Amid the ongoing turmoil in British politics, there seems to be one constant: Labour’s inability to grasp conclusively a hold of the Trident question.
Today members of parliament are being asked to vote on renewing our nuclear deterrent. Among the myriad arguments and counter-arguments is the hard reality that, for Labour, Trident has always been a thorny issue despite it being our party, under one of our most revered leaders, Clement Attlee, who made the decision to build the bomb.
The debate we have had within our party has been divided along the lines of either against nuclear weapons, or for nuclear weapons. But more than anything it is important to highlight that not a single person in our party wants or is for nuclear weapons. We unfortunately live in a world of nuclear weapons and we have to adapt to those circumstances. Rather than arguing on the principles and morality of nuclear weapons, we need to be arguing on how we approach our defence policy in world that already has nuclear weapons.
Labour’s past may be mixed, but our attitude to nuclear weapons has always been to reduce them. It was the last Labour government that committed us to global zero goal of eliminating nuclear weapons and it was the last government who reduced our warhead stockpile to a bare minimum.
Through multilateral agreements, it is not only the United Kingdom which has reduced its nuclear stockpile substantially, but nuclear warheads around the world have reduced substantially since the end of the cold war. In contrast, there is no evidence that giving up our nuclear deterrent –a unilateralist approach – would cause major powers to follow suit or prevent states that are trying to acquire nuclear capacity from doing so. But rather this approach would just leave us without a say at the table and in a world that still has nuclear weapons.
The world we live in is unstable and unpredictable. Following the end of the cold war we could not have predicted the threats Russia again poses to us; we never could have predicted rogue states or the rise of Daesh. This decision is not just for us, but for generations to come. We have just left the European Union, and the outrage that the youth felt towards the older generations who have affected our futures is undeniable. Nobody can confidently predict the kind of threats we will face 30, 40, or 50 years from now and we should not just be making a judgement on moral imperatives or how we feel towards something, but rather we must look outwards and to the future and be prepared for the generations ahead.
Of course, we never intend to use our nuclear weapons – that is the point, they are a deterrent. They deter states from giving nuclear weapons to terrorists, to pointing nuclear weapons at us or from even attacking us, and the very fact is the only time when a nuclear bomb has been used, is when only one side had them. That there is not an abstract or random event, but the very proof that multilateralism and deterrence do work.
Voting against the renewal will not stop it. Just as the vote to leave the EU did not stop globalisation, the reality is far different from the arena in which we are having this debate.
Leave aside the arguments about multilateralism, there are over 25,000 jobs at stake, jobs that will simply be lost overnight because we have no defence diversification plan in place, nowhere for these people to go. The myth of reskilling is one that was sold to mining communities by the Thatcher government of the 1980s and it is one we hear again now. Our party should support the workers who produce this boats and stand with them while working for a nuclear-free world in the long term.
Trident is just one part of a policy area Labour has always found it difficult to feel comfortable with, namely, defence. I hope that by supporting the renewal of Trident we can move on from this question and begin to apply ourselves to reconciling progressive values with a strong defence, if not for our own good, then for the security of the UK.
Progressive centre-ground Labour politics does not come for free.
Our work depends on you.