Trident isn’t a matter of left or right any more, or the ethics of pacifism or unilateralism, it’s become a constitutional issue. It matters that all of Britain’s ‘independent’ nuclear weapons are in Scotland. It matters that they are not in England.
Rafael Behr today carefully analysed the splits and schisms in Corbyn’s Labour Party, but in doing so he seemed to evoke probably the worst argument for spending £205 billion replacing Trident.
There are valid arguments for retaining nuclear warheads. If you believe that having the nuclear deterrent will somehow ‘keep the peace’ (an argument of ontological curiosity) or if you believe that trident is part of the strategic defence of the UK you can, just about, string a case together. It doesn’t stand up but at least it has the outline of credibility to it.
But truly the worst argument ever put forward (and it is the one regularly put forward by Jackie Baillie) is the one that it is good for job creation. You would have to be void of imagination and innumerate to consider this the basis for contravening international law and unleashing the potential for this amount of death and destruction. For the 500 jobs or so that actually are derived from Trident could be re-created with ease.
A really big ASDA or a games development hub would probably do it.
But Behr’s argument was a new one. He wrote: “(Clive) Lewis is no fan of Britain’s nuclear weapons. But on Monday his speech accepted that parliament has voted to renew the deterrent, and that official policy supports renewal.”
It’s an odd approach. The logic seems to be that once parliament has voted on something you just shrug your shoulders and go ‘oh well’. Yesterday I found that morally objectionable, or economically insane, or both, but now that the Motherfucker of all Parliaments has voted on it I guess I’ll just completely alter my belief system.
It’s more white flag than red flag.
Behr continues: “Lewis understands the problem with unilateral disarmament” – we’re not told what that problem is – presumably we all know . “To keep pushing the case makes it harder to lure parliamentary colleagues back to a Corbyn banner and alienates voters, who think it signals unworldly pacifism”. Do they? No evidence is given.
But the idea now seems that we should invest in billions for WMD as a sort of bargaining chip to lure recalcitrant soft Blairites you’ve never heard of to prop up some outer post of the Shadow Cabinet.
Are you following this?
Next comes a real doozy: “The trade unions that represent workers in the nuclear industry cannot endorse a policy that would make thousands of their members redundant.”
Of course the Gareloch and most of the population of western Scotland would be ‘redundant’ in the event of a ‘strike’ to use language the trade unions might be familiar with, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
The reality of Trident remains an abstract concept, but it matters where it is located. It matters because it make us a target.
Like Rachel Reeves and her “constituency tinderbox” – the response to the horrendous rise in racism unleashed by and through Brexit is not to confront that narrative and it’s sad outcomes, but to pander to it. It’s like Labour is a zone of complete opportunism in which tenets of thinking, like, say, peace, multiculturalism or freedom of movement are discarded dependent on whether there might be a vote or two in it.
It’s not just the Tories who have blundered clueless into the new Brexit landscape with an aura of complete political bewilderment. If Labour somehow can’t or won’t even unite under the most simple of concepts – freedom of movement within Europe – then we really are doomed to live in a society dominated by the politics of Farage.
But just as no-one really articulates a coherent argument for stopping free movement – other than Reeves hysterical pandering to some neo-Powellite future scenario, no-one really articulates the need for Trident. It’s just this thing that nobody sees that somehow imbues us with an other-worldly power, some global glamour, and somehow keeps Putin in check.
None of this is thought-through, none of this is coherent, it’s all a reactive spasm to some fear ‘out there’ and lends itself to the most ridiculous positions.
In response to a horrific racially motivated attack on a Polish man in Reeves’ constituency do you increase investment in community relations and education, enforce race-hatred legislation or prosecute tabloid editors for incitement? No, you make sure you don’t have any more bloody poles coming over here, that’s what you do.
In the coming year, having shed themselves of the luggage of Blair’s foreign policy madness, Labour had and have the opportunity for fresh thinking that reasserts values but confronts the realities of the real world. Following the failed model of multilateralism and clinging to Cold War weapons, or retreating into the racial politics of fear does neither of these things.
It’s a reflection of the broken incoherence of policies and values that means that Labour seems unaware of the constitutional element of Trident and incapable of reconciling its feuding north and southern branches with the opportunities of fighting for peace.
It’s as if Labour has lost sight of its hinterland. It’s as if the Blair years have really disemboweled the party of its soul, so that even if it can retrieve policies of the left and idea of principle based in some moral compass, they can’t quite realise themselves because something has been removed. So when they do ‘do populism’ it looks like Rachel Reeves blethering about imminent dystopia or the Ed Stone.
By all accounts Corbyn was impressive this week ‘The leader’s confident address will have impressed even his fiercest foes’ – and his policies on a living wage and of an ethical foreign policy are to be applauded. But if he and his party can’t see the ethical and constitutional aspect to Trident and resolve it then the prospect of a ‘united front’ will be lost.
The prospect of being incinerated focuses the mind. Trident remains a matter of national and international importance, a key part of the democratic deficit and any ‘ethical foreign policy’ will be meaningless without it.