This afternoon, the House of Commons debates Britain’s nuclear deterrent: Jeremy Corbyn puts the case against the replacement of Trident in the context of austerity.
An incoming Labour government will be faced with massive expectations and demands of jobs for young people, increased health expenditure, huge demands on the benefits budget, student fees, and infrastructure costs.
The housing crisis, which means we’re building fewer than 100,000 new units per year when the number of new families per year is increasing by 200,000, means there will be a shortage of mega proportions of housing for rent, as well as to buy. Councils quite rightly are desperate for finance to build new council homes, rather than forcing tenants into the unaffordable private rented sector.
None of these issues are going to be easily dealt with or addressed but to do so would mean reconfiguration of a lot of government expenditure including returning to the 50p tax rate, perhaps increasing corporation tax, and closing down tax loopholes. But we will also have to look at big spending departments such as defence.
In 2016 under current planning, the House of Commons will be asked to make a decision on Trident maingate. This is the final piece in the jigsaw of replacing both the submarines and the nuclear weapons system, and to do so will cost £100bn over the 25 year “life” of the system.
Already, the coalition government has committed us to the expenditure of £3bn on long lead items for the replacement of the submarines, and preparation for the construction of new nuclear weapons at AWE Aldermaston.
Nuclear weapons are immoral. They are weapons of indiscriminate mass destruction, whose very use can only end the lives of millions of people and descend us into a nuclear war followed by a nuclear winter. The very idea that anyone would contemplate using nuclear weapons is an abomination and I was one of many who was disgusted when previous Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon, said he was prepared to contemplate their use.
The nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty dates back to the 1970s and required the five declared nuclear weapons states (Britain, France, China, Russia and the USA) to not allow proliferation and to take steps towards their own disarmament. In general, the non proliferation part of the treaty, so far as non nuclear weapons states are concerned, has been successful, with the exceptions of Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea. The rest of the world has not only not developed nuclear weapons but in the case of Argentina, South Africa and Ukraine, has not only renounced their use and possession but also any research and development of them. Much of the world is now covered by nuclear weapons free zones including Latin America, Africa, Central Asia, South Pacific and Antarctica. There is a real possibility of getting a nuclear weapons free zone in the Middle East with a planned Finnish hosted conference of all states in the Middle East including Iran and Israel.
For Labour, the choice is clear that we should now be developing a strategy that harnesses the brilliance and skills of those who work on weapons of mass destruction in Britain, to make peaceful products such as green energy and sustainable transport systems. Diplomatically a Labour government could gain enormous moral authority throughout the world by abandoning nuclear weapons, retaining its place at the UN Security Council and showing that our priorities are peace in the world and social justice at home. Are we forever to repeat the catastrophic errors of foreign policy of the Blair era of new Labour.