Nia Griffith MP, the Labour Party’s Shadow Defence Secretary, argues in a new interview published today that Trident replacement is now a ‘settled policy’ for her party.
Speaking to PoliticsHome, she said “it is absolutely part of our policy to keep the deterrent. And that is our settled policy. And that was in our manifesto last year, which was agreed by everybody.”
Is it true that the Labour Party is now united on Trident? Here we set out why it isn’t.
Since 2015, a refreshed activist mentality amongst Labour Party members emerged on Trident and this hasn’t disappeared. Yougov conducted a poll in 2016 which showed that 68% of Labour Party members oppose Trident replacement and CND’s fringe meetings at the 2018 party conference showed huge enthusiasm for our campaign, with hundreds attending. CND continues to receive dozens of reports of Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) passing scrap Trident motions.
The wider leadership of the party appears to recognise what is happening at the grassroots level. We heard in Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry’s speech at Labour Party conference that “Labour is committed to a nuclear-free world.”
Our sense from speaking to Labour Party MPs over many years is that most are not ideologically committed to Trident, but vote to reflect existing Labour Party policy. Many MPs are on record as having changed their mind, with notable examples including David Lammy MP and Keith Vaz MP.
A key plank of winning change in Labour Party policy on Trident is defence diversification. This is how party activists have been reaching out to the unions presently in favour of replacement. It’s important to note that many unions oppose Trident already and this is also the position of the top union umbrella, the Trades Union Congress.
Last year we saw the TUC pass a motion calling for a shadow Defence Diversification Agency to be established. This has already been picked up by sections of the Labour Party, with Labour’s Shadow Minister for Peace and Disarmament Fabian Hamilton MP working on a ‘peace doctrine’ which includes a defence diversification plan.
Just last week we saw the North West Labour conference pass a defence diversification motion and we are expecting to see similar moves elsewhere now that this is being debated within the party.
There are also political challenges ahead that may force Labour to reconsider its present policy.
A Public Accounts Committee report released in September revealed serious Trident infrastructure problems, including huge delays and overspending.
With the cost of replacing Trident escalating, maintaining Britain’s nuclear weapons system could soon become as intractable as the challenges of Brexit. The £205 billion figure we reported in 2016 as the full cost of a new nuclear weapons system over its lifetime, might even be a conservative estimate.
Parliament will need to make further decisions on Britain’s nuclear weapons very soon. Take the warhead replacement programme. A decision still needs to be made on whether Britain will refurbish or develop new ones. Even refurbishing them is set to cost £4 billion and new ones are likely to be billions more. As a potential Labour government grapples to leave austerity behind, public opinion could harden against Trident and the Labour Party membership might galvanise into a political force that cannot be ignored.
The Labour Party will also need to decide how it will respond to the United Nations’ global nuclear ban treaty, set to be ratified next year. Fabian Hamilton MP is arguing that Labour should sign, and this position would have consequences for our own nuclear weapons system.
It’s very hard to conclude from all of these points that Trident is now ‘settled policy’. It looks like a very bumpy ride ahead and CND will continue to make the case against nuclear weapons as each new announcement makes the replacement programme less viable.