Davis wins easily...

newstatesman.com's running commentary on the by-election triggered then won by David Davis over 42 d

1030BST


So David Davis now has a majority of 15,355 votes. And to think he was a candidate for "decapitation" in the last election, writes Martin Bright.

With a turnout of 34 per cent, it would be tempting to agree with Home Office minister Tony McNulty that this was "a vain stunt that became and remains a farce". Although his majority increased by over 10,000 votes, Davis still had fewer people voting for him than did in 2001.

This was not a great day for democracy. Congratulations to Shan Oakes of the Green Party for coming second with 1,758, but the Labour Party, and especially the Lib Dems, made a serious mistake by not standing. For Labour, the hope was to render Davis's gesture meaningless. In part, they succeeded. But this did not split the Conservative Party, as they might have expected. The Liberal Democrats, on the other hand, could have taken the genuinely liberal argument to Davis rather than giving him a free run. They might even have won.

Weirdly, the Conservatives look by far the most sure-footed party as a result of all this. It could have been a very difficult moment for David Cameron. Instead, he has the best of both worlds - Davis is allowed to make the argument for "ancient British values" while at the same time removing himself from frontline politics where he was becoming an increasing thorn in the Tory leader's side. David Cameron must be feeling even more smug than usual this morning.


0700BST


So - writes Ben Davies - in case you hadn't heard or were wondering, yes, David Davis won in Haltemprice and Howden in the by-election he triggered over 42 day detention, and in which the Lib Dems and Labour didn't stand.

Turnout was 34.5 per cent - contrast that with the 58 per cent in Crewe and Nantwich - and Davis won 72 per cent of the vote.

Shan Oakes of the Greens got 1,758 votes coming second and the English Democrat's Joanne Robinson came third with 1,714 backing her in the Yorkshire constituency.

Out of 26 candidates, 23 lost their deposits after failing to attract 5 per cent of the vote.


0245BST


The results are finally in, delayed by a recount for Joanne Robinson of the English Democrats. Turnout is better than the most pessimistic forecasts at 35 percent with David Davis winning 17,113 votes - 72 percent of the vote. Shan Oakes of the Greens claims second place with 1,752 and Robinson finishes third with 1,714 while the rest look to have lost their deposits. For full results see the East Riding Council website (http://www.eastriding.gov.uk).

"We have fired a shot across the bows of Gordon Brown's arrogant, arbitrary and authoritarian government," Davis says, vowing to fight "Big Brother Britain" tooth and nail. He tells me his freedom campaign has achieved its objectives: "Today 17,000 people came out to vote for a principle... We've had Labour voters coming to vote for me, Liberal voters, Tory voters and people who've got no previous record of voting at all. What we've done is we've galvanised cross-party, across the board, almost apolitical support and that's wonderful." What next for Davis? He says his short term priority is to do what he can to prevent 42 days going through and believes Friday morning's result has sharply improved his chances of achieving that.

Despite the late hour, Shan Oakes of the Greens is also in good spirits with unofficial calculations suggesting it is the party's best ever showing, percentage-wise, in a parliamentary election. "What we were up against in this election was the Tory vote and the Tory machine – a lot of money, a lot of people, whereas we were working on a showstring." She says the Greens' localism had proved popular with many voters. "They really like the Green idea of working locally, planning things locally like local food, local energy, local transport. They are sick of being imposed upon by central government."

I also chat to Tom Darwood, an independent candidate who claims to be "the future King of the British peoples", the "true Archbishop of Canterbury" and the "true Pope" and believes Britain and the USA need to be united under a single throne - a manifesto that earned him 25 votes. "I've thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The camaraderie and friendliness between the candidates has been wonderful. We've created another historic moment in British political history." Alas, David Icke had been and gone before my arrival at the count.


