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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