Ruling the Waves

It’s not unusual to hear people moaning about the state of the United Kingdom. While whingeing is a national sport at the best of times, talking Britain down has become even more popular in recent years, for all sorts of reasons. Some people lament what they perceive as a reduction in the UK’s global influence, while others feel that nobody ever seems to do anything properly any more. Some people even seem to think we don’t make anything.

Three cheers then, for the HMS Queen Elizabeth. Our country’s largest ever warship left Rosyth Dockyard on Monday to begin her first sea trials, and looked absolutely magnificent in the process. The Royal Navy’s largest ever vessel, the Queen Elizabeth should be fully operational by the end of 2020 and will be joined by the identical HMS Prince Charles. Both warships have been assembled from parts made at shipyards all over the British Isles and are still providing quality jobs in the engineering, logistics and shipbuilding industries.

Not that the journey from the easel to the water has been an easy one. The project has been criticised for all the usual reasons and then some; cost and time overruns, procurement issues, political objections and a 2010 Spending Review that recommended the cancellation of the HMS Prince Charles, only for the government to discover that cancelling it would actually cost more than building it. Issues like this make for great headlines, and may amuse the more cynical of the general public, but the truth is that virtually every big project that humans undertake ends up creating an enormous muddle in the process. That muddle is the price we pay for having good things.

And a what a good thing we have in the HMS Queen Elizabeth. A country whose Navy was once the envy of the world now re-joins the small number of states which have their own aircraft carriers. This should be tremendously heartening to those who want Britain to play an active role in international affairs, because it is a demonstration of Britain’s strength and commitment to operating in the world. Those who are less enthusiastic should consider the following words from George Orwell’s 1947 essay “Lear, Tolstoy and the fool”:

“[King] Lear renounces his throne but expects everyone to continue treating him as a king. He does not see that if he surrenders power, other people will take advantage of his weakness.”

For all the criticisms that could be made of Britain, both historically and contemporaneously, the number of countries to whom the UK could responsibly cede influence is very small. And for as long as there are significant rival powers, the British government has a responsibility to maintain its influence in the world. These ships will go a long way to doing just that, and the people of the United Kingdom can rightly be very proud to have them.



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