0030BST


The count is well under way at Haltemprice Leisure Centre where the air smells less of freedom and liberty than stale sweat and chlorine. With most of the 26 candidates nervously assembled I finally catch up with Gemma Garrett of the Miss Great Britain Party, dressed in a sparkly mini dress and flanked by an equally eye-catching entourage. While she admits the campaign has been an "absolute ball" there has been a serious issue at its heart. "I have a cousin fighting in Afghanistan and another in Iraq and I'm here because of them and for the lack of support they have, the lack of pay, the lack of equipment and I could go on and on." She admits it has sometimes been difficult to get that message across in a short skirt but says that strategy ties in with the party's other objective to get young people voting. "We need young people in parliament to interest other young people. We are a very, very serious political group." I feel suitably told off.


1900BST


One of the big questions in this by-election has been "What has happened to all the Labour voters?" In fact, despite (or perhaps because of) its proximity to John Prescott's Kingston Upon Hull East fiefdom, Labour supporters are thin on the ground with the party picking up a little more than 6,000 votes at the last election. David Davis told me they were "all over the place" with some saying they were going to vote for a Tory for the first time in their life while others said they supported the issue but couldn't bring themselves to do it. Shan Oakes claims she is picking up disenchanted Labour voters too. One of the candidates, David Pinder of the New Party, is also an ex-Labour councillor disgruntled with present politics. "I know it sounds jaded but we stand for common sense and decency but we really do think it's time to do things differently," he said. "We think there is a third way if you spell 'third' with truth, honesty, integrity, respect and duty."

The only real Labour campaigner we've seen in recent days has been Bob Marshall-Andrews who claimed he had come up to support David Davis as the "authentic voice" of the Labour Party. "He told me he was going to do it and I encouraged him his sacrifice, not mine," said Marshall-Andrews, although you get the impression that he carries his Parliamentary Labour Party membership card lightly since prematurely announcing his own political demise at the last election.

Marshall-Andrews told me there was no excuse for Labour not to be represented and admitted that the party had conceded traditional ground on civil liberties to the Tories: "I'm really, really disappointed thst we have not come up to this and picked up this challenge. It was the perfect opportunity because we were in a constituency that we could not win. The political advantage on those terms was negligible but the advantage in terms of addressing one of the most serious political issues of our age was enormous and it seems to me that it was reprehensible that the party did not take this challenge up."


1800BST


I bite the bullet and call David Icke's publicist to ask whether the former Coventry stopper-turned conspiracy theorist is speaking to the press. Disconcertingly her mobile number contains the digits 666. She says he is due to attend tonight's count. Icke, who says he backs David Davis' stance against the "Orwellian state", hasn't been seen in the constituency since Sunday but his supporters mostly wide-eyed, muddle-headed people with eccentric hair and sandals (not so different from New Statesman readers really) have been around the fringes of most events and gatherings.

One of them even managed to slip through the cordon to ask George Osborne about the Bilderberg Group. I think I've learnt to spot the real conspiracy theorists though. They tend to be smartly dressed with the clipped tones and penetrating stares of men who know too much. I'm also starting to develop an alarming paranoia. After a long chat yesterday with one chap about the secret "one-world government" controlling the planet I became obsessed by a police motorcyclist who seemed to be following me for an unnecessarily long time. As our paths diverged at a roundabout a police car swung into view behind me. Perhaps there is something in this police state business after all...

The BBC meanwhile reports that the 26 candidates will be unable to share a platform at tonight's count for fear that the stage will collapse under their combined weight. I have heard that the Raving Loonies plan to bring their own Elvis to counter the Church of the Militant Elvis Party candidate. So there will be at least two Elvises (?) in the building.


1600BST


Also in Cottingham, valiantly trying to steer clear of the assorted loonies (both lower and upper case "l") aligned against her, I bump into the Green Party's Shan Oakes. I spent an afternoon with Oakes – who has been blogging herself for newstatesman.com - as she canvassed door-to-door earlier in the week and she is optimistic that the Green message has been getting through, even in a constituency where the party has not put up a candidate in a general election for more than two decades.

