We’ve been on a roller coaster over the past few weeks. We are in the extraordinary and completely unexpected situation of having a lifelong CND member as Leader of the Labour Party. What’s more, in Jeremy Corbyn, the Party has a completely principled and honest politician in the top job. A man who says what he thinks and means what he says.
So when it comes to nuclear weapons, we know Jeremy Corbyn will never support nuclear weapons and, completely consistently with this position, he will never press the nuclear button. This must be a relief to anyone who doesn’t want a prime minister willing to destroy the lot of us. And the media frenzy around it is pretty bizarre: when they talk about ‘deterrence’ you have to wonder why anyone would think that basing our security policy on a game of bluff is a good idea.
In fact this issue is pretty much a red herring. In the almost 65 years that Britain has had nuclear weapons, no prime minister has pressed the nuclear button, willing or not. If they had, we wouldn’t be here to talk about it.
What is abundantly clear is that there will now be a debate within the Labour Party about Trident replacement. Although it didn’t get on the agenda this time, nevertheless the issue is now wide open and is a real talking point. I’m not a Labour Party member myself, but clearly there is a sea change going on there. It’s clear from the mass influx – and also listening to longstanding members who feel they are getting their party back – that things will never be the same again, no matter how some at the top may wish to put a brake on change.
Jeremy Corbyn is committed to a debate, and he will make that happen: in the party membership, in the CLPs, the National Policy Forum – and quite clearly it will happen throughout British society. And it will happen in the small number of unions that resist Jeremy’s policy on the basis of a misunderstanding of the jobs implications of cancelling Trident replacement.
One of his flagship policies is on Defence Diversification. This meets all the demands made by the workforce in the nuclear weapons sector regarding industrial transition to high-skilled non-nuclear weapons jobs. Let’s hear those unions showing respect for the Labour Leader – and giving their industry and its related communities a chance to grow and develop, generating more jobs and economic expansion than the nuclear weapons sector can ever provide.
The Labour Party now faces a huge opportunity – to develop a defence policy for Britain fit for the twenty first century. It cannot be based on old dogmas – or old notions of status and a false sense of what enhances Britain’s role in the world. It has to meet our needs – as a decent, humane and internationalist society. We welcome this debate: as we head to a decision on Trident replacement in 2016, it is urgent and much needed.