A recent addition to my book collection is Sea Change, a commentary on the battle for the Falkland Islands and the future of Britain’s Royal Navy, penned by British politician Keith Speed back in 1982.
Speed had achieved prominence as Navy Minister in the first Thatcher government and was sacked by the famous Prime Minister for protesting against cutbacks to the Navy. In particular, he had argued against the withdrawal of the patrol ship HMS Endurance from the South Atlantic, which many saw as sending the final signal to the Argentinian government that the UK no longer had any interest in protecting the Falkland Islands.
Writing his book following the UK’s successful battle (highly reliant on a Naval Taskforce) to reclaim the Falkland Islands after the invasion by Argentina, Speed no doubt felt vindicated by the warnings he had issued in Parliament when he had questioned the need to make £3m savings by withdrawing the Endurance, in contrast with the £8,000m being required for the Trident missile system to maintain the nation’s nuclear deterrent. However, his concerns were on a much wider basis – that the UK systematically was eroding its naval capability with severe cuts planned under the Defence Review overseen by the then Secretary of State John Nott; and that the slippery slope had begun with the Defence Review back in 1966 which led to closure of many of the UK’s overseas bases and the scrapping of some key vessels in the fleet.
His resistance to the proposed cuts, and the perception that John Nott was overly pliable to the wishes of the Prime Minister, led to a saying in the Royal Navy at that time: “Less Notts, more Speed”! Strangely enough, having bought the book in Wigtown (Scotland’s wonderful “book town” packed full of bookshops), I discovered that Speed had passed away earlier this year. His was a distinguished career – service in the Royal Navy between 1947-56 was followed by a long political career including almost a quarter of a century as the MP for the Ashford constituency in Kent (1974-97), preceded in that role by the famous journalist Bill Deedes and succeeded by Damian Green, a future Deputy Prime Minister. Speed was knighted in 1992.