Cold War Warriors
As Iain Martin says, it was interesting to see David Cameron hit out at Labour on defence at PMQs. After the six or so wars that Labour have initiated on their watch, it might seem counter-intuitive to suggest that they are wobbly on defence, but in truth the disconnect between ambition and provision for the armed forces was a reflection of the struggle between Blair and Brown for mastery of the party. Blair willed the ends, Brown refused to provide the means.
But, as ever, Brown will never admit to this. The defence budget has increased in real terms every year since 1997, he proclaims loudly at every opportunity (the resonance of this defence is marred slightly by the fact that it is a lie, but there we are). There is good reason for Labour to be defensive on this issue – defence was toxic for Labour throughout the 1980s. Attitudes to the Cold War were one of the defining points of the part division of the time.
So it is perhaps inevitable that Cameron’s angry response to the point that defence spending fell in the 1990s was that this was a peace dividend – we had won the Cold War. If, as was reported in the Guardian and elsewhere, this had been a claim about the Tories winning the cold war, then the criticism would have been pretty valid. But I don’t think it was. The words, after all, were the reason the defence budget was cut in the 1990s was that under the Conservatives we won the cold war. Now, you could read that as Cameron claiming that the Conservatives won the cold war, but it’s a far more reasonable reading that while the Conservatives were in power, ‘we’ won the cold war.
And that, I think, is an entirely fair point. Who won the cold war, after all, us or them? No Conservative would blink before answering that one, although a few Labour men might struggle a touch. Because, despite the rather frantic dissociations now, more than a few on the left veered between moral equivalency and downright fellow travelling. In Labour List today, there’s a nice example of precisely this dissembling.
The notion that anybody 'won' the Cold War is obscene.
No it’s not. It’s fact. The west won it. We won it. The Soviet Union lost it. If you have to pause to think who won the cold war, you’ve already taken a great long step along a pretty unpleasant path.