Let us be clear – the Liberal Democrats just voted FOR Britain retaining nuclear weapons.

Posted: September 22, 2015 in Political musings
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

bomba-nuclear1

In what has been hailed as the new Leader of the British Liberal Democrats “facing down” the activists in his party, the LibDems just rejected a motion calling for Trident to be scrapped.

This is what happened.

We show below the original motion in normal text with the original line numbers, and lines through the text which was deleted by conference. In italics we show the text inserted by virtue of conference voting for Amendment 1:

Motion begins:

1 Conference notes that the go-ahead for building Successor submarines
2 for the Trident system is scheduled to be decided upon in 2016.
3 Conference believes that British possession of nuclear weapons is
4 inappropriate and unhelpful to today’s needs.

5 Conference rejects the projected spending of £100billion on the system
6 over its lifetime, believing the money could be better spent.

In line with our existing policy as set out in policy paper 112, Defending the Future – UK Defence in the 21st century (2013), and our recent General Election Manifesto, conference resolves to oppose like-for-like replacement of the Trident system as proposed by the Conservative government.

Conference believes that the ‘Maingate’ decision to proceed with Trident replacement is such a fundamental question affecting the UK’s national interest that it should be subject to a binding vote in Parliament and not simply a government decision; and calls on Liberal Democrat Parliamentarians to vote against any such proposal should it come before Parliament. Conference further calls on the Federal Policy Committee to:

1. Commission a Policy Working Group to develop policy on the future of Britain’s nuclear deterrent, if any, following a full consultation within the party.

2. Include within the remit of the working group consideration of:
a) A full assessment of potential strategic threats to the UK.
b) Prospects for the promotion of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament and the UK’s potential role in these efforts.
c) The implications of a non-nuclear defence posture for the UK on conventional defence capabilities and the UK’s place in the world, including its contribution to the security of Europe through NATO.
d) The scope for and implications of a scaled-down nuclear deterrent.
e) Independent costings of options.
3. Bring a policy paper back for debate at Conference within 18 months, including if necessary options for conference to decide.

7 Conference therefore calls for the plans to renew the Trident system to
8 be scrapped, and for the earliest decommissioning of the existing Trident
9 forces.

So what (by a narrow margin) has the Lib Dem conference just actually decided?

"Helpful and Appropriate"

“Helpful and Appropriate” is rather in the eye of the beholder, one feels.

Well, if one looks at the lines deleted by the “wrecking” amendment, one can now see that Conference decided by default that Britain’s possession of nuclear weapons IS appropriate and helpful to today’s needs.

Yes, to be sure, the amendment opposes “like for like” replacement of Trident, but this was essentially just whitewash. What the amendment specifically allows for is Trident’s replacement by another nuclear weapons system.

The clear implication in the terms for the future enquiry that is now proposed (which will, of course, be utterly irrelevant to the real world as it will take place AFTER the British Government makes it’s decision, a point that can not have escaped the understanding of those drafting the amendment) is that the UK’s place in the world will be somehow diminished by it not possessing nuclear weapons, and that its contribution to the security of Europe would be similarly diminished. in other words, in the event of external aggression to the continent of Europe, the party believes it would be a sensible option to drop nuclear weapons on Europe’s borders.

Which leaves the party – now led by an evangelical Christian who says he would never launch the weapons if he had the choice – in the curious position for a supposedly radical party of supporting the idea of Britain independently attacking someone (presumably Russia) with weapons of mass destruction that would slaughter umpteen millions of innocent children, men and women civilians.

The Liberal Democrats (of which the author of this article is a member, and has been a member, with a few stutters, over 40 years) is a party that has become largely irrelevant to the mainstream political process through a disastrous collapse of its support that shows little imminent signs of turning around, and which is generally full of nice, somewhat wooly-minded middle class people who largely think they sit in the middle ground of politics, full of rational discussion and mutual respect and eschewing the nasty tribalism of the left and right.

Nevertheless, despite it’s historical weaknesses, and it’s current electoral nadir, the party has always played – and it would be good to think will continue to play – a useful national and international role as an incubator of good ideas, as provokers of attention to issues that other parties largely ignore, and of a group of people who are less hidebound by “that’s the way it’s always been done” than most. In the past, when it’s level of elected support was about where it is now, the Party nevertheless “punched above its weight” in this regard. The party also keeps alive an affection for ideals of political plurality, free speech, and individual liberty, both economic and social.

trident_2469358bBut given the chance to dramatically play that role now by arguing that Britain should lead the stalled world disarmament process, what they have just done, in reality – because of the inexorable timetable for the Trident replacement decision – is actually to fall in lock-step behind a radical right-wing Conservative Government that would never consider Britain giving up nuclear weapons in a pink fit.

