In the first place, there is a serious question as to whether it’s actually true. It’s one of those things that can never be known until it’s tested; so I can no more be certain that it isn’t true than he can be certain that it is. I do seem to recall, however, that there is some empirical evidence to the contrary, albeit a long time ago. I’m sure that the Labour Government elected in 1964 had a manifesto pledge to scrap Trident – it was one of the things that excited me at the time about the possibility of a Labour Government.
(They didn’t actually implement the promise of course. But whether any government would ever implement such a promise is a rather different question from the one which Kinnock has raised.)
Secondly, even supposing that it were true, what does it really tells us? At best it would tell us that if leaders of all the three major parties reiterate consistently and in unison for fifty years (with one brief, minor – albeit welcome – aberration under Michael Foot) that possession of nuclear weapons is essential, and manage to convince the electorate that it's true, then it’s unlikely that the public will change its opinion overnight. That wouldn’t be an unreasonable conclusion to draw, but it’s a long way short of what he said. Which came first - public opinion or the insistence of politicians?
There’s a fundamental logic flaw in the conclusion that he did draw, namely that no party can ever propose scrapping nuclear weapons because of the climate of opinion which politicians like himself have done so much to normalise. It amounts to little more than saying that after telling people one thing for fifty years, you can’t simply tell them that it wasn’t actually true, and must continue to peddle the same line indefinitely, because you can only be elected by telling the same old lie.
And thirdly, he didn’t even mention the question of whether the UK needs or should have nuclear weapons at all. It’s as if that is entirely a secondary question to the Labour Party’s need to win elections. Still, I suppose that saying we must build new nuclear weapons so that Labour can win the election is at least a bit more honest than the Labour Party’s official position, which is, if I understand it correctly:
1. Nuclear weapons are bad
2. No country which doesn’t currently possess them must be allowed to develop them
3. Those countries which do possess them must negotiate to get rid of them
4. The UK needs to spend £100billion on new nuclear weapons so that it has something which it can negotiate to get rid of
Trident renewal is thus either a £100 billion fling to get Labour elected, or else it’s a very expensive bargaining chip. Or maybe both. It’s a depressing lack of leadership and vision, an inability to imagine that politicians might have any responsibility to lead rather than follow. And the issue is a classic example of what went wrong for Labour as a would-be party of peace, progress and justice.