The crucial moment of this year’s Labour conference came not via a speech or indeed anything that happened inside of the hall. It occurred in an interview Jeremy Corbyn gave to the BBC yesterday morning. When asked, if he were prime minister would he ever use nuclear weapons, he gave a straight answer: “No”.
It was so defining because as he said it, I could imagine it appearing on Tory leaflets already. If Britain is attacked, PM Corbyn will not protect you. If Jeremy Corbyn becomes prime minister, it will give every other nuclear power licence to attack the UK with impunity, should one of them choose to do so. All of that will be overblown and not exactly what Jeremy said. He said “No” to the question because as someone with an abhorrence to nuclear weapons, he can’t imagine ever using them, ever. But it has left a huge stick for the Tories to beat him with nonetheless.
The problem that Corbyn doesn’t seem to get is this: nuclear weapons aren’t really expected to ever be used by anyone – they are supposed to be a means of deterring others from using theirs. So thus, if you have nuclear weapons and then you say to the world, “Well, I have these things but I’m never going to use them, even if someone drops a bomb on Manchester” then they aren’t really a deterrent anymore. I get that Jeremy doesn’t want to renew Trident and so he thinks having said deterrent isn’t important anyhow, but there really, really is no point in having it if you are announcing to the world you’ll never use it.
I recall having a meeting with someone senior in Ed Miliband’s team pre-election on the subject of Trident renewal. He told me in no uncertain terms that any whiff of Labour not supporting full renewal would be politically unthinkable. Now look at how far we’ve moved away from that in less than half a year: we have the leader of the Labour Party saying on BBC radio that not only does he not support Trident renewal, if he were prime minister he would effectively nullify the nuclear deterrent just by being in Number 10 anyhow.
It is hard to say just how large a gift this is for the Tories. Imagining what the reverse equivalent would be is actually quite difficult. The leader of the Conservative Party saying he plans to solve Britain’s poverty problems via mass executions for those earning under a certain threshold comes close. Corbyn has simply massively underestimated how vulnerable British people feel in an era of Russian revanchist tendencies and the Middle East situation getting worse by the day. I never thought he had a shot at Number 10 before – now I know he doesn’t for sure. Whatever else he does from here, he’s the guy who should he find himself prime minister would effectively end Britain’s nuclear deterrent. It’s a politically fatal place to be.
Jan Bayly says
Having a WMD is not a deterrent to a fanatical regime. It would be a race to who would get to the button first. Change has to start somewhere and someone needs the courage to make the change. I do hope you are wrong. We must all campaign to be rid of this expensive white elephant.
Nick Jones says
The point, unfortunately, is not whether you agree with Corbyn’s position (which I do) but whether it will, taking account of the massive general support currently for the continuation of a UK nuclear “deterrent”, does it make him unelectable? I have a horrible feeling that it does. I think it is just the opportunity that the anti-Corbyn faction in the Labour Party having been looking for and it will not end well, for Corbyn or the party. I know he was just being open and honest but it was a catastrophic mistake.
Trivial really, as we’d have to ask US before we could use them, and by then US already has or is about to use them.
Anyway, can you really see North Korea or Iran (if they have one), having the capabilities to launch one that far?
Mick Taylor says
What utter tosh. Corbin is speaking for the majority of the country who want to scrap nuclear weapons. Would that the Lib Dems, my party, had the same courage to stand up and say no, we’ll never use them and we’ll get rid of them now.
It’s about time someone stood up to the Tories and told the electorate that the deterence argument no longer applies and that having a nuclear capability does not guarantee our safety against rogue states or terrorists. Like the majority of the world, we’d be better off not wasting billions on a cold war weapon we don’t need and will never use.
I suspect it makes Corbyn more electable, because he’s being true to his principles. We’ll see who is right.
David Evans says
The key question is precisely which nuclear states do you see being even remotely likely to launch a nuclear strike against the UK, that would necessitate a UK counterstrike as opposed to there being an almost inevitable US one?
Russia – the US will be involved. If not we are doomed anyway.
China – likewise.
US – Something tells me not, but if they did we would be toast
North Korea – Are we of any interest to them? No
India or Pakistan – only if we beat them in a test series
Israel – Something tells me not
Terrorists – Where do we target?
France – OK – Definitely need to keep nukes.
alastair breward says
The most likely risk of nuclear bomb use is a dirty bomb smuggled in and detonated in a central city location, or a suicide ram raid onto Brighton beach etc. Once that has happened (if it did), and there was patently nowhere to aim a (nuclear) retaliation, it would be the ‘pro-trident’ lobby left with egg on face. All that money that could have been used to beef up ‘homeland security’.
I’ve lived in Australia and Spain a lot – it’s never occured to me that I was ‘in danger’ due to not having a nuclear retaliation option.
Finally, not having one just might help the UK move to a mindset where it takes a less ‘militarist’ approach to problems like Afghanistan. This might be a good thing in itself. To a man with a hammer, everthing looks like a nail. A man without one has to think harder about how to solve the problem.