As the second most established political force among the 25 other options on the ballot paper, they are hopeful of a strong showing. "People are very despondent," she says. "But when we talk to them about local democracy and the real things people could do to work things out you can see a little spark of hope in their eyes."

Oakes believes David Davis' stance on civil liberties is misguided and inconsistent with Tory (and Labour) policies, arguing that the Greens are the true defenders of British libertarian instincts. "This country used to pride itself on habeas corpus [slipping towards Magna Cartaballs territory here... ] and why have we moved away from that? There is a progressive paranoia that has been stoked by the government and the Tories have colluded with that. They are just using fear to justify this creeping police state."

The Greens have also fallen out with the Davis campaign amid claims they have been "black-listed" and prevented from attending public meetings, as Oakes has described in her blog.

The Davis campaign says the Greens and other candidates were invited to attend Tuesday's public village hall event in Eastrington but were barred from Wednesday's Willerby Manor event which was limited to invited speakers, constituents and members of the fourth estate.


1530BST


It's impossible to walk down the main street in Cottingham without being ambushed by at least a couple of prospective parliamentarians. At one point I spy five of them at once. Among them is Mad Cow Girl of the Monster Raving Loonies, still vocally putting her message across with her megaphone. Worryingly, the Loony campaign vehicle is a yellow Citroen 2CV - once my parents' transport of choice - decorated with the number 42. "People love us. We shout, we scream, we play music, we have fun. People love to see the loonies," says Mad Cow Girl. But not everybody is convinced among the mostly pension-drawing passers-by. "I think it's disgusting," an elderly woman mutters as she walks by. "We've already got the loonies," another man quips in a bluff Yorkshire accent.

The Loonies admit they've conceded some of their traditional political ground to other candidates in this by-election but Mad Cow Girl - described as the Loonies' Ann Widdecombe - is happy to stray onto serious terrain by standing up for 42 days. "I just happen to not disagree with the government," she says. There is optimism in the Loony camp that the party can retain its deposit for the first time ever.

Further on, I meet independent Norman Scarth. At 82, he may well be the oldest candidate in the field. He is a navy veteran of the Second World War, serving on the convoys across the Atlantic and to Russia and he proudly wears the medals to prove it including a Soviet one awarded to him for his contribution to the Great Patriotic War effort. Also armed with a megaphone, Scarth believes Britain is a judicial tyranny that has badly failed the veterans who fought for freedom. "We have the rule of lawyers, not the rule of law," he says.

Next in line is another independent, Eamonn Fitzpatrick, a market trader calling himself the "voice of Northampton" who happily admits his recently launched political career was triggered by a midlife crisis, Tony Blair and the invasion of Iraq: "I'm a one man band. I love my country but I don't like what's happening." Fitzpatrick says there are loads of things he's "pissed off" about. "I'm a market trader and my living is under threat from supermarkets. I have to work six days a week, 12 hours a day to make my market business pay. So I'm against the supermarkets, I think they are bullies. I stick up for myself, I stick up for my business and I stick up for my country."

Still no sign of former Miss Great Britain Gemma Garrett. It seems I am the only person in the constituency not to have seen her.


1300BST


Jill Saward raised an interesting point while we were chatting about how everybody in this by-election has been talking about "the days of Maggy Carter". Magna Carta has of course been a Davis theme since he launched his campaign and the rallying cry was raised again on Wednesday when Shami Chakrabarti was up here to endorse him, talking about Britons' ancient liberties and even quoting the famous Tony Hancock line: "Did Magna Carta die in vain?"

Jill is not convinced and wonders what the relevance is of a document from the 1200s for knife crime-plagued 21st century Britain. "I don't know my history but wasn't that the days of the feudal system?" she wonders. The historian and occasional New Statesman contributor Edward Vallance has expertly unpicked what he calls "Magna Cartaballs" on his excellent blog.

As Vallance says: "Yes, the counter-terrorism bill is a terrible piece of legislation, but it signifies less a devil-may-care attitude to our civil liberties (though that, of course, is wholly evident) and more the very limited nature of 'British liberty' itself."


