A guest post from my friend and comrade, Trudie McGuinness. She is a member of Labour’s National Policy Forum and sits on the International Policy Commission. In 2015, Trudie stood as Labour’s Parliamentary Candidate in Staffordshire Moorlands. Here she gives a flavour of the discussions on the IPC.
You are a leadership-defying Blairite war-monger who is happy to nuke children. Or so it might be claimed if you were one of the 140 Labour MPs who voted on Monday night to renew Britain’s at-sea Trident nuclear deterrent.
The Tories did not need to secure the backing of Parliament to progress fully with the plans that are already underway for the successor nuclear deterrent programme. They did so because they wanted to pick at the scab of the wounded Labour Party. The newspapers dubbed the vote the biggest rebellion against the Labour leader to date. Yet conversely, it could seen as the biggest rebellion of a Labour leader against his party’s policy in nearly one hundred years. The vote was designed to ferment further division. We are vulnerable to attack and the Tories – indeed, all onlookers – know it.
What is also clear to see is that Labour Party members, supporters, MPs, MEPs and councillors are increasingly being judged in binary terms. We ourselves in the Labour Party are some of the harshest accusers. Blairite (nearly always pejorative), Brownite (shades of dull) and Corbynista (depends on your stand point and we only allow two) are the confetti currency of discussions.
In contrast, the reality of life is that it is full of nuance. Nuance sits also at the heart of the nuclear deterrent debate. It is not, as Ken Livingstone when he was Chair of the International Policy Commission declared, a division between the war-mongers and the pacifists. Our unity is in wanting a nuclear-free world. Our debate is in how we get there.
Labour’s NEC gave the International Policy Commission on which I sit the specific focus of reviewing party policy regarding Britain’s defence and security priorities. For the past six months colleagues and I have met and listened to fifteen experts giving insights into international strategic context, nuclear deterrence and Trident renewal and the defence sector and jobs. Their knowledge and experience carried weight. Their words and arguments carried nuance.
We were all seeking answers. We all have own starting point, with our own history and prejudices. My own starting point, as a child of the Cold War, is an abhorrence of nuclear weapons. Colleagues and I were all agreed on that. The idea of one nuclear bomb going off, let alone a full nuclear conflict, reminds us anew of the need to inject pace into securing a nuclear-free world. I was not sure, though, that replacing Trident was compatible with that. Lisa Nandy MP shares this view and reasoned to vote against Trident renewal on the basis that it sets back multi-lateral nuclear disarmament.
But does it? In Policy Commission meetings I have actively sought to challenge my own bias and have asked lots of questions along the way. It was notable that some of the experts, the majority of whose party political views remained unknown, looked deeply uncomfortable at the prospect of Britain failing to secure a replacement for Trident when it finally faces decommissioning. James Nixey from Chatham House and Malcolm Chalmers from the Royal United Services Institute warned of a resurgent Russia seeking to flex its military might. They warned months ago of the danger of Brexit and the impact that this would have on the strength of the EU and, by association, NATO in meeting the strategic challenges that Russia will present, especially now that it has form in Ukraine – a country which forfeited its nuclear deterrent.
Insight into the changing nature of nuclear weapons possession came from RAND Europe’s Paul Cornish. Stockpiles of nuclear weapons amongst known nuclear powers have reduced significantly in the past two decades, yet more states are seeking to acquire them. The risk of the use of a nuclear weapon by a rogue state has grown. The de facto understanding on which nuclear deterrence has worked is that of mutually assured destruction. This same assumption is being applied to rogue states. With rogue elements, this is applied in hope rather than expectation. So whilst there is a high probability that nuclear weapons will deter a potentially aggressive Russia, the same surety cannot be applied to non-states. Nuance emerges.
Whilst some have wavered on renewing our nuclear deterrent either on the basis of jobs lost or overall cost. I will push for a defence industrial strategy and want to see a default policy of using British workers to meet the UK’s defence and security needs. But unless a piece of equipment is needed, there can be no sensible argument for its manufacture just to keep people in jobs. As for overall cost, actual spend must be scrutinised against forecast spend. But since the defence and security of its people is the primary duty of the UK government, then if something is fundamentally needed in order to secure that aim, then it must be supplied. The central question for me was always, Is it needed?
I have come to the view that it is.
I want to see a nuclear-free world. I want us to fast-track efforts to secure multi-lateral nuclear disarmament. I do not, though, believe that scrapping plans for the successor programme will expedite that. I actually believe that right now it would make us more vulnerable to attack.
Not since I was that girl of the Cold War have I felt that our world to be so dangerous. We face terrorism and we must meet it. We face potential conflict from global warming consequences and we must be prepared. We face cyber and technology attacks and we must scramble to stay one step ahead. We face as yet unknown threats and yet we must be ready for them. Our complex world requires complex answers. It needs nuance.