-Liberalism.
    I guess insecurity they hope makes for more compliant working people who they can control as well as exploit.
    So yes deal with the big issues AND don’t forget the bread and butter issues!

  5. roland says:

    war and the military industrial complex is not about war,it is about making money.

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