Labour Should be Opposing Trident. Instead it’s Playing Politics
Kate Hudson: We can't stand by while the government spends hundreds of billions on nuclear weapons
What is going on with Labour? Shadow defence secretary Clive Lewis said in his conference speech: “I’m sceptical about Trident renewal, but …”
The first part of his sentence was greeted with enormous applause, but his big “but” was met with shock and confusion as he explained that Labour has a policy for Trident renewal.
Lewis went on to say that Labour will step up its support for multilateral disarmament – a position that shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry had also made earlier that day. But what use is that if they simultaneously go along with spending £205bn on a new nuclear weapons system? Lewis says they will make Labour’s longstanding multilateralism reality, not rhetoric. But that means nothing if they support the Tory government as it goes ahead with building a new nuclear weapons system.
Because that is exactly what this means. Labour will not oppose Trident replacement. All those billions that could be spent on the NHS, on jobs, homes, education, will be spent on building weapons of mass destruction. And Labour will stand by and let it happen.
All the expert opinion – that Trident does nothing to meet our security threats, such as terrorism and climate change; that it makes us a target and is militarily useless; that it takes money from troops, planes and ships; that it will be vulnerable to cyber attack and rendered redundant by underwater drone technology – all this is being ignored.
And why? Not because there has been a careful assessment of Britain’s 21st-century security needs that has come to that conclusion. On the contrary, Labour has actually undertaken an extensive defence review over the past year, with massive democratic participation, which has not yet reported.
This U-turn was a surprise precisely because the review was apparently set to one side because of the leadership contest and there was every expectation that it would be readdressed post-conference. It now seems that it won’t see the light of day, presumably because it doesn’t fit whatever agenda is now driving policy. What’s more, Labour party conference has not debated Trident for 20 years. Surely Labour needs to debate a 21st-century policy, not be subjected to the reassertion of an antiquated position backing a cold war system.
It seems that the decision has been driven not by our national interest but by tactical political considerations. Lewis says Theresa May uses Trident as a political weapon against Labour, and they shouldn’t make themselves an easy target. So now Labour decides its policies on the basis of what the Tory prime minister wants. She wants Labour support for Trident replacement, and Lewis has handed it to her on a plate.
The tired old story on the pro-Trident side was always that the Tories would say Labour was soft on defence if it moved to ditch Trident. But that is not a sufficient reason to spend £205bn on weapons of mass destruction. The truth is that defence needs have moved on, and to stick unquestioningly with a system designed in the 1980s is sheer irresponsibility. The Corbyn leadership has the opportunity to reshape defence policy, breaking with 20th-century totems and meeting our actual needs. It is profoundly disappointing if it lacks the courage and vision now to do so.
Corbyn has just been re-elected as leader with an increased majority, with opposition to Trident at the heart of his politics. The majority of the party’s membership opposes Trident, and there is enormous support for nuclear disarmament among the public at large. Corbyn’s mandate for policy change is stronger than ever, but even so there are clearly voices within his party that seek to obstruct the democratic policy process and shelve the issue.
Whether they genuinely think that Labour can’t win without dropping supposedly “contentious” issues is a moot point. But the reality is Labour will never fit itself for government in a complex and rapidly changing world if it avoids rational and up-to-the-minute debate on matters of such major national significance.
Source: The Guardian