Thursday, 9 April 2015

The new ban-the-bombists

Credit: Tony French
I am old enough to remember CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) marches, and generally speaking was always a bit wary of ban-the-bombists, particularly because there was a tendency to lump nuclear weapons in with nuclear power - I'm all in favour of a power source with very little impact on climate change - but the thought of nuclear weapons terrified my when I was younger and the threat seemed greater, and they still fill me with horror.

After watching the leaders' debate on Thursday with interest, it struck me that the Labour party was missing out on a serious trick - something emphasised in today's quick defence of the nuclear deterrent after the Conservative attacks on the subject. After all, senior Labour figures have been ban-the-bombists in the past, and I think Labour should seriously consider adding not renewing Trident and scrapping the current 'nuclear deterrent' ASAP. There are several potential benefits:
  • Huge savings - while I'm suspicious of the £100 billion figure, it's certainly a hell of a lot
  • Win over lots of young undecided voters - young people, generally speaking, I suspect would support this move
  • Clearly distinguish Labour in a way that didn’t happen in the debate - it was very much the big three versus the littlies in the debate. A 'get rid of Trident' Labour position would really differentiate them
  • Reduce SNP’s leverage - without the nuclear submarines on the Clyde, the SNP would have less of a stick to wave at Westminster
Of course you might argue that there's a cost to put against my benefits: reducing our security. This morning on the radio, the defence secretary called Trident our most important expenditure, more important it seems than the NHS or the conventional army. But is it really true that losing Trident would put a terrible dent in our security?

The whole concept of deterrence is questionable, but it is only of any value against a rational superpower opposition. If, for instance, ISIS got a nuclear weapon, our weapons have no deterrent effect, as the unhinged are quite happy to sacrifice everything to wipe out those that they believe their religion opposes. The fact is, the threats we face are not the kind where nuclear weapons are any use, and even if Putin started to rampage across Europe, there are others with nuclear triggers to hand. Let's be realists. Germany, the Netherlands, the Scandinavian countries, etc. etc. all get along fine without a nuclear weapon capability. It is perfectly possible to argue that we are clinging onto a past glory that we can no longer afford nor justify.

I sent this suggestion with my bullet points above on Saturday to both Ed Miliband (in the cringe-making 'Ask Ed' feature on the Labour website) and the Labour candidate for my ward, Mark Dempsey. (There didn't seem a lot of point sending them to the Conservatives, who seem more ideologically dependent on nuclear weapons.)  Dempsey's campaign has been largely on local issues, so I thought it would be interesting to see how he responded to a big picture question.

As yet neither has responded, but if they did, I suspect it wouldn't be an enthusiastic one. Apart from anything else, the Conservative intervention today pretty well ensures Labour can't back down. But for the future, maybe this is something they should consider.

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