1230BST


In Hessle I meet up with Jill Saward, the victim of the 1986 Ealing Vicarage rape who is campaigning on a "true liberty" ticket, calling for tougher measures on crime and better support for the victims of crime and of sexual assault in particular.

Saward admits that she is not a natural politician and is taking a relaxed attitude to canvassing as we sit on a bench in the sunshine. She says people are fed up with being approached by candidates and feel "pressurised" into voting. She dismisses 42 days as a non-issue to ordinary people and describes David Davis' campaign as an exercise in self-promotion. She says people would welcome more CCTV ("People like being watched. They like to think that somebody is watching over them") if it made them feel safer and is strongly in favour of a DNA database.

"People who are innocent have nothing to fear and people who are guilty should not be allowed to get away with it. For me that turns justice on its head," Saward says. She concedes there are miscarriages of justice but says that DNA evidence could help catch people who otherwise would not be caught. And, she points out, a DNA database could be used to clear people as well as convict them.

Jill has used the campaign to raise awareness to the funding shortages afflicting Rape Crisis centres (as highlighted by newstatesman.com). While the Tories have vowed to increase funding if elected, Jill is disappointed by Davis' failure to use his clout as shadow home secretary to secure more funding for local Rape Crisis services in England and Wales. She says the East Riding district hasn't seen any of the £1m in new funding announced by the government earlier this year.

Saward vigorously denies suggestions that she was put up by the Labour Party, comparing her own modest resources to the lavish amounts she claims Davis has spent on "glossy posters and posh hotels": "My campaign headquarters is my husband's messy desk or a room at a Premier Travel Inn. I have had no emails from Labour MPs. I have received no funding from Labour. The only person who suggested I should run is my husband and he was joking."


1030BST


Just had an interesting chat with a couple of DD supporters over bacon sandwiches and lattes (me) and crisps and tea (them) in the cafe at Waitrose in Willerby. Andrew Brice and Duncan Boyd are up here canvassing on behalf of Christian Watch which they describe as a conservative ("with a small 'c'") Christian campaigning group. Their main gripe is political correctness – in particular restrictions on them conducting "open air work" - ie. handing out anti-homosexual literature on gay rights marches. To be fair DD distanced himself from that particular issue when he was asked about it by one of them at Wednesday's meeting but it just goes to show how widely he has cast his "civil liberties" net. "Increasingly liberals are themselves illiberal because they cannot tolerate any dissent," says Boyd. Brice says he admires Davis for making a stand on principle. And even the Christian right is opposed to 42 days by the way.

Meanwhile DD himself has voted down in Howden at the far end of the constituency. His press officer tells me that turnout has been"brisk". Mad Cow Girl of the Monster Raving Loonies has also been spotted in Howden, driving around haranguing people through a loudhailer. It's worth noting of course that the Loonies are representing the government on 42 days in this by-election. "I may be a Looney but I'm not mad enough to want dangerous people walking the streets," says Mad Cow Girl.


0900BST


The great battle for English liberties is under way in Haltemprice and Howden. I head to Willerby – David Davis' base camp in this sprawling constituency in search of early voters but there have only been a handful at the Memorial Hall polling station since voting began at 7 am and the ones I speak to suggest that many locals remain sceptical about the exercise. "I don't really like most of the people. Most of them are idiots. Most people can't be arsed," says first time voter Dominic. "David Davis has shot himself in the foot," says Claire Grimwood.

Turnout is going to be key today with some in the Davis camp fearful that it could drop as low as 20 per cent. Davis is defending a majority of 5,116 – 47 per cent of the vote - which he won at the 2005 general election on a 48 percent turnout and there's little doubt he is a popular constituency MP. There's also of course the interesting matter of who will finish second among the other 25 candidates – and whether any of them will get their deposits back.

What are David Davis' expectations? At his final campaign event on Wednesday at Willerby Manor Hotel he claimed he had influenced public mood already on 42 days detention without trial, claiming the public's change of heart had been the biggest turnaround in public opinion he had seen in his entire political career.

