I’m reading the epic The Command of the Ocean: A naval history of Britain, 1649-1815, by NAM Rodger. Its sweep of naval, administrative and social history, and the ways in which the growth and transformation of the Navy permeated so much of the development of Britain as a whole, makes for compelling reading.
It can be dangerous to draw too direct a parallel between events 350 years ago and today, but I read the following with a real sense of recognition:
The Rump Parliament consistently refused to face up to the real cost of naval warfare. A 1654 report by the Revenue Sub-Committee insisted that the annual cost of the Navy ‘at the greatest rate’ amounted to £269,750; in reality it cost nearly three millions in the thirty months of the Dutch War. Bu the end of 1654, the Navy owed at least £600,000.
This might have been thought a bad beginning for another war, but so convinced were Cromwell and his Parliament that a Spanish war must be profitable that they actually reduced taxes in 1655… The political chaos of 1659 completed the ruin of the Navy’s finances. In January 1660 the government was essentially bankrupt, and the Navy needed £2,157,883 to pay off its debts and fit out a Summer Guard.
Sound like any government you know?