Questioning Trident has been a big taboo in Labour Party policy circles for a couple of decades or so. Every other commitment seems to have been reviewed except the ‘need’ for a nuclear ‘deterrent’. The reluctance to question this particular piece of weaponry was beginning to seem irrational. So it’s good to see from Jon Lansman’s recent article that a small glimmer of reason has emerged, via the National Policy Forum Report.
It’s clearly time to pay tribute to those Labour Party members who have been fighting to get the issue of Britain’s possession of nuclear weapons onto the Labour Party policy agenda. The mention in the Report may be small and inadequate, as Jon points out, but it’s there. In fact it’s really a recognition that members had complained there wasn’t a discussion. But that recognition, coupled with Ed Miliband’s stated view – in the leadership race and subsequently – that Trident should be reviewed, must mean that discussion will eventually open up.
But there is quite a long way to go.
For years now, Labour has competed with the Conservatives to be strongest on defence. It’s as if asking legitimate questions about Britain’s defence needs will be interpreted as waving a white flag, or putting one’s self in line for a white feather. It was disheartening, to say the least, when Labour criticised the Tories for delaying a decision on the replacement of Trident until 2016. When the government’s own National Security Strategy had actually downgraded state-on-state nuclear attack to a low-likelihood threat, this seemed like a sensible decision to take, particularly when the cost of Trident replacement – over £100 billion – has such devastating opportunity costs.
As security threats have changed, so politicians and policy makers must surely reassess, on a continual basis, what our security requirements are. So let’s have reassessment and fresh thinking from Labour.
But why should Labour have its process defined by the Liberal Democrats? That was the unfortunate conclusion one was forced to draw from the National Policy Forum statement, which notes that a follow-up meeting on Trident will take place ‘after Alternative Trident Review has reported’. This is a reference to the Trident Alternatives Review, a concession to the Lib Dems in the coalition agreement, allowing them to make the case for nuclear alternatives to Trident.
Surely Labour can have its own discussion on nuclear weapons – including whether or not to opt for nuclear disarmament? Why should it be constrained by a Lib Dem Conference decision only to consider nuclear alternatives? Come on Labour, really!
That new thinking is needed is strongly underlined by the quote from Jim Murphy in the Policy Forum Report:
The Shadow Defence Secretary reiterated Labour’s manifesto commitment to the minimum possible independent deterrent while fighting for multilateral disarmament, working for a world free of nuclear weapons.”
What a bundle of contradictions. If we are working for a world free of nuclear weapons, let’s start by at least considering the option of getting rid of our own.