As for his personal ambitions, don't expect to see Davis grovelling for a place in the shadow cabinet. "We had to start with a toff so I went for Tony Benn," he said, describing the string of political stars who have been up here in support of his cause. "Then we went a bit downmarket and had David Cameron," prompting theatrical gasps of faux-shock from the Tory blue-rinse brigade.

It's a beautifully sunny morning over the East Riding which should ease some concerns over turnout. I even saw a Mini soft top with its roof ambitiously rolled back.

For the record here's a full list of today's runners and riders:

Grace Christine Astley (Independent), David Laurence Bishop (Church of the Militant Elvis Party), Ronnie Carroll (Make Politicians History), Mad Cow-Girl (The Official Monster Raving Loony Party), David Craig (Independent), Herbert Winford Crossman (Independent), Tess Culnane (National Front Britain for the British), Thomas Faithful Darwood (Independent), David Michael Davis (The Conservative Party), Tony Farnon (Independent), Eamonn Fitzy Fitzpatrick (Independent), Christopher Mark Foren (Independent), Gemma Dawn Garrett (Miss Great Britain Party), George Hargreaves (Christian Party), Hamish Howitt (Freedom 4 Choice), David Icke (Independent), John Nicholson (Independent), Shan Oakes (Green Party), David Pinder (The New Party), Joanne Robinson (English Democrats), Jill Saward (Independent), Norman Scarth (Independent), Walter Edward Sweeney (Independent), Christopher John Talbot (Socialist Equality Party), John Randle Upex (Independent), Greg Wood (Independent)

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Happiness is a huge gun: Cold War thrillers and the modern nuclear deterrent

For all that books and films laud Britain's strength, ultimately, they show that our power is interdependent.

Francisco “Pistols” Scaramanga, the ­assassin for hire in Ian Fleming’s 1965 James Bond novel, The Man With the Golden Gun, has invested more than money in his favourite weapon. Bond’s colleagues in the Secret Service have concluded from Freudian analysis that Scaramanga’s golden gun is “a symbol of virility – an extension of the male organ”. It is just one of many phallic weapons in the Bond saga. In Dr No, for instance, Bond reflects on his 15-year “marriage” to his Beretta handgun as he fondly recalls “pumping the cartridges out on to the bedspread in some hotel bedroom somewhere around the world”. Objectively speaking, guns comprise little more than highly engineered metal and springs, but Fleming invests them with an ­extraordinary degree of psychosexual significance.

Size matters in the Bond novels – a point made by a furious Paul Johnson in a review of Dr No for this paper in 1958 (“everything is giant in Dr No – insects, breasts, and gin-and-tonics”). One of the Bond stories’ biggest weapons is a rocket carrying an atomic warhead: the Moonraker, which gives its name to the third Bond novel, published in 1955. The most important thing about the Moonraker is that it is apparently British – a gift to a grateful nation from the plutocrat Sir Hugo Drax. And, like Bond’s Beretta, it is freighted with psychosexual significance. When Bond first lays eyes on it there is no doubt that this is an erotically charged symbol of destructive power. “One of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen,” Bond says, with a “rapt expression”:

Up through the centre of the shaft, which was about thirty feet wide, soared a pencil of glistening chromium [. . .] nothing marred the silken sheen of the fifty feet of polished chrome steel except the spidery fingers of two light gantries which stood out from the walls and clasped the waist of the rocket between thick pads of foam-rubber.

The guns in the Bond books can be seen as expressions of their bearer’s power – or, as with Scaramanga’s golden gun, compensation for a lack of virility. The Moonraker is equally symbolic, but on a far larger scale: an expression of a nation’s geopolitical power, or compensation for its impotence.

