Having spent the last wee while in a cave with no internet access (obviously not true) it’s time, I think, to end my blogging silence (note to world media). I’m sitting here writing a Defence and Foreign Policy piece for Sion Simon’s brilliant politics website Labour Uncut but, having read today’s stuff about the Tories and Trident, and watched Labour fail to reply on the issue in any way in recent months, I can’t resist a comment or two here for anyone interested.
Tory Defence Secretary Liam Fox has for some time been engaged in a scrap with Downing Street over the funding of Trident. Historically, the capital costs of Trident have not come from the Defence budget while running costs have. Chancellor George Osborne has made it clear that the capital costs will now come from the Defence budget and that other defence-related things will have to go to pay for it. Like most folk, I agree that the Defence budget needs to take a hit. There’s a Defence Review on at present, although it’s pretty nippety-quick and in truth it’s more about finding savings and cuts than the truly strategic review we need. In any case, that review will flag up specific areas which will need to be cut as a consequence of putting laying the full cost on Trident upon the MoD. So what has Labour said about it so far? Nothing at all. That’s odd, since it’s clear that hardly anyone in Labour supports an unquestioning approach to the replacement of Trident.
Labour’s been silent on the issue because we’re stuck in an early 1980s mindset which assumes that if we question Trident replacement the public will think we’ve gone back to our old ways and can’t be trusted on Defence again. But in what other area of policy do we blindly accept the logic of arguments formulated 30 years ago? It’s ridiculous. Then, most people probably accepted that in the context of the cold-war we needed some kind of nuclear capability. Now that’s long gone, the only argument I ever see touted is the ‘insurance policy’ one. It’s time Labour had the courage to question the need for Trident replacement. We needn’t even prejudge the issue. We can simply convene our own Defence review – one which makes our primary strategic asset part of a properly considered strategic review.
Des Browne, as a former Defence Secretary and Chief Secretary to the Treasury has, hugely significantly I think, become the first very senior Labour politician to argue that we need to look again at Trident (also in Labour Uncut). But do any other senior politicians have the courage to do the same? Well, there is a leadership race on, and after that there are shadow cabinet elections. Labour has a duty to oppose government policy when that’s appropriate. It’s appropriate now and anything less is a dereliction of duty. I hope people who have an interest challenge candidates in the hustings in the coming weeks. At least that’ll be a start.