The embattled Dr Liam Fox was forced to deny a drink problem this week after alleged senior government sources confided their heartfelt concerns to a Sunday newspaper. Although we take him at his word a follow-up question demands to be asked. If Foxy hasn't been retiring to his study to spend time with granny Glenlivet, uncle Johnny Walker and other members of the grain family, why the hell not?
Well how would you cope as the Defence Secretary whose defence policy has been outsourced to a coalition of Joseph Heller, Franz Kafka and Armando Iannucci? Imagine trying to explain without liquid fortification, why Britain's two new aircraft carriers will be entirely conventional aircraft carriers in every way, but for the one tiny tweak that they won't carry any aircraft?
A quart of absinth strikes me as the minimum Dutch courage requirement for a chap to limp into the Today studio and defend this insanity, and even that might not cut it. If Dr Fox has dug out all his old prescription pads lying around from his GP days, and used them to exhaust local chemists of their stocks of Temazepam, Co-Proxamol and diamorphine, no jury would convict in the light of the mitigating factors.
For all the appeal of the above trio, the relevant drug here appears to be mescaline. Only on industrial quantities of finest acid could a human mind formulate the policy outlined in the Girl With Kaleidoscope Eyes Strategic Defence Review. Out goes the Navy's 800-strong fleet of Harriers and the Ark Royal – and harsh as this may sound, it's entirely that quaint olde worlde ship's own fault. If an aircraft carrier will stubbornly insist on carrying aircraft...
In, eventually, will come the HMS Marie Celeste and HMS Flying Dutchman, the two ghostly vessels which, until 2020 at the earliest, will have everything aboard except the British war planes they were built, for £5.2bn, to carry. Not building them, runs the official explanation, would have cost even more. Perhaps Stephen Hawking would find a moment to explain the mathematical workings of this fascinating twist on agricultural set-aside.
At this early stage, it would be hubris to try to comprehend the precise reasoning. The more optimistic of military scholars, such as John Keegan, hope to develop a theory by 2017 – the year in which the Ministry of Defence is scheduled to equip all combat troops with trigger-less rifles, incidentally, and roll out a new generation of tanks without engines. But for all the stupefaction, you can at least guess at the psychiatric disorder that produced this sublime fiasco.
Presented with a glorious chance to redefine Britain's place in the world on more realistic lines, but terrified of going to war with the right-wing of his party and the more bellicose segments of the press, the government split the difference and chose to cling to the usual comfort blanket of pretending to great power status on the cheap.
Thus, within hours of assuring us that the gravest threats to national security now come from conventional and cyber terrorism, it announced this fudge of all fudges. The urge to carry on play-acting as a major martial force on the global stage has outlasted the money required to do so. The competing interests of responsible government and sledgehammer satire collided to create a naval Bizarro World in which Edmund Hillary vessels sail the high seas for no other reason than that those high seas are there.
Yet reasons must be found to cover the naked derangement of this policy with a fig leaf of respectability, so here's one suggestion for the Secretary of State. Good doctor, turn the aircraft-less carriers into museums themed on our imperial past. In spirit, after all, that's exactly what they are anyway. Aircraft carriers and Trident are nothing more than the muscle memory of Empire, the lingering pain from an amputated limb. Putting flesh on the spectral bones could be achieved for half the price of a Chinook.
Behold, on Deck A, the recreation of the Battle of Trafalgar, with cannon fired on the hour every hour in the style of mock explosions outside the Treasure Island casino in Las Vegas.
Beginning shortly on Deck B, meanwhile, the gang is here to entertain you with the Andrew Lloyd Webber and Ben Elton musical Oh Black Hole of Calcutta!, starring Melvyn Hayes, Windsor Davies, Mr Lah-di-dah Gunner Graham and other members of the It Ain't Half Hot Mum concert party crew. Below decks, we find the exact simulation of the underground Cabinet War Rooms, where Mr Churchill (Robert Hardy) wanders around draining brandy balloons and bellowing orders at military personnel played by retired Harrier pilots with time, and only time, to kill.
And now showing on screen 7 at the Rule Britannia Multi-plex is that popular MoD-produced film Remember When?, featuring thrilling footage of fighter jets taking off from aircraft carrier runways. Such nostalgic merriment there for anyone who takes up the offer of a cut-price holiday aboard one of our floating Imperial War Museums. Getting aboard wouldn't be easy, of course, what with the ban on landing planes. Considering the holidaying public's aversion to arriving at resorts by parachute, the solution might be to leave the carriers in dry dock.
Or within a short rowing boat journey of Plymouth Hoe (the Francis Drake crown green bowling lawn, with David Bryant cast as Sir Francis, is on Upper Deck C, by the way, with the Spanish Armada represented by six galleons wrought from matchsticks). Fingers crossed that Foxy has time to implement this face-saving masterplan before he's sacked or shunted off to Northern Ireland in punishment for that, "cut my budget by 10 per cent and the Soviet tanks will be rolling down Whitehall by Wednesday week" memo he never, ever leaked.
In the meantime, sorrow-drowning of the sort the Defence Secretary studiously avoids seems indicated to assuage the disappointment at the Government's weedy refusal to put the babyish post-imperial posturing to bed. The Coalition that makes university education a Platinum card luxury, bullies the incapacitated off benefit and goes after the vulnerable in whichever ways the spending review will reveal today, while simultaneously unveiling the tragicomic vista of aircraft carriers bereft of aircraft, is a Coalition asking to be torpedoed by ridicule of its own creation.Reuse content