Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Backing Trident renewal

It was fantastic to read Luke Akehurst’s argument in favour of Trident last week. Unfortunately the case for a British nuclear deterrent is usually made from the right, while progressive voices are often drowned out by the left’s more vocal unilateralists.

I agree with almost all of the points that Luke made. I agree that we should protect the thousands of highly skilled engineering jobs that depend upon the programme. I agree that the continuous at-sea deterrent allows us to punch above our weight diplomatically. And I agree that in a rapidly changing world it is important to have a credible deterrent when states that do not share our values have nuclear capabilities.

Where I disagree is that I believe that senior Labour figures should be making these arguments.

Should we come to power in 2015 the decision on whether to renew Trident, one Luke rightly points out is the most profound any government can make, will already have been delayed for political reasons at huge expense to the taxpayer. We should be ready to take this crucial decision on day one of a Labour government.

We should be proud of Labour’s record on the nuclear deterrent in government, which has undoubtedly contributed to our national security since the second world war. Research into creating a nuclear weapon began under the wartime coalition, but it was Clement Attlee’s postwar government that decided to pursue the project.

While there was some scepticism from Labour ministers about the cost, it was an intervention from Ernest Bevin, who insisted we needed a nuclear weapon with ‘a bloody Union Jack on it’, that swayed the final decision, ensuring Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent.

Since then, Labour has been fairly consistent in our support for the nuclear deterrent. It is a shame that voters’ scepticism of our commitment to the deterrent stems from brief periods where the party leadership has advocated unilateralism in opposition. Some of our most inspiring figures, like Hugh Gaitskell, have been passionate supporters. Even Aneurin Bevan converted to the cause, arguing against sending a British foreign secretary ‘naked into the conference chamber’, at the 1957 Labour party conference.

Labour has an important reason to support Trident. Inner cities, where the majority of Labour’s supporters live, gain the greatest protection from a credible nuclear deterrent. Witney is unlikely to be targeted by a nuclear strike, but this is more likely in highly populated urban and industrial constituencies, many of which are represented by Labour.

Luke is right to point out that credibility on national defence is just as important as credibility on public spending for a party hoping to form a government. So our leaders should clearly and unambiguously state that Labour will take the decision to renew Trident should we come to power in 2015.


Rowan Ree works for a Labour member of parliament


Photo: CPOA(Phot) Tam McDonald

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Rowan Ree


  • Labour rightwinger backs another Labour rightwinger shocka. Read all about it.
    It’s a fairly specious argument to say that ditching all or part of our nuclear weapon capacity threatens engineering jobs. No doubt the same argument(s) were made on behalf of bear breeders or research chemists when we gave up on bear-baiting and chemical and biological weapons.
    The right of the party, often beseeching leftwingers such as myself to adapt to the new reality seem pathetically stuck in cold war rhetoric and the need for ‘our own independent* nuclear deterrent’. We do have a greater need for a wide variety of other things other than nuclear toys to shore up our flagging relationship with our transatlantic cousins.
    *so long as the US approves it

  • ……really sounds like Keynesian hole digging. If we are going to dig some holes let dig ones which ADD to capability to build for people rather than destruction

  • If we want to stay a nuclear armed country just a few cruise missiles which could be fired from a vehicle, warship or an aircraft would be sufficient. Spending billions on a few submarines that will never fight a battle is a waste of resources in these austere times.

    I am sure the leaders of the armed services would rather they had more personnel and better and more equipment to deal what they are actually coping with rather than a status symbol.

  • do we mean right-wingers such as er..Michael Portillo who made it very clear on last Thursday’s This Week that Trident should not be renewed. As an personally undecided, he was very convincing when he states that none of our “enemies” would now be deterred by a nuclear weapon and in fact terrorist groups would like nothing better. We could have a deterrent but could only fire it with America’s agreement. The diplomatic argument was definitely true in the past but no longer applies. This therefore means that the only argument remaining is the country’s ego and whether we want to pay billions just to delude ourselves that we remain a world superpower.

  • I find it genuinely shocking that Progress should publish an article which implies that one of the driving forces behind Labour’s defence policy should be the aim of protecting Labour-voting British civilians in the event of war ahead of Tory-voting civilians.

    There can be no other reasonable meaning behind the claim:
    “Labour has an import [sic] reason to support Trident. Inner cities, where the majority of Labour’s supporters live, gain the greatest protection from a credible nuclear deterrent. Witney is unlikely to be targeted by a nuclear strike.”

    This is ethically and politically monstrous – the same kind of thinking that marked out certain groups to be battlefield ‘cannon fodder’ or placed dangerous industrial plants in ‘unpopular’ areas of authoritarian states.

    There are a number of legitimate arguments in favour of Trident – but this shows the disgusting thinking of some of those seeking to defend weapons of mass destruction. Labour should have nothing to do with such arguments.

  • The Russians have already agreed to disarmament and this is what we need. To disarm the world as quickly as possible.

  • Goodbye Labour Party and my vote if they decide to renew this genocidal and suicidal weapon. The vast majority of countries do not have them. If we need them, so do they is the logic of the argument. Is it being suggested we should tear up the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty? Only one country has used nuclear weapons on a country that was already defeated (Japan) in reality against another country (USSR).

  • “Labour has an important reason to support Trident. Inner cities, where the majority of Labour’s supporters live, gain the greatest protection from a credible nuclear deterrent. Witney is unlikely to be targeted by a nuclear strike, but this is more likely in highly populated urban and industrial constituencies, many of which are represented by Labour”.

    Is this some sort of sick joke? Apart from anything, it demonstrates a jaw-dropping lack of knowledge of how nuclear weapons work.

    I’m not convinced by the engineering jobs argument. Aside from being somewhat morally tone-deaf, it ignores the fact that these skills are transferable to non-ballistic missile carrying submersibles, which means that if the government continues to produce conventional armaments-bearing submarines, the scrapping of Trident would not automatically lead to the closure of Barrow ship-yard.

    On the diplomatic front, I think the UK’s diplomatic prominence comes from a combination of history and relative economic strength. We are the world’s seventh largest economy after all, in spite of the government’s best efforts. Germany has remarkable diplomatic clout within Europe and without, as a prominent member of the G8 and other organisations. It does this without nuclear weaponry. Furthermore, from a strategic point of view, I doubt the Russians or the Chinese are particularly worried about the minuscule British nuclear deterrent.

    None of the pro-nuclear weapons voices have actually bothered to deal with the question of whether the UK’s deterrent would actually work. If we come to the point where we are seriously considering a nuclear exchange with another nuclear-armed country, I think the satisfaction of knowing we’d fired off our missiles would be no great consolation as most of urban Britain was vaporised. At the same time, if such a scenario developed, two nations desperate enough to consider firing nuclear missiles at one another can hardly be expected to be subject to rational behavioural constraints.

  • Trident may be good for jobs – though they would come at a massive price – but it has no military value at all. The sort of body that might actually use a nuclear weapon will not be deterred by the prospect of a nuclear response, in fact they would welcome it. Miliband should definitely confirm Labour’s support for replacing trident – unless he wants to become PM of course, in which case….. what sense is the Labour party on the ‘left’? Has something radical happened since Blair and Brown made the very poorest people in Britain a little bit poorer yet?

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