As what is known officially as Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent (“Trident” to everyone else) returns to the top of the political agenda, the cultural dimension of the debate will no doubt continue to be overlooked. Yet culture matters in politics, especially when the issue is a weapon. As the guns in the Bond novels remind us, weapons are not merely tools, they are also symbols. Trident is not just a system comprising nuclear warheads, missiles and four Vanguard-class submarines. Its symbolic meanings are, to a great extent, what this debate is about. Trident stands for Britain itself, and it does so for different people in different ways. Your opinion on whether to cancel or replace it depends to a great extent on what kind of country you think Britain is, or ought to be.

The Cold War British spy thriller is particularly topical because it developed in tandem with Britain’s nuclear programme through the 1950s and 1960s. Moonraker was published just weeks after Churchill’s government announced its intention to build an H-bomb in the 1955 defence white paper, and three years after Britain’s first atomic test on the Montebello Islands, Western Australia. These novels drew on technological reality in their plots concerning the theft of nuclear secrets or the proliferation of nuclear technology, but they influenced reality as well as reflected it, with stories of British power that helped create Britain’s image of itself in a postwar world.

The main theme of the genre is the decline of British power and how the country responded. Atomic or nuclear weapons serve this as symbols and plot devices. Len Deighton’s debut novel, The Ipcress File (1962), for instance, concerns a plan to brainwash British scientists to spy for the Soviet Union, and has as its centrepiece an American neutron-bomb test on a Pacific atoll, observed by a British double agent who is transmitting Allied secrets to an offshore Soviet submarine. The novel’s technical dialogue on nuclear technology, and its appendices providing a fictionalised account of the Soviet Union’s first atomic bomb test and a factual explanation of the neutron bomb, are in the book not merely for verisimilitude: Deighton’s British spies are observers or victims of the nuclear arms race between the US and the USSR, agents with remarkably little agency.

A more dour variation on the theme is John le Carré’s The Looking Glass War (1965), in which the prospect of obtaining information on Soviet nuclear missiles in East Germany provokes “the Department”, a failing military intelligence organisation, to try to regain its wartime glory with an intelligence coup. This hubris leads to tragedy as its amateurish operation unravels to disastrous effect, le Carré’s point being that military and economic might cannot be regained through nostalgic wish-fulfilment. These novels situate British decline in the context of superpower domination; their characters recall the technological and operational successes of the Second World War but seem unable to accept the contemporary reality of military and geopolitical decline. For Deighton and le Carré, Britain simply doesn’t matter as much as it used to, which is why, in le Carré’s later Smiley novels and Deighton’s Game, Set and Match trilogy (1983-85), the spymasters are so desperate to impress the Americans.

Fleming is usually seen as a reactionary, even blimpish writer – his England was “substantially right of centre”, Kingsley Amis remarked – and he signalled his own politics by making a trade unionist the ­villain of his first novel, Casino Royale (1953). So it might seem surprising that he was as concerned as his younger contemporaries Deighton and le Carré with British decline. The historian David Cannadine, for one, emphasises that although Fleming may have been aghast at certain aspects of postwar change such as the welfare state and unionisation (opinions that Bond makes no secret of sharing), he simply refused to believe that Britain was in decline, a refusal embodied in Bond’s very character.

Bond the man is more than the “anonymous, blunt instrument wielded by a ­government department” that Fleming described to the Manchester Guardian in 1958. He is an expression of the British state itself, demonstrating Britain’s toughness while besting its enemies – the Russian agents of SMERSH and, later, the international criminals and terrorists of SPECTRE. He is supported by a formidable apparatus of technological and logistical capability that mythologises British research and development, which had peaked during the Second World War (a point made more obviously in the film franchise when Fleming’s Armourer becomes the white-coated Q, heir to Barnes Wallis and the ingenious technicians of the Special Operations Executive). And, as Cannadine astutely observes, “this comforting, escapist theme of Britain’s continued pre-eminence” is most evident in Bond’s relationship with the United States. The Americans may have more money, but they cannot spy or fight anywhere near as well as Bond, as is made plain when the hapless Felix Leiter, Bond’s friend in the CIA, literally loses an arm and a leg to one of Mr Big’s sharks in Live and Let Die (1954).

