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The truth about Labour’s policy on Trident

No Trident Replacement Badge

This is a joint statement by a number of members of Labour’s national policy forum in 2014

The assertion keeps being made by journalists, MPs and Labour Party members that Labour’s policy making process has in recent years cemented a pro-Trident position.  It has not. We should be absolutely clear: during the 2010-2015 parliament, the national policy forum discussed the issue of Trident and it was a major topic at the final policy forum gathering at Milton Keynes in July 2014

An unambiguous and non-negotiable pro-Trident policy would never have got through that forum.  Over 50 amendments from local parties were submitted to a hawkish pro-nuclear draft document and as a result the policy was changed significantly. Crucially, nuclear weapons would be included in a Labour government’s strategic defence and security review.  The previous draft wording indicating Labour would proceed with Trident replacement (i.e. that Labour would ‘ensure the deterrent is delivered in the most cost-effective and strategic way‘) was removed.  A commitment ‘to show leadership in achieving progress on global disarmament‘ was added. The final wording included:

Labour has said [past tense] that we are committed to a minimum, credible independent nuclear deterrent, delivered through a continuous at-sea deterrent. It would require a clear body of evidence for us to change this belief [i.e. the belief could be changed] … the process and debate leading up to the next strategic defence and security review in 2015 needs to be open, inclusive and transparent, examining all capabilities, including nuclear. It must also examine cost implications as well as strategic necessities … To this end [Labour] will have a continuing consultation, inviting submissions from all relevant stakeholders.”

So the national policy forum (NPF) only reached consensus because it agreed without dissent that future nuclear weapons would be subject to a full defence and security review by a 2015 Labour government, with continuing debate including consultation with party members, affiliates and other relevant stakeholders, before proceeding further.  This was endorsed by all stakeholders including Kevan Jones and Vernon Coaker.

Some have also claimed that the 2015 conference, after Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader, endorsed continuing support for Trident. This is untrue.  A national policy forum report was placed before conference noting the contents of the manifesto and discussion in the policy commission before the general election.  Instead the conference decided not to discuss Trident as a priority. 

Labour didn’t win the election and since we don’t have a Labour government the matter, according to thenational policy forum, is subject to continued assessment, and Corbyn is following the 2014 NPF consensus faithfully.

George McManus
Ann Black
Maria Fyfe
Darren Williams
Christine Shawcroft


  1. David Pavett says:

    Very helpful information. Thanks.

  2. Bazza says:

    Yes very helpful.
    We should perhaps frame a policy on Trident by stating that any savings would be used to address things like flood defences, adult social care, poverty and in particular child poverty.
    There are 15,685 nuclear weapons in the World. Russia has 7,500 the US 7,100, France 300, China 250, UK 225, Pakistan 120, India 110, Israel 80 and N.Korea 10. That is 9 out of 187 countries.
    We should perhaps set an example and concerning ours perhaps put 4 choices to conferences:
    (a) Get rid of 100%?
    (b)) Get rid of 80%?
    (c) Get rid of 50%?
    (d) Retain 100%?
    Or something to that effect
    With best wishes & solidarity!

  3. Laurie Rhodes says:

    Conference has traditionally held an important philosophical position for democracy within Labour organisations. It is the supreme decision making body that draws authority from the direct representation of all membership and sectors. In theory, the (traditional) openness of conference represented a safeguard against power cliques using the organisation to promote policies not supported by the party as a whole. However, right around the planet, the post-Thatcher era was marked by a shift in Labour policy making structures away from open debate of conference toward committees that filtered and aligned policy with positions supported parliamentary leadership.

    The National Policy Forum may hold the power of determining what can be forwarded to conference but conference still embodies the philosophical authority of the party as a whole. As such, conference rubber-stamped the compromise for a “commitment to a minimum, credible, independent nuclear capability, delivered through a continuous at-sea deterrent”, albeit with a commitment for an in-depth future review. Once policy has been accepted by conference, any review or change in existing policy must also be also accepted by conference else democratic authority is usurped.

    I feel deeply uneasy that policy positions determined by conference (rubber-stamped or not), can be mooted for dismissal through “continuing consultation” and “relevant stakeholders.” The only consultation that counts is with conference and “relevant” stakeholders remain the membership as a whole. I personally support nuclear disarmament but I recognise that this is a contentious issue for many within the party. My bigger fear is that the erosion of the role of conference for authorising policy is a slippery slope that acts against the principle of open democracy.

  4. Carol Hayton says:

    What you say can’t be correct, Laurie. Delegates were required to vote on the NPF report which recorded what was agreed at the NPF meeting. I was part of the group of NPF reps, some of whom are represented in the joint statement , who signed of the final consensus wording. It was exactly as stated in the report above. This is what was recorded in the NPF report that I saw and is as far as I am aware what was approved at conference . I don’t think we are arguing about the sovereignty of conference, we are arguing about the spin that has been put on what was decided to persuade us that something happened which clearly didn’t.
    The worrying thing about conference decisions is that most constituencies and members don’t ever read read the NPF reports, so they can easily be duped. We really need delegates to engage more actively with policy development. Hopefully under the new regime that will happen.

    1. Laurie Rhodes says:

      Thanks Carol,

      I am grateful for the perspective this article (and your further comments) give.

      My background was with Labour politics in New Zealand – a very long time ago. Labour policy formation used to be brutal exercise with passionate and highly charged debates on all sides but the structures that allowed membership to force through policy were deliberately dismantled when the party was aligned to free-market orthodoxy. My impressions on how policy is formed is tainted by another era.

