Will Trident split the Labour Party in half?

January 29, 2013 11:10 am

3 submarines, 40 warheads to a sub, 1 million deaths to a warhead. They are the kind of numbers that make for great newspaper columns, as Clive Lewis, writing in the New Statesman, and Polly Toynbee have recently demonstrated. They slot together with beguiling and gruesome simplicity to conjure the apocalypse out of the near future.

Yet the simple maths of destruction makes complex problems for Labour. As the next General Election approaches, Trident will be drawn into the public debate as both the Tories and the Lib Dems rummage  through their trunk of ‘2010 electoral positions that  we had to forget about’ and discover this handy yardstick for measuring their essential difference.

What many fear is that when Labour is implicated in this debate it will be exposed as deeply divided on the issue. 2007 still lingers ghoulishly in the memory, when 95 backbench MPs rebelled against Tony Blair, forcing the then PM to rely on Tory votes to get the Bill for Trident passed. This is why Nick Brown’s recent call for a full debate at the Party Conference has been met with an awkward silence; no one wants to explain the extent of the divisions that such a public airing might expose.

It is for Ed Miliband to pre-empt this potentially uncomfortable conversation by launching a credible Labour position sooner rather than later. Miliband will not give up the UK’s nuclear deterrent. The Tory posture in the next election will be ramrod straight, hair neatly parted, the sober decision makers steeled with Quaker-like resolve. They would love to be able to establish a comparison with the wilting idealists who would dismantle Britain’s nuclear capacity. Ed will back the Trident renewal. But, in so doing, he should seize the opportunity reframe the terms of the debate.

Trident supports 6,700 jobs, many of which are precisely the kind of technical, highly-skilled workers for which Britain normally looks enviously at Germany. Its renewal offers Labour the opportunity to invest up to £20 billion in one of UK’s last areas of industrial excellence: military provision. With a new wave of nuclear power construction expected in the next decade, and signs that the expertise gained in one field would be transferable to the other, Trident can form an integrated part of Labour’s industrial growth strategy. Miliband should repackage the Trident issue on this basis, focussing on the on the jobs created, not the lives terminated.

This will appeal directly to voters, but it will also outmanoeuvre a Tory party that is struggling to talk about the issue whilst gagged by the coalition agreement. Labour can seize the investment angle on this debate as their own and will differentiate themselves from the Conservatives with the emphasis of their support; Labour’s platform is one of level-headed industrial investment, the Tories’ the enthusiasm of the amateur military historian, keen for the latest piece of tech with which to project their hard power.

Trident is controversial issue and it will be a test of Miliband’s statesmanship to see that he can get his party into line. But, come 2015, Trident’s maths of economics may help Labour to reach 326.

  • http://twitter.com/scotsrenewables Scots Renewables

    A recent FOI request to the MoD by CND Scotland resulted in the MoD revealed that just 520 jobs were directly dependent on the Trident fleet based on the Clyde.
    The figure of 6,700 jobs is highly suspect, and includes butchers, bakers and candlestickmakers that will be able to find other customers who are not involved in the WMD business.

  • AlanGiles

    I find it amazing at a time when public spending is being pared back, we grudge paying even the sick and disabled subsistance money, that we hang on to this ineffective and unuseable white elephant comfort blanket.

    But, Mr. Ilott the tone of your article suggests it is just a big game to you. There you go again Labour, meekly plodding along in the Tories footsteps, no stomach or backbone to dare to argue the opposite case. Perhaps you should call it “One Nation Trident”

  • http://twitter.com/carolinejmolloy Caroline Pleb Molloy

    “Miliband should repackage the Trident issue on this basis, focussing on the on the jobs created, not the lives terminated.”

    Even if you accept this amoral position, i suggest that spending money on nurses etc, saving lives rather than terminating them, is a lot more cost effective way of creating jobs (trident costs £3million per job created, on the above figs, and i suspect real position even worse)

  • http://twitter.com/scotsrenewables Scots Renewables

    A recent FOI request to the MoD from CND Scotland asking how many jobs were dependent directly on Trident returned a total of just 520, or less than a tenth of the number claimed in this and similar articles.

  • Redshift1

    Erm, Trident is a capital-intensive programme. If jobs creation was our objective, we would be better building aircraft carriers, aircraft, or even simply employing soldiers (who by the way the Tories are cutting).

    Even better we could spend it not on defence at all and on say wind turbine manufacturing. Would actually be a handy geographical position just near Barrow shipyards. A lot of wind turbines are being planned to go in the Irish Sea – only problem is at present the Germans and Danes are building them for us.

    • AlanGiles

      Well said!

  • http://twitter.com/carolinejmolloy Caroline Pleb Molloy

    it’s all about who has a bigger willy to wave around the UN security chamber really

  • Brumanuensis

    “Trident can form an integrated part of Labour’s industrial growth strategy. Miliband should repackage the Trident issue on this basis, focussing on the on the jobs created, not the lives terminated”.

    Forgive me, but is this not completely morally abhorrent? If nuclear weapons are immoral, using them as a job-creation programme is a bit like using concentration camps to the same effect, which no-one would accept.

  • robertcp

    It would be good if Labour had a mature debate on whether to retain Trident. The debate should be about whether Trident helps to defend the UK and not a job creation programme!

  • Thom Kirkwood

    I find it ironic that the Tories are referred to as sober decision-makers with a Quaker-like resolve, Quakers being on the whole unilateralists who also prize listening to other views and compromise.

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