Russell Whiting, Walthamstow CLP and member of the Labour CND Executive, looks ahead to decision-time on Labour's nuclear policy
AT SOME POINT IN THE NEXT TWELVE MONTHS, MPs will be asked to vote on replacing the Trident nuclear weapons system. David Cameron is committed to going ahead with the new generation of weapons of mass destruction, despite the spiralling cost, now estimated to be in excess of £180 billion over 30 years.
When Tony Blair called a vote in Parliament on Trident replacement in 2007, the cost of the four submarines was estimated at £20bn. Since that time, the cost has increased to more than £40bn at a time when the country continues to suffer the Tories’ failed austerity programme.
Trident is a waste of money of unimaginable proportions. It does nothing to tackle the real security concerns faced by the country in the 21st century. Terrorism, climate change and cyber security are top ranking threats, even by the government’s own admission. Just imagine for one second the consequences if a warhead were to fired. Millions of people would be killed and the environmental impact would be nothing short of cataclysmic.
Ahead of the vote in Parliament, CND has called a major demonstration in London at the end of February. The Stop Trident demo is likely to be the largest mobilisation against nuclear weapons for a generation, and has support from across civil society. It is an opportunity to show that the rank and file membership of the Labour Party stands with Jeremy Corbyn and against Britain spending billions on weapons of mass destruction.
Opposition to Trident was a central theme in Jeremy’s leadership campaign. While his anti-austerity policies have been embraced, Trident continues to divide the Parliamentary Labour Party despite widespread support among the membership. Jeremy reaffirmed his commitment to opposing nuclear weapons when, last year, he took the position of Vice-President of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.
The voices against Trident at the top of the Labour Party continue to grow. Alongside Corbyn, there are now six members of the Shadow Cabinet opposed, including the new Shadow Defence Secretary Emily Thornberry and many of the MPs newly elected in 2016. Constituency Labour Parties around the country are discussing the issue and reaching the conclusion that there is no military, moral or economic case for replacing Trident.
The Labour Party has long been split on the issue of nuclear weapons. Harold Wilson was elected with a manifesto commitment to abandon Polaris, the predecessor system to Trident, before backing down. The 1987 General Election was the last fought with a manifesto commitment to ditch nuclear weapons.
The trade union movement is also backing a move away from nuclear weapons. Ten unions including Unison, PCS and FBU are affiliated to CND nationally and Unite backed an anti-Trident motion at Scottish Labour Conference last year. There are legitimate concerns about the workforce, but Jeremy has published plans for a Defence Diversification Agency to ensure that the high-skilled manufacturing and engineering job are retained. This is supported by the TUC, which passed a motion in 2013 stating “Money saved by ending our nuclear weapons system could be used to sustain the processes of defence diversification, vital to our manufacturing future.”
Labour is currently undertaking a defence policy review, co-chaired by Emily Thornberry and Ken Livingstone, in an attempt to resolve the Trident issue. Those of us who wish to see Labour take a position against nuclear weapons must ensure that our voices are heard, through our CLPs, our trade unions and by contacting members of the National Policy Forum.
While the final details of the review have yet to be published, it looks as if Conference in Liverpool in September will see a showdown at which the future of party policy will be decided. That’s why it is vital that CLPs continue to debate Trident and ensure conference delegates express the view of members in the conference hall.
It is important that the Labour Party bloc on the CND demo in February sends a clear message to the PLP and also to those trade unions who continue to support Trident. Under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour will push for Britain to take the moral lead in bringing about a nuclear-free world - while ensuring that genuine security concerns are addressed.
is a member of Walthamstow CLP