One of the key policy differences between the leader of the Labour Party and the man seeking to depose him is the issue of nuclear weapons, and specifically the replacement of Trident. Whilst there seem to be some in the Labour Party for whom the main justification for keeping Trident is that it provides jobs (making it the most expensive job creation scheme ever), the position of Owen Smith seems to be that he actually wants to get rid of nuclear weapons completely, but believes that the only way to do that is through bargaining with other nuclear weapons states, and to get a seat at the table, the UK needs to spend a vast sum of money renewing its current systems.
Whet they have not explained to date, as far as I can see, is why the UK so desperately needs to have a seat at that particular table in the first place. If we didn’t currently possess such weapons, would anyone – in the Labour Party or elsewhere – seriously suggest that we needed to develop them simply in order to take part in the negotiations to get rid of them? Of course not – the idea is a silly one.
But if that looks like nonsense, stop and consider another aspect of the question for a moment. Does possession of such weapons actually guarantee a seat at the table, even if we were to agree that it was desirable to have one? The evidence suggests otherwise.
The closest the world has actually come to an agreement to rid the planet of such weapons was in 1986, when Gorbachev proposed to Reagan that nuclear weapons should all be scrapped within ten years. Sadly, the proposal came to nothing, largely because Reagan was not prepared to abandon the Strategic Defence Initiative. But where was the UK in this? Er – nowhere. No seat at the table, no invite to the talks. Although, formally, it was agreed that the nuclear capabilities of the UK and France should be excluded from the US-Soviet talks, it was implicitly assumed that if the ‘big boys’ did come to an agreement, then the ‘minor players’ would fall into line. It’s unthinkable that they would not.It remains true that any serious progress on nuclear disarmament depends on the US and Russia, and that the UK’s input to that will be close to zero, with or without weapons. And that must be as obvious to the pro-nuclear lobby in the Labour Party as it is to me. So why are so many people buying a line which is such patent nonsense?