Diary: Deep secrets from before the Cold War thaw

 

When a batch of previously classified government papers was released under the 30-year rule three weeks ago, attention was mostly focused on what they revealed about the urban riots of 1981. On the day, everyone missed a Cabinet file that demonstrated how frighteningly real the prospect of nuclear war was thought to be back then – but it did not escape the sharp eyes of the historian Peter Hennessy, aka Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield.

The file shows that every two years officials rehearsed a "transition to war" drill in which they role-played ministers having to cope with a nuclear attack by the Soviet Union. At its climax, the civil servant who stood in for Margaret Thatcher declared that "never before had a Cabinet been faced with such a grim choice between capitulating to a powerful and malevolent aggressor and embarking on a course of action that could end in the destruction of civilisation," Hennessy told the House of Lords, during a debate on freedom of information.

This exercise was wrapped in deepest secrecy because if the public had known the risk of a nuclear attack was taken seriously, opposition to the arrival of Trident missiles on these shores would have escalated.

People in high places understood that the presence of so many nuclear weapons on these islands made them the Soviets' No 1 nuclear target. That was why the Germans did not want Trident on their soil. Thatcher, being the Iron Lady, volunteered to take the risk. But she did not want to share this knowledge with the public.

Thirty years on, the Government is desperately pruning the defence budget; one in eight Gurkhas faces redundancy. But one subject that is just not open to debate is whether we really need to sink billions into renewing the UK's nuclear weaponry.

Spectator puts Ed on the block

The campaign to unseat Ed Miliband takes another turn today with the appearance on the front of the Tory-supporting Spectator of a cartoon depicting the Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, as the Iron Lady. If by some process she did take over the Labour leadership, a whole new press drama would open up about who rules the Balls-Cooper household, and it would be more complicated than the story of the Miliband brothers.

Other front-rank women politicians – Thatcher, Theresa May, Margaret Beckett, et al – have or had supportive, self-effacing husbands who stayed out of sight. Ed Balls would doubtless be supportive, but never out of sight.

The simple answer, one Labour MP who is prominent in the "Any Leader Who's Not Called Ed" camp told me, would be for Yvette to pack her husband off to a senior job in Europe. But would he want to go? I think not.

Show some respect please, Mr Cameron

David Cameron showed why he is known as Flashman at the end of Prime Minister's Questions yesterday. Replying to a question from Labour's Dennis Skinner about the Leveson Inquiry, the Prime Minister gratuitously remarked that he had told his children they need not go to the Natural History Museum to see a dinosaur when they could see one in the House of Commons.

Skinner, the MP for Bolsover since 1970, will be 80 in three weeks. There is indeed much about him that is changeless and resonant of a different era. He remembers his mother taking in washing during the 1930s because mine owners had sacked his father for his part in the 1926 strike. There were 700 mines in Britain when Skinner started work in one of them, in 1949. When he took up his seat in the Commons, Cameron was three years old. Skinner was making trouble from the Labour benches for Margaret Thatcher all through Cameron's time at Eton College.

You can see why Cameron would think it a good joke to face an opponent whose politics are rooted in the Great Depression but Thatcher always respected Skinner. After she resigned, she paid tribute to him as a "great parliamentarian". It's something Flashman would not understand.

Blair is spun out as aide Doyle departs

Tony Blair's long-serving spokesman, Matthew Doyle, is leaving without another job to go to, PR Week reports. Doyle has been with Blair since 2005, having previously worked for the Labour Party and as special adviser to David Blunkett, until Blunkett's second forced resignation. It may mean nothing, or it may mean something, but Doyle was spotted last week locked in conversation with Ed Miliband's chief spinner Tom Baldwin.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the world's leading suppliers and manuf...

Recruitment Genius: Multiple Apprentices Required

£6240 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Apprentices are required to join a privat...

Sauce Recruitment: HR Manager

£40000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: This is an exciting opportunity for a HR...

Ashdown Group: Interim HR Manager - 3 Month FTC - Henley-on-Thames

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established organisation oper...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links