Moonraker, however, exposes a more complex and sceptical side to Fleming’s Bond. It is significant that this emerges in a book that is explicitly about Englishness and the Bomb. The rocket is being built atop another symbol: the white cliffs of Dover, prompting some surprisingly lyrical passages on the beauty of South Foreland coast. And yet, though replete with emblems of English tradition and bursting with hatred of ugly, evil-minded foreigners, this novel has an unmistakable political subtext that undermines its apparent confidence in British power. Drax, it turns out, is a patriot – but a patriot of Nazi Germany, which he had served as an SS officer and plans to avenge with a missile that is pointing not, as everyone believes, at a test site in the North Sea, but at central London, the intended Ground Zero being a flat in Ebury Street, Belgravia (the location, incidentally, of Fleming’s own bachelor pad in the 1930s and 1940s). The missile has been designed and built by engineers from Wernher von Braun’s wartime rocket programme, and its atomic warhead has been generously donated by the Soviet Union, which is looking to bring Britain to its knees without having to go through the rigmarole of fighting a war.

The Moonraker, we are told repeatedly, will restore Britain to its rightful place at the global top table after its unfortunate postwar period of retrenchment and austerity. But the rocket is not British, except in being built on British soil, and the aim of the man controlling it is to destroy British power, not project it. The implication is that Britain is not only incapable of looking after its own defences, but also pathetically grateful for the favours bestowed on it. After the missile is fired, its trajectory diverted by Bond back to the original target (thereby fortuitously taking out a Soviet submarine carrying the fleeing Drax), the government decides to cover it all up and allow the public to continue believing that the Moonraker is a genuinely British atomic success.

One of the ironies of the Bond phenomenon is that by examining the myths and realities of British hard power, it became a chief instrument of British soft power. Of the first 18 novels to sell over a million copies in Britain, ten were Bond books, and Moonraker (by no means the most successful instalment of the saga) was approaching the two million mark 20 years after publication. The film franchise continues to offer Cannadine’s “comforting, escapist” image of Britain (the two most recent pictures, directed by Sam Mendes, are especially replete with British icons), but the novels are altogether more uncertain about Britain’s role in the world. Moonraker is full of anxiety that the myth of British power is nothing more than a myth, that Britain lacks the industrial and scientific wherewithal to return to greatness. It even conjures up an image of the apocalypse, reminding readers of the precariousness of those cherished British values and institutions, when the love interest, the improbably named Special Branch detective Gala Brand, imagines the terrible consequences of Drax’s plan:

The crowds in the streets. The Palace. The nursemaids in the park. The birds in the trees. The great bloom of flame a mile wide. And then the mushroom cloud. And nothing left. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.

***

Even though their plots ensure that apocalypse is averted, Cold War thrillers thus made their own contribution to forcing us to imagine the unimaginable, as did more mainstream post-apocalyptic novels such as William Golding’s Lord of the Flies (1954), Nevil Shute’s bestseller On the Beach (1957) and The Old Men at the Zoo (1961) by Angus Wilson. In Desmond Cory’s Shockwave, first published in 1963 as Hammerhead and featuring the Spanish-British agent Johnny Fedora (whose debut preceded Bond’s by two years), Madrid is saved from destruction by a nuclear bomb that the Soviet master spy Feramontov almost succeeds in delivering to its target. As he contemplates his objective, Feramontov muses that, in the “bomb-haunted world of the Sixties”, death in a nuclear fireball “might even come as a release, like the snapping of an overtautened string; and after the rains of death had flooded the Earth, those who survived in the sodden ruins might think of him as a benefactor of the race”.

