Cutting Trident ‘essential to credibility’

Labour CND’s ‘Cutting Trident’ meeting in Parliament on 4th December saw the overwhelming case made for Labour to pledge its opposition to replacing the Trident nuclear weapon system at the next General Election and urged the party to open up to the debate in the coming months.

Addressing the meeting first was Nick Brown, former Chief Whip to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, said, ‘Labour can’t sit back and watch Coalition disagree on Trident – we need our own debate and clear position’. He argued that rather than waiting for reviews by other parties, Labour needs to debate Trident as soon as possible, including at the conference in 2013, then get out and explain it on the doors. He made clear his long-standing concerns about Trident had become outright opposition in the changed circumstances from when it was first commissioned.

His key argument against replacement were the changed security circumstances, when Trident was conceived as a weapon to ‘flatten Moscow’ whereas the latest National Security Strategy made clear that the likelihood of state-on-state conflict was low and decreasing. But the economic circumstances compound the security case against Trident, and in particular the cuts to education that threaten the futures of young people today, should be reversed by transferring the funds allocated to Trident to lowering university fees.

Clive Lewis, Labour’s candidate seeking to retake Charles Clarke’s old seat of Norwich South from the Lib Dems, spoke next and drew on his experience serving with the Territorial Army in Afghanistan in emphasising the security case against Trident replacement. In particular he said there was a strong military case with ‘conventional forces being hollowed out’ and listed the growing number of former senior officers who have condemned the allocation of funds to the submarine programme while conventional equipment ages. In his words, he said ‘I’d rather have more Chinooks than Trident’.

Katy Clark MP arrived fresh from voting against the Public Sector Pensions Bill and attacked the Tories for their public sector spending and welfare cuts while maintaining projects like Trident. She said the Labour Party needed to decide how it deals with Trident replacement in light of the attacks on living standards for ordinary voters and that, in that context, scrapping nuclear weapons would not be an electoral problem for the party. Addressing also the issue of Scottish independence, she said many in the Scottish Labour Party wanted to see Trident scrapped altogether, not just moved south, which was the risk of a yes vote in the Scottish separation referendum.

‘If Ed Miliband can be brave taking on Murdoch, he can be with Trident as well’, was National Policy Forum member Lucy Anderson’s view. On the party’s policy-making process, she said Labour should be talking to both the unions and employers about regional industrial strategies and the prospects for defence diversification. She said it was vital for Labour members to engage with the policy process, contributing directly to the Your Britain website – submitting proposals, voting on others and making comments – but also directly contacting NPF and NEC representatives.

There was wide agreement that the party should urgently debate Trident this year – a number of activists expressed doubt that the party would have such a debate at the conference before an election – so a conference debate and vote in September 2013 is vital. Nick Brown appealed to trade unions to use their influence to facilitate that debate at the conference.

And in rounding up, Walter Wolfgang from the floor said ‘the country is fed up with the Tories but not yet convinced Labour has a progressive alternative’ and that ‘cutting Trident is essential to Labour’s credibility drive ahead of the next election’.



Trident drains money from public services

In an article on LabourList, the Shadow Defence Minister Kevan Jones has adopted the mantra of ‘too far and too fast’ in relation to recently announced cuts to the Army.  He concluded his attack on government spending decisions by stating “recent decisions made by the Government will shape our ability to meet future strategic threats for years and years to come. But they have been made on the basis of making short-term savings over the next 12 to 18 months”.

Yet not all recent decisions within the Ministry of Defence have been made with on the basis of short-term savings.  Indeed, another Shadow Defence Minister wrote a piece on LabourList just a few weeks earlier, endorsing the government’s confirmation of £1 billion expenditure on Trident Replacement. And we already know that the Coalition plans to spend £4 billion on Trident replacement design before the decision on whether or not to replace it is taken in 2016 – and while Lib Dems research alternatives to a like-for-like replacement.

The two articles stand alone but looked at together there is a lack of joined up thinking in the defence team. The Treasury has decided the procurement costs of Trident replacement must come out of the Ministry of Defence’s budget, yet Trident was specifically excluded from the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), which directly led to the recently announced defence cuts.

Kevan Jones linked to Labour MP Dan Jarvis’s piece in The Guardian last week where he wrote “Does any sensible, independent military thinker believe this decision is based upon strategy? No, the only strategy is to pay down the deficit at all costs.”  Not quite at all costs though; the government is spending billions on Trident and its replacement despite huge cuts elsewhere in government including in the Ministry of Defence.

So what is Labour’s policy?  Well, at the most recent meeting of the National Policy Forum the differences of opinion in the party on Trident were acknowledged and there are signs of a more inclusive discussion.

Meanwhile Ed Balls has stated that the next Labour Government will have difficult spending choices to make and he has expressed the view that it cannot or will not reverse all of the cuts.  In that context, endorsing billions more for Trident while blogging the following week that the Government’s defence policy is only focused on short term cuts makes Labour’s defence team incoherent, not to mention inconsistent with Ed Ball’s cautious approach to public expenditure under a future Labour government.

What would be coherent is to implement the position of Ed Miliband during Labour’s leadership election – that Labour “should look at the totality of our conventional and nuclear capabilities, considering both our defence needs and what our priorities are in the changing economic climate.”  Labour’s defence team has failed to look at conventional and nuclear capabilities in totality.  They should – and correctly conclude that Trident is draining money away from other areas of government expenditure, whether in the Ministry of Defence or other vital public services.


By Daniel Blaney