      I am highly sensitised to the problems or structures that defer policy making to committees. The impression I had was that the Trident statement was a hard fought compromise that resulted from a proper debate on the National Policy Forum. I also believed that the acceptance of the National Policy Forum report must have been accompanied by some form of informed debate at conference. Clearly both assumptions are very wrong.

      What has been happening in British Labour over the past few months is of major importance (and hope) to all of us around the planet. I really do hope that Labour’s activists have the opportunity to reinvigorate policy making structures quickly. The level of ongoing personal attack directed at Jeremy Corbyn’s direction is unparalleled and only increased by not being able to defer to the party for policy direction.

      Again, my sincere thanks for the first-hand knowledge from all contributors to this piece.

  5. Jim Ring says:

    The Case For

    There seem to be three arguments for its replacement:

    That we must maintain an independent nuclear capability to deter others from using nuclear weapons against us.

    That it sends a message to other nations that we are a strong power and therefore to be taken seriously in all types of international negotiations.

    That the retention of a nuclear deterrent is essential to remain a permanent member of the UN Security Council.

    The last two of these amount to the same delusion: that Britain is, and should remain, a great power in the world. This is little more than the fantasy of the “golden-agers”, those who look back to the days of the British Empire. But that was fifty years ago: no-one can seriously compare Britain to the United States, Russia or China.

    The Case Against

    Kate Hudson of CND has stated the main argument against: “Nuclear weapons are indiscriminate in nature and massive in their impact – their use, which would cause millions of deaths, is not only abhorrent but immoral and illegal.”

    However, this does not answer the inevitable question: “What defence do we have from others who may use them against us?”

    The Facts

    The Threat

    Only 4 countries possess, or are likely ever to possess, deployed nuclear weapons capable of immediate use: United States, Russia, United Kingdom and France. Of these, the vast majority (over 90%) are possessed by United States and Russia. It is abundantly clear that Russia is the only state that is ever likely to pose a nuclear threat to the UK.

    Moreover, according to Dr Rebecca Johnson, an internationally-recognized expert on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, with more than 30 years’ experience in the field “None of the 2010 National Security Strategy threat scenarios would be averted by the UK having nuclear weapons, and some could be exacerbated.”

    Also, Professor Michael Clarke of the Royal United Services Institute has remarked that “if you told the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the Treasury should fund 20 hospitals just in case there was a pandemic he would laugh at you. Why should this argument be any more credible when it comes to nuclear weapons?”

    An Independent Deterrent

    Is it really necessary for the UK to possess its own nuclear “deterrent”, independent of the US?

    Having dismissed the fantasy of Britain as a “great power”, needing to assert itself as an equal partner of the United States, and discounted the threat of a pre-emptive strike against Britain alone, there nevertheless remains a possibility of a general conflict between the original “cold war” powers, and the chance that this may escalate to the use of nuclear weapons by one side or the other.

    While the UK remains within NATO it, like all other member states, benefits from the “nuclear umbrella” by which the Unites States guarantees its defence. There is no strategic need, therefore, to hold on to our own “independent deterrent”.


    This leads on to the related question of multilateral disarmament, of which everyone – as far as I am aware – is in agreement.

    Under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons the UK has clear international obligations. The International Court of Justice has declared that “There exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control.” Any replacement of Trident would inevitably go against this obligation.

    Also, Dr Rebecca Johnson is of the opinion that: “A national decision by the UK to scrap and not replace Trident could shift the debate and kick-start a more wide ranging disarmament process.”

    UK Membership of the Security Council

    The fact that the United Kingdom remains a permanent member of the Security Council is now an anomaly, and it – like France – should have long ago lost its status. Some have argued that permanent membership, including the veto, is one of the major impediments to international relations.

    Employment Alternatives

    There remains a serious question about the fate of those workers, in Barrow and elsewhere, should the Trident programme be scrapped altogether.

    Our new leader, Jeremy Corbyn, is committed to ensuring that, “in transitioning away from nuclear weapons, we do so in a way that protects the jobs and skills of those who currently work on Trident and in the defence sector more widely”. In so doing, he wishes “to establish a Defence Diversification Agency to focus on ensuring a just transition for communities whose livelihoods are based in those sectors, so that engineering and scientific skills are not lost, but are transferred into more socially productive industries”.

    It would therefore be reasonable to demand that Labour commits itself to the recommendation of the Nuclear Education Trust, an independent charity promoting information on nuclear weapons that “the Government must provide immediate, sustained and considerable support [including] regeneration funding at the level of £100 million for every 1,000 jobs lost to the local economy.” What is needed in the Furness peninsula is a sub-regional economic strategy, including – for example – better transport links.

    Finally, I would just like to suggest a number of possible and, I believe – if enough thought was applied, credible industrial alternatives to Trident:
    • Extending “Cumbria’s energy coast down to the Furness peninsula. The current high-voltage National Grid line (with a tunnel under Morecambe Bay) through to Heysham, and the current offshore windfarm project by the Danish energy giant Dong Energy are clear examples.
    • Negotiating with European partners such as Dong and Siemens to build wind turbine components locally and supporting long-term investment in wind power and other alternative energy technologies.
    • Converting “swords into ploughshares” by building “mercy ships” or hospital ships at BAe instead of nuclear-armed submarines.

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