Monday, 21 September 2015


The speech I would want to make if I were half as photogenic as I used to be (n.b. must change that photo in the sidebar) in today's debate in Bournemouth about Trident replacement:

I have not worn sandals as an adult, and my last beard was a generation ago. I am not a pacifist, and I do not shrink in horror at the mention of nuclear power. I admire the ingenuity of the Trident concept. My objection to renewal of a UK seaborne nuclear weapon system is I believe a logical and practical one. The nuclear deterrent may have been just that in an earlier age but it is not one now and the cost of Trident replacement - conservatively, £15bn for the hardware, and £2bn annual running costs - could be better diverted into more relevant areas of defence.

The immediate threat - and one that frightens me more than the remote possibility of nuclear war - is the salami-slicing by conventional means of eastern Europe by Russia. Crimea and Donbas have practically been ceded already. Trident did not protect our friends in the Ukraine - and neo-Nazis whose presence Mr Putin has played up apart, I believe they are our friends - and Trident will not deter Mr Putin from using remnant Russian-speaking populations there to shoe-horn an invasion of the Baltic states.

What will protect what's left of the eastern flank of the European Union is the support for the intelligence services called for by Rory Stewart MP, no soft liberal, and restoring cuts to our conventional forces. Mr Cameron promised at the NATO summit in Wales that we would continue to contribute 2% of our GDP to NATO. Although this seems to be an outmoded concept in some quarters, I believe that promises once made should be kept.

A British first-use nuclear weapon would be no more than a symbol - the phrase "willy-waving" comes to mind - and a very expensive one. We should think logically about our true defence needs and not be bullied by the scare campaign mounted by vested interests into a costly irrelevance.


In the event the motion was passed after emasculation, or refinement, depending on which side of the radical/conservative split one sits. Paul Walter has posted the amended text but helpfully also the lines that were taken out.

It was a splendid, lively, debate with only the occasional heckle (contrast that with similar debates in Old Labour conferences) and although the amendment was clearly carried, it was not overwhelmingly so. It was noticeable that all the women who contributed to the debate, apart from those in the party establishment, wanted away with nuclear weapons unconditionally.

Much was made of the brevity of the original motion, as if that were a fault. It had actually been edited down to the essence around which all opponents could gather, by a process in a Facebook group. (Much credit is due to Kevin White of the Liverpool party, who did not get a name-check on the agenda.) Myself, I could do without the standard LD format motion which tends to resemble an overlong sermon but I realise I am fighting against the tide.

I was sorry that so much of the debate was conducted on an emotional level, though in his summation Julian Huppert echoed the economic points and the effect on our conventional forces that I independently made in the earlier part of this post.

Surprisingly, several speakers cited the Russian incursion into Ukraine as an argument for the nuclear deterrent, reminding us of Ukraine's giving up its legacy of nuclear missiles. The logical extension of that argument is that Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Finland should become nuclear weapons states in order to defend themselves against Russia. That is clearly irresponsible nonsense. The real reason for the Ukrainian situation is that one guarantor to that peace agreement, Russia, reneged on it and the other parties stood idly by.

Those who voted to water down the original out of fear of electoral annihilation after being labelled pinko unilateralists by the Mail, Sun and Express should recall the progress of same-sex marriage. Until quite late in the twentieth century, Conference Committee would have thrown up its collective hands in horror at a motion proposing that. Now it is accepted orthodoxy in the UK.

At least the final resolution does reassert our opposition to like-for-like replacement and does hold out the hope of a working party producing a more realistic defence policy.

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