Brown and the bomb

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.

8 Responses to Brown and the bomb

  1. Ian G says:

    I think I’d back that sort of compromise.

    It would be interesting to see who would argue that actually we can’t make do with trident and we really need nice new shiney nukes at the cost of £25billion (or more).

  2. This is one Labour member and I know many others who will NOT vote for any candidate for Leader who does not commit to replacing Trident.

  3. Ian G says:

    And I’m sure we both know very many Labour members who wouldn’t vote for a leadership candidate who DID want to replace trident as well.

    I have to say I wouldn’t back unilateral disarmament, but as long as we’ve got any sort of nuclear weapons that will probably work, we still have deterrence, which is the point after all.

  4. “This is one Labour member and I know many others who will NOT vote for any candidate for Leader who does not commit to replacing Trident.”

    Fantastic! Is there going be an official ‘nuke Labour’ website?

  5. Matthew says:

    I’m not convinced that replacing or not replacing Trident is a key issue to anyone other than handful of members on the extreme fringes of the party. I’d be in favour of using the money for something other than some bombs, but I can’t say it would swing my vote…

  6. Den says:

    Pacifists may sob, but the alternatives are not nuclear weapons or unilateral disarmament – they are nuclear weapons or unilateral nuclear disarmament.
    If people are too lazy to put down exactly what they mean to say why should any body listen to the argument?

  7. Benjamin says:

    This is the kind of ”independent” nuclear deterrent that relies on American technology to work, but never mind

    Not only that but we have to refer to the President of the United States before using them. These are essentially US weapons, with a US veto, and we have liitle independence in using them.

    I am totally against a replacement of Trident, a complete waste of money and it also goes against the NPT. The compromise option is still problematic, but at least will be cheaper.

  8. HenryG says:

    I think all we can ask for/hope/demand from a new leader is a rational debate and a considered decision, based on the realities of the world as it is today. A debate that must include the Cabinet. What is completely unacceptable (as I think Jon Cruddas has argued) is GB just throwing a line in during a speech and spinning it for the purposes of the right-wing press. Some issues are so much bigger than day-to-day politics and need to be handled appropriately and sensitively with the PLP and wider movement.

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