Scrap Trident replacement!

Submitted by Matthew on 7 October, 2015 - 11:18 Author: Editorial

The government — continuing decisions made by the previous Blair-Brown New Labour government — is already spending hundreds of millions of pounds on a British nuclear weapons system to replace Trident.

The final decision on the system, and the start of construction of submarines to carry the new weapons, is due by late 2016. The first submarine would then be scheduled to enter service in 2028.

The total cost of this programme is understated by the government. It would be huge, £100 billion or more. The same money would build 200 big new hospitals, or employ 150,000 additional nurses indefinitely, or build 1.5 million new homes. It would repair all the recent cuts in the NHS and social housing.

Even if the system could be got cheaply, it should not be got. In the worst periods of the cold war, until 1953, Britain had no nuclear weapons.

Britain has had its own submarine-based nuclear weapon system only since 1968. The Polaris system introduced then ran to 1996; Trident has run from 1994.

The government's aim with the new system is not to stop war, but just to sustain Britain as an influential and weighty ally of the USA.

Even Denis Healey, a long-time and fervent opponent within the Labour Party of unilateral nuclear disarmament, told the BBC after he retired that he would never have "pushed the button" to use nuclear weapons.

He took the same position that Jeremy Corbyn is now attacked for taking. In 2008 a BBC interview challenged Healey about what he would have done when, in the 1960s, he was the person designated to "push the button", or not, if the prime minister, then Harold Wilson, was out of action. What would he do if nuclear war had broken out, Britain was being attacked, and the armed forces chiefs said he must "push the button"?

"I would still have said that... is no reason for doing something like that. Because most of the people you kill would be innocent civilians."

In 2006, Healey said: "I don't think we need nuclear weapons any longer". He supported Gordon Brown as Labour leader, but said that Brown was "wrong on Trident".

The Trident replacement programme is creeping ahead only because no proper debate has been allowed on it. Tory-Labour consensus on the issue means little debate in Parliament, and until this year right-wing control of the Labour Party has meant little debate in Labour.

In 1989, Neil Kinnock managed to bury Labour's nuclear disarmament policy of the 1980s by the device of a "policy review". A labour movement demoralised by ten years of Thatcherism let him get what he wanted.

Then the shutters came down on further debate. Tony Blair allowed one at 1997 Labour Party conference because, buoyed up by his general election victory, he was confident of winning the vote.

In September 2006, the TUC resolved: “Congress calls upon the Government not to replace Trident.”

A few weeks later, Labour Party conference met. The report to it from the National Policy Forum stated: “The question of the replacement for the Trident system is one of central importance... there should be a full debate on the issue.”

That statement that there should be a full debate then became the pretext for denying a debate. Seventeen motions from constituency Labour Parties were ruled out of order, on the grounds that the NPF had already covered the issue.

Trident failed to win the priority vote at this year's Labour Party conference, but it is near-certain it will be debated in the coming months.

The GMB union backs Trident replacement, and the Unite union is equivocal, because they worry about the jobs which could be provided by the replacement project. But there are a hundred good social uses for the heavy engineering equipment and skills which might be used for the replacement.

The labour movement must demand that the decision not to replace it is coupled with a programme for those social uses.

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