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.

Latest

  • Comment Reaching new communities

    Reaching new communities

    This article is from Our Labour, Our Communities – a pamphlet of 10 essays by Labour PPCs, published by LabourList in partnership with Lisa Nandy MP. I am proud to be standing as the candidate for my hometown of Hastings & Rye, but I am equally proud to stand as a parliamentary candidate who is also half Chinese and half British. My mother is Chinese Malaysian and came to this country 41 years ago to be a nurse in Hastings and continues to […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Labour could lose out by not making it’s stance on Trident clear

    Labour could lose out by not making it’s stance on Trident clear

    Cutting Trident will be the price of support in a hung parliament. That’s the news reported from a meeting of the SNP, Plaid Cymru and Green leaders this week. With Labour’s slim lead and the SNP and Green vote threatening to impact on its share, this is a serious issue. Labour’s policy clearly states, ‘Labour has said that we are committed to a minimum, credible independent nuclear deterrent, delivered through a Continuous At-Sea Deterrent. It would require a clear body […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Featured Is Cameron “frit” of TV debates? Let’s try the empty chair threat

    Is Cameron “frit” of TV debates? Let’s try the empty chair threat

    Lord Ashcroft has told him he shouldn’t have done it in 2010. Lynton Crosby has told him not to do it in 2015. It’s no surprise that David Cameron is trying to wriggle out of televised leader debates during the General Election – even though he has said he is willing to take part “in principle”. Time perhaps to dust off one of Margaret Thatcher’s favourite barbs “He’s frit.” Neil Kinnock tried it in 1992 to try to goad John Major into […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Flexibility makes for good work, strong families and thriving communities

    Flexibility makes for good work, strong families and thriving communities

    By Stephen Timms MP and Ian Murray MP The Christmas period reminds us that modern life can be busy, hurried and demanding. The pressures of work, demands of family life and hectic Christmas schedules can prove stretching as we juggle competing demands. Increasingly the need for flexible work is driven by the complex shape of people’s lives; as parents go to work, struggle to make ends meet, perform career roles, take their children to school and activities and try and carve […]

    Read more →
  • News Labour MP questions campaigning roles of publicly funded advisers

    Labour MP questions campaigning roles of publicly funded advisers

    As the start of the long campaign begins today, curbing the amount of money parties can spend between now and May 7th, Labour MP Jon Ashworth has sought to clarify what precautions are being taken to ensure publicly-funded government advisers are not using their time campaigning. Ashworth has sent a letter to senior civil servant Jeremy Heywood, asking him to answer a number of questions about what kind of campaigning activity was permitted and undertaken by special advisers (SpAds) in […]

    Read more →