As a result, they will now inevitably be outflanked on one of the most vital decisions facing the country in the coming little while by the new left-wing leadership of the Labour Party, and by the surging Scottish Nationalists, and will inevitably be seen by the public to be dithering over a crucial moral and strategic issue when the Government inevitably acts.

The membership should be under no misapprehension: the Liberal Democrats just missed a huge opportunity to provide their party with the distinctiveness that they need if they are ever to reclaim any real degree of power at local, European and Westminster levels, and an equally significant opportunity to provide moral leadership to the multilateral disarmament efforts that the world has largely abandoned in recent years, which they would have achieved by stating “we do not need these bombs, we reject their use, we cannot afford them, and we will seek other ways to relate to the world around us”.

New Lib Dem Leader Tim Farron

New Lib Dem Leader Tim Farron

Responsibility for those missed opportunities lies directly with the new Leader of the party, Tim Farron, and those with their hands on the levers of power inside the party who advised him to make this matter a “test” of his leadership, and then made that argument directly to members in a variety of ways.

In truth, Farron arguing that he wanted a “full debate” before a decision is taken is a complete furphy, a fig leaf to cover the moral cowardice of the amendment. Or, as one Lib Dem speaker in the debate, Reece Edmends put it, “If you support nuclear weapons, if you want one, two, three or four subs, have the intellectual honesty to say so.”

The speakers in favour of the amendment largely did not state their preference for keeping nuclear weapons clearly. One complete piece of intellectual dishonesty was an argument that the Ukraine had just given up nuclear weapons and been invaded (albeit in a very limited way) by Russia. So what exactly were those speakers arguing? That Ukraine should have attacked Russia with nuclear weapons? To have done so would not only have been ludicrously disproportionate, but would have invited an immediate and overwhelming response from Russia that would have obliterated Ukraine from the map. Which neatly encapsulates, of course, the complete pointlessness of spending 8% of your GDP on nuclear weapons, as Britain does. You can’t actually use them. Ever. Even in a real fighting war.

There were also dark warnings about Russian expansionism, despite the fact that as we have shown with historic detail, the Russian action in Crimea was proportionate, discrete and nuanced.

We have a lot of time for Farron, but we are disappointed and worried by his actions in this case. Shock and dismay at his position is already evident on the activist wing of the party, and he will need to somehow heal the breach he has now opened with those who were his most fervent supporters for the Leadership.

What he and others clearly thought was if the party committed itself to disarmament of Britain’s independent nuclear weaponry they would be castigated as “irresponsible” or “too left wing”. Now they will be castigated as mere ditherers. Had they allowed the original motion to stand they would have been able to make the case for the scrapping of Britain’s nuclear weapons stockpile between now and when the decision will be made, putting useful light and space between them and David Cameron’s increasingly nationalistic and unpleasant Government.

Such moral determination might just have ameliorated the Government’s intentions somewhat, although the idea that it would turn around their view in toto is probably fanciful and this writer would not argue that case. In reality, what the Lib Dems think or do at the moment doesn’t currently matter much more than a reasonably small hill of beans. But any decision to replace Trident made in 2016 will still be in its early stages of implementation by the time of the next General Election in 2020. That would have given the Lib Dems, along with others, four years and innumerable opportunities to win the national debate, and possibly the next election.

But they squibbed it, and the party – chock full of new respectful members – let them.

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Comments
  1. Peter Morley says:

    Rather a long article and I must admit I wasn’t fit enough for the journey. So, in a nutshell, is this good or bad? In other words, are you saying Britain shouldn’t have a nuclear arsenal?

    PM

    Like

  2. paul says:

    Think you summed the Party up in this section of your blog Steve:

    ‘generally full of nice, somewhat wooly-minded middle class people who largely think they sit in the middle ground of politics, full of rational discussion and mutual respect’

    They missed a chance to differentiate themselves on this subject and Farron the ‘nice man’ just proved how useless he is despite that santimonious look that he carries so well.

    Like

  3. Michael Lynch says:

    thus writes a man who has experience of line by line adjutication in committee of motions glorious, vainglorious and plain stupid. I think the Lib Dems need to disassociate themselves from the Tories if they want to regain relevance. That doesn’t mean becoming a hard left party _ the Corbyn led Labour will take that role _ but a democratic socialist party of the centre which tries to bring ethical and moral arguments to politics. It has missed a chance here

    Like

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