Ben Brogan, despite working for the Daily Mail, is actually quite a good journalist. He also writes a good blog, on which he has an interesting piece about Gordon Brown’s position on Trident.
You may remember that earlier this year, in a speech to assorted top hat wearing capitalists, Brown slipped in an announcement that he supported “retaining our independent nuclear deterrent”.
(This is the kind of “independent” nuclear deterrent that relies on American technology to work, but never mind.)
This was spun at the time as Brown backing a programme for replacing Trident with a new nuclear weapons system – at a cost that most estimates put in the region of £25bn.
The nuclear half-sentence predictably attracted outrage on the hard left, which was no doubt Brown’s intention, particularly as it meant that they completely failed to notice the rest of his speech on the wonders of global free markets.
Brogan now reports that when asked by a punter at a literary festival last weekend, Brown said, “I haven’t declared what the government policy is. I believe there has to be a public debate.”
Was Brown just trying to get out of a tight spot, or has he actually gone cold on blowing our cash on new nukes?
It is worth noting that Brown gave himself a cunning get-out clause by simply backing retention of such an independent nuclear deterrent as the one we already have. This is not the same as replacing Trident – all he has to do is patch up one rusty nuclear missile and he’s stuck by his word.
Some think that a good maintenance overhaul – at about a tenth of the cost of replacement – could keep Trident operational for an extra decade, thus enabling Brown to keep his promise, sound tough on defence but also back away from antagonising the left too much.
It’s also worth noting the polls on this – an ICM-Guardian poll in July found a 12-point lead for replacement if the alternative was unilateral disarmament but other polls have shown the public split down the middle and big majorities against replacement at a cost of £25bn. No doubt Brown is keen to capture the centre ground – and as a bit of a bonus for a leadership contender, there is also a plurality of Labour Party members backing the compromise option.