Labour — say no to Trident!

by Daphne Liddle

NEXT week’s annual Labour Party conference in Brighton will have the chance to debate whether Britain should renew its Trident submarine-based nuclear weapons system or spend the money on something else — the first debate of its kind at a Labour conference for over 20 years.

New leader Jeremy Corbyn has won the Labour leadership but that does not give him a mandate to lead the party in campaigning on the issues that he has fought for over the last 40 odd years.

So winning this debate in favour of scrapping Trident will give him a powerful mandate to go ahead and lead on perhaps the most important issue facing the party and the country. And success is not a foregone conclusion.

The leadership election showed he has the support of the majority of members and that has been strengthened by 62,000 new recruits to the party, motivated by Corbyn becoming its leader.

But he still faces obstacles in winning over many members of the Parliamentary Labour Party and some union leaders.

Newly appointed Deputy Leader Tom Watson, Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn and Shadow Defence Secretary Maria Eagle, have indicated they support Trident renewal and so as Paul Kenny, general secretary of the GMB union, which represents many Trident workers.

The issue was not even due to be debated at this conference — it has been off the agenda since the early 1990s when Neil Kinnock blamed opposition to Trident by many Labour members for the loss of the 1993 election.

But the conference arrangements committee agreed to add a motion on Trident from Kensington Constituency Labour Party to the list of priorities to be debated. Delegate will vote on which of those issues does get debated when conference opens.

Other priority issues on the list include housing, the refugee crisis, welfare, the NHS, and Syria.

Traditionally the Parliamentary Labour Party has mostly ignored conference decisions, especially those on peace and banning nuclear weapons. But this is not likely to happen now with Corbyn in charge.

Those MPs opposed to the conference decision will be under pressure to support the majority verdict whatever it is.

A few days ago new Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron was claiming that he had been in discussion with two Labour MPs who were thinking of defecting to the Liberal Democrats but so far the only defection has been the other way as Jennifer Churchill has quit the Lib Dems to join Corbyn’s Labour Party.

Tom Watson told BBC journalist John Humphries there was little prospect of Labour defections to the Lib Dems, “It would be like leaving the Beatles to join a Bananarama tribute band,” he said.

Some right-wing Labour MPs are convinced that opposing Trident renewal would lose public support but recent polls have shown growing opposition to nuclear weapons.

Following the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour party leader earlier this month, a Labour List poll showed 53 per cent of the party’s members want to get rid of Trident. Only 19 per cent supported a new nuclear weapons system.

A Survation poll in January 2015 showed 47.2 per cent of Scottish people opposing a new generation of nuclear weapons being based on the Clyde, with 31.6 per cent in favour.

Seventy-nine —per cent of respondents to a Guardian poll in April 2014 did not think Britain should replace Trident.

In a February 2014 Com- Res poll 65 per cent said they would feel uncomfortable living near a nuclear weapons base and 64 per cent think there should be an international convention banning nuclear weapons.

And it goes on — there is a steady fall in the number of people in Britain who still believe that Britain needs an “independent” nuclear deterrent.

At least Corbyn will have an easier conference than David Cameron after the astounding revelations by Tory billionaire benefactor Lord Ashcroft this week.

The Tory party seems set to tear itself apart at its conference — a week after Labour’s — so there may be a general election well before 2020 and Corbyn could become Prime Minister.

Then the fight for Britain to scrap Trident will be a global issue.