Monday, 16 March 2015

Lib Dems discuss Trident motion

Tim Farron, Kevin White and Kate Hudson

Lib Dems Against Trident, formed last year to advocate opposition to Trident and a like-for-like replacement, organised a fringe meeting at Spring Conference – at which the guest speakers were Kate Hudson (CND Chair) and Tim Farron MP.

Kevin White, the founder of Lib Dems Against Trident opened the meeting, which was well attended. He emphasised the group’s aim to ensure a motion on Trident is debated at federal conference in Bournemouth later this year and added that, while much will depend on the outcome of the General Election, two draft motions had been prepared for consideration.

Both of these would call for Trident to be scrapped and not replaced. 

Kate Hudson: "[Trident] is not a military weapon,
but a political weapon."
Kate followed up with a comment on the Liberal Democrats’ history on Trident. She argued that in 2010, we took the lead on the political conversation with Nick Clegg in particular gaining credibility forhis stance on the issue.  But those now daring to put Trident back on the agenda are the Greens and the Nationalists, who have managed to eclipse the Lib Dems in the public consciousness as anti-Trident advocates.

There is a challenge for the Lib Dems – and it’s one we have to be brave enough to accept. 

Kate also tackled some of the usual pro-Trident arguments, including the need to retain an ineffective nuclear arsenal to keep “Britain’s place at the table”. She was keen to discredit this, pointing to Germany’s influence in spite of not having its own nuclear weapons, and also asking what “status” is preserved by holding on to outdated weaponry. “What status does it give in the eyes of the vast majority of nations who have no desire for nuclear weapons?” she asked.

Kate also emphasised the level of military expertise that is in support of scrapping Trident. “It is not a military weapon, but a political weapon” she explained, before arguing that Trident does not meet the UK’s security needs. No-one present disagreed. 

She made the case for the non-replacement of Trident in a clear and categorical way, which I expected from the chair of CND. After that, Kevin opened up the floor to questions and discussion. Very quickly debate focussed on whether the unilateral approach was workable: would a unilateralist motion win support of the party as a whole? Could a gradualist approach be more likely to win over those who are opposed to Trident but are uncomfortable with unilateralism? 

Toby Fenwick proposed a "middle way"
Toby Fenwick, from Centre Forum, admitted that Trident is no deterrent at all. However, he championed an alternative motion that sought a “middle way” providing for alternatives and for eventual multilateral disarmament. Toby advocated a longer-term view, not only to keep on board those who were uneasy about “leaping down the nuclear ladder in a single step” but to “Stop Trident while allowing the party to stay united.” He proposed a commitment to scrapping Trident while referring the question of alternatives to a working group “to bring recommendations on future UK nuclear weapons policy no later than Autumn Conference 2016. ..and may propose any policy from unilateral nuclear disarmament and immediate UK military nuclear denuclearization to the lowest cost dual role nuclear force to meet the 1982 Duff-Mason minimum deterrence criteria. The working group may not recommend any submarine based nuclear options, foreclosing any return to Trident.”

David Grace: has multilateralism failed?
This was