But where the post-apocalyptic dystopias might be viewed as an argument for nuclear disarmament, later Cold War thrillers such as Cory’s usually accepted the fact of mutually assured destruction – and that British peace and prosperity were guaranteed by US nuclear firepower. Nowhere is this more apparent than Frederick Forsyth’s 1984 bestseller, The Fourth Protocol, which turns the Labour Party’s famously unilateralist 1983 election manifesto into a uniquely party-political espionage plot. In it, the general secretary of the Soviet Union conspires with the elderly Kim Philby to smuggle into Britain a small, self-assembly nuclear bomb that a KGB “illegal” will put together and ­detonate at a US air force base in East Anglia.

Unlike in Moonraker and Shockwave, however, the objective is not to provoke hostilities or prompt military capitulation, but to persuade the British public to vote Labour – by provoking horror and outrage at the risks of US nuclear weapons remaining on British soil. However, the new and moderate Labour leader, Neil Kinnock, will have a scant few hours in Downing Street, as a hard-left rival under Soviet control (such as a certain Ken Livingstone, whom Philby describes as “a nondescript, instantly forgettable little fellow with a nasal voice”) will at once usurp Kinnock and reinstate a policy of unilateral disarmament, leading to the removal of the US missiles.

The ideological force of Forsyth’s novel is clear enough: Britain is beset by enemies within and without, and must arm itself morally and politically against communism. But although this is an insistently, even tiresomely patriotic novel, its plot makes no attempt to conceal Britain’s relative military weakness and dependence on the United States, though disaster is averted by the combined brilliance of MI5, MI6 and the SAS. The Fourth Protocol thus becomes an allegory of this country’s world-leading “niche capabilities”, which maintain Britain’s prestige and relevance despite its declining military and economic might.

Today, the political argument remains on much the same terms as at the start of the Cold War. Whichever way you look at it, Trident symbolises Britain. To its supporters, it is symbolic of Britain’s talent for “punching above its weight”, and its responsibility to protect freedom and keep the global peace. To its opponents, it is an emblem of economic folly, militaristic excess, and a misunderstanding of contemporary strategic threats; it is an expression not of British confidence but of a misplaced machismo, a way for Britons to feel good about themselves that fails to address the real threats to the nation. One academic, Nick Ritchie of York University, argues that Britain’s nuclear policy discourse “is underpinned by powerful ideas about masculinity in international politics in which nuclear weapons are associated with ideas of virility, strength, autonomy and rationality”.

In 1945, shortly after Hiroshima became a byword for mass destruction, George ­Orwell predicted in his essay “You and the Atom Bomb” that nuclear weapons would bring about what he was the first to call a “cold war”. Because an atomic bomb “is a rare and costly object as difficult to produce as a battleship”, it could be produced at scale only by countries with vast industrial capacity; this would lead to the emergence of two or three superpowers, confronting each other in a “peace that is no peace”.

Orwell’s point about industrial capacity helps explain why Trident is totemic: it is proof that our industrial might has not entirely vanished. Alternatively, it can be seen as a consolation for industrial decline. This may be why the huge cost of the Successor programme – one of the main arguments wielded by Trident’s opponents against replacement – appears to be a source of pride for the government: the Strategic Defence and Security Review proclaims that, at £31bn, with a further £10bn for contingencies, Successor will be “one of the largest government investment programmes”.

Clearly, size matters today as much as it did when Fleming was writing. But Moonraker again helps us see that all is not what it seems. Just as the Moonraker is a German missile with a Soviet warhead, even if it is being built in Kent, so the missiles carried by the Vanguard-class submarines are, in fact, made in California, Britain having given up missile production in the 1960s. The Trident warheads are made in Berkshire – but by a privatised government agency part-owned by two American firms. Trident may be British, but only in the way Manchester United or a James Bond movie are British.

The Cold War spy thriller presciently suggests that true independence is an illusion. Britain may consume the most destructive weapons yet invented, but it can no longer produce them or deliver them without America’s industrial might. British power is interdependent, not independent: that is the Cold War thriller’s most politically prescient message.

Andrew Glazzard is a senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute and the author of “Conrad’s Popular Fictions: Secret Histories and Sensational Novels” (Palgrave Macmillan)

This article first appeared in the 21 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The English Revolt