Steve Bell, Guardian, 12.01.16
This was first published in the Morning Star, but despite that it makes sense:
Corbyn’s best chance to rid Britain of nuclear weapons is to bide his time
By Charley Allan
MY EARLIEST political memory is marching with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) to a US military base in Suffolk in the early 1980s. I was 10 years old, and I remember just how tired and grumpy it made me.
But I also remember my parents explaining why it really was important for us to march for miles along a dual carriageway in the middle of nowhere. I remember how horrified I was to learn that there were bombs which could wipe out whole cities, millions of people — even humanity itself.
I couldn’t believe that anyone, let alone our country’s leaders, would actually go to the time and trouble of making these weapons of mass destruction. I still can’t.
What I’m trying to say is that I’ve grown up in the shadow of potential nuclear holocaust. I’m part of the Threads generation, the When The Wind Blows generation. It scared the bejeezus out of me then and it still does today.
So I’m excited that, for the first time in my life, there’s a good chance I’ll live to see these monstrosities banished from this country under a future Jeremy Corbyn premiership. I’m excited that the anti-nuke argument is being clearly articulated from the top of the Labour Party.
But I’m worried that, by rushing to change the party’s official position on Trident, Jez is walking into a Tory trap of epic proportions.
Now, I’m no professional political strategist. And it’s more than likely I can’t see plenty of the “big picture” and get a little too caught up in the mainstream media’s daily diet of socialist soap-opera shenanigans from Planet Corbyn.
But if it’s really true he wants to whip the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) against the “main gate” vote later this year, then I fear Labour is on its own path to mutually assured destruction.
First, any attempt to change policy before September’s conference will be immensely damaging.
Although there clearly need to be new decision-making structures such as party-wide referenda and other democratic tools that online offers us, these can’t be made up on the fly. They need to be introduced and debated through the usual channels, and ultimately agreed on by conference. This is far too important to screw up.
And without these new structures, there’s no credible way to reverse the party position in time.
True, the NEC could technically announce a new policy, backed up by the conclusion of the controversial defence review currently under way. But this would use up massive political capital — not to mention the fall-out from major unions sceptical of promises to retrain and retain thousands of jobs in the sector.
Second, it won’t work. The PLP, hardly the progressive tip of Labour’s spear, will use this as another opportunity to punish Jez for winning the leadership, even if he does miraculously manage to change party policy. MPs will say: “We were elected on a pro-Trident platform, and that’s the way we will vote.”
And unfortunately it’s a strong argument — even stronger than that for bombing Syria, which many MPs voted for even though it was clearly contrary to conference’s will.
And third, there’s no point. The main-gate deal, which commits the government to spending billions of pounds on a new generation of nukes, will go ahead whether Labour MPs are whipped or not. Cameron still has a slim majority, and even if a few of his MPs vote against him the handful of Corbyn’s MPs who’ll undoubtedly rebel will surely compensate.
So why choose this hill to die on? Instead, allow a free vote, let the government waste yet more of our money, and wait till victory in 2020 to scrap the lot. This gives us years to change party policy, instead of just months, and avoids a catastrophic war with both the PLP and the big unions.
Nothing’s going to change before then, anyway. If we ever want to get rid of our WMDs, we need someone like JC in Number 10, so all our efforts need to go into that.
But Trident could be to Labour what Europe is to the Tories — a single issue that tears it apart. Cameron knows this, which is why he wants the vote sooner rather than later.
So please, Jeremy, if you’re listening — think again. Let’s instead kick off a new nationwide debate on the merits of wasting billions of pounds on something we’ll hopefully never use, something that makes us less safe and further erodes our moral standing in the world.
Let’s reach beyond the middle-aged, middle-class members who already agree with you and win this argument once and for all, so the 10-year-olds of tomorrow will never have to worry about waiting for annihilation to the sound of a three-minute warning.