Cross-posted from Der Whigphilosophie Der Geschichte
Or – ‘The Corbynites Shoot Themselves In the Foot With Those Ignorant Historical Parallels. Again’.
Commendably enough, Emily Thornberry’s reported comments from this week’s meeting with the PLP (an exercise which is swifly becoming a regular exercise in cynical bear-baiting by the Corbynite vanguard of the revolution at the expense of the PLP) warrant two separate and distinct explorations of their comic value. The first being the deconstruction of her understanding of deterrence theory. The second being her reported use of the eventual obsolescence of the Spitfire as a comparable analogy for her assertion of the obsolescence of Trident submarines.
The problem for Emily here is the inevitable parallels this invites from the last time the Labour party was led by myopic ideologues sincerely attempting to make the world conform to their virtual pacificism. And the obvious parallel to draw is the position of the Labour party in the nineteen-thirties towards the rearmament policies of the National Government of the time which actually produced the Spitfire.
The first prototype Spitfire was ordered in January 1936 and the first production contract for 310 aircraft placed in June 1936. These aircraft were delivered after substantial production delays by September 1939. Further orders followed in September 1938 and April 1939 to continue production when the first batch had been completed, but that initial production run provided the first Spitfires in service. They represented the totality of Spitfires available to the RAF when the Second World War began in September 1939, and a remained a substantial fraction of those available when the Spitfire entered intensive combat service covering the Dunkirk evacuation in May 1940 and throughout the Battle of Britain which followed.
The Labour party’s contemporary attitude towards the procurement of the Spitfire can be accurately summarised by the statement of their then-leader George Lansbury during the Fulham by-election in June 1933, when he proposed disbanding the army and the Royal Air Force and inviting the world to do it’s worst. Labour therefore voted against the annual defence estimates which followed, including the 1935 estimates that funded that first Spitfire contract. Even after Lansbury’s deposition as party leader in October 1935, his sucessor Atlee maintained a hypocritical mantra that proposed collective security through the League of Nations in place of rearmament while denying Britain the military capacity to achieve that end. I don’t believe Atlee justified his opposition to rearmament on the obsolescence of fighter aircraft like the Spitfire, but it’s worth remembering that there was a substantial constituency which believed that recent technological advances meant that there was no practicable defence against bomber aircraft in the nineteen-thirties.
Presumably their descendants are saying similar things about drones making Trident submarines obsolete today.
Although Labour moved from oppposing the defence estimates to abstaining from 1937 onwards, and eventually moved into a successful wartime coalition government under Churchill, there can be considerable legitimate doubt that the attitudes and official policies of the Labour Party during the rearmament period would have led to there being sufficient Spitfires – or perhaps even any Spitfires – available when they turned out to be desperately needed not just for the defence of Britain but for the defence of liberal democracy against the imminent triumph of genocidal fascism in 1940.
Emily might be better advised not to walk into such self-defeating traps created by her comical ignorance of the potential historical consequences of Corbynite ideology. So perhaps it might perhaps be better not to mention Spitfires next time.