Failure to Launch

Following the Sunday Times’ revelation that a Trident missile test had gone badly wrong last June when the missile veered off course, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon made a statement to the House on Monday.  During the debate, Michael Gove asked Mr Fallon if he agreed that “the unilateralists on the opposition benches who are complaining today are in the position of eunuchs complaining about the cost of Viagra.”

Mr Fallon agreed.

I supposed it was just a throwaway remark, a cheap gag, but I fell to thinking about it.  In a parliamentary debate, even off-hand one-liners ought to stand up to a degree of scrutiny.  Why are supporters of unilateral nuclear disarmament eunuchs?  A eunuch is a man who has been castrated, perhaps in order that he may run a harem, or retain a soprano voice past puberty.  Neither career path offers much promise to an aspiring youth in the modern world.  Alan Turing the mathematician was offered chemical castration as an alternative to imprisonment for the crime of being homosexual.  He has somewhat belatedly received a royal pardon.  So there aren’t many eunuchs around, bar Mr Corbyn and some Corbynistas, the Greens, and the entire phalanx of 54 SNP MPs occupying the opposition benches.  I suppose Mr Gove said they are eunuchs because they have been rendered impotent.  That is certainly true of the Westminster SNP.  They all vote as one, and it doesn’t make a whit of difference.

Mr Gove seems to think it inappropriate that the unilateralists should complain about the spiralling cost of the proposed Trident update.  The implication is that because they don’t support the product, they ought to be indifferent to its cost, even though they are obliged to join in to foot the bill.  This notion is of itself so manifestly absurd that it seems hardly worthwhile to pick it apart.

But most interesting of all, why should Mr Gove think of Trident as Viagra?  Viagra (I should say sildenafil – other brands are available) is a treatment for erectile dysfunction.  This implies that the United Kingdom is similarly dysfunctional, and in need of a therapy for impotence.  Trident becomes a symbol of aspiration towards priapic pride.  This makes last June’s failure to launch all the more distressing, embarrassing and humiliating.  No wonder Mrs May was coy on the Andrew Marr programme.  She subsequently admitted she had been briefed about the unsuccessful test.  One can imagine a rear-Admiral emerging from the Silent Deep to say to her, “Prime Minister, I’m terribly sorry.  This has never happened before.”  She might have consoled him.  “There there; don’t fret.”

It would all be laughable but for the seriousness of the subject.  During the same week, the redoubtable Brian Quail, 77, a retired Glasgow classics teacher who single-handedly stopped a nuclear convoy in Balloch last March by lying down on the road, went on trial in Dumbarton Sheriff Court on a charge of Breach of the Peace.  (The irony of the charge will not escape you.)  Mr Quail has said, “Trident is the worst thing in the world.  The epitome of evil.  I do infinitesimally small things against it, because that is all I can do.  But consent by silence or inactivity I cannot give.”  Mr Quail has 14 previous convictions for similar convictions and has been in prison for failing to pay fines five times.  In other words, Mr Quail does not merely talk the talk, he walks the walk.

Which impresses you more?  Mr Gove’s remark, or Mr Quail’s action?  Which is the more potent?

The trial continues.

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