Corbyn’s Trident review. Winning a battle but the losing the war?

Corbyn’s Trident review. Winning a battle but the losing the war?


Donald Brind: From a Labour perspective

Emily Thornberry, the new recruit to the Corbyn Shadow Cabinet has a sense of mischief and tells a great story about her General Election outing in 2001 in the safe Tory seat of Canterbury. Her opponent was Julian Brazier, who is proud of his family’s military heritage. His father was a lieutenant colonel and he spent 13 years as an officer the Territorial Army, five of them in the with the SAS. At a hustings she told the gobsmacked Major Brazier “I outrank you, you know”. The diminutive Thornberry explained that as a barrister she had to have a military title so she could appear at courts martial. So, she was an honorary colonel.

We can be sure that even if Jeremy Corbyn has heard the story it had nothing to do with his invitation to his fellow Islington MP and cycling enthusiast to become Shadow defence Secretary and everything to do with her declared opposition to Trident.

The sideways shift of the pro-Trident Maria Eagle and the appointment of Thornberry was widely seen as boosting Corbyn’s hope of getting what he wants from the review of Labour policy on the nuclear issue. Thornberry’s co-convenor of the review, Ken Livingstone suggested on Newsnight he suggested they could complete the job within 10 weeks.

That could prove highly optimistic in the light of opposition from unions with members in the defence industry. Unite’s Len McCluskey is due to speak on the issue at the union’s Scottish conference on Sunday. The New Statesman’s Stephen Bush offers a typically insightful analysis of relations between Corbyn and union leaders.

    But even if the review gives Corbyn what he wants and it could end up entrenching support for a weapon system which has shaky justifications. Simon Jenkins in the Guardian persuasively argues the case against the £100 billion project.

But Corbyn’s goal should surely not just to change party policy but to make it the policy of a Labour government. So the question is – will his review will help in persuading the wider electorate that Trident is not value for money either in defence terms or in terms of the country’s economic and social needs?

I doubt it. I argued in a previous post people who have made up their own mind are not best placed to persuade the uncommitted on. The Thornberry-Livingstone review will be all to easily dismissed as a sham because Corbyn gave the job to people he knew would agree with him.

But is there a more credible figure who could have been asked to do the job. I think there is.

Step forward the man who committed the Labour government to Trident renewal in 2007, the then Defence Secretary Des Browne, now Lord Browne of Ladyton.

He now argues that important things have changed since he persuaded Parliament to back Trident. He wrote in the Telegraph in 2013 that  “a set of long-term threats has emerged, to which deterrence, nuclear or otherwise, is not applicable: not only climate change, which can be addressed only through coordinated international action, but also cyber-attacks and nuclear terrorism. Attacks of both kinds will be difficult to trace. Since deterrence only works against those with a known address, it is not a viable strategy for meeting this category of threats.”  Six weeks ago he reiterated his warnings about the vulnerability of nuclear submarines to cyber attacks.
Browne is a serious player on the international stage.

I understand that the former defence secretary now spends a lot of his time now in Washington where he is vice chair of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a non-profit, nonpartisan organization founded in 2001 by former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn, philanthropist Ted Turner. The organisation’s mission “is to strengthen global security by reducing the risk of use and preventing the spread of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.” Browne is also convener of the similar European network and a signatory of Global Zero (campaign), a non-profit international initiative for the elimination of all nuclear weapons worldwide.

With all due respect, as they say, to Emily Thornberry and Ken Livingstone, Jeremy Corbyn might do well to sack them and hand over the review to a more credible convenor – for the good of the party and of the country.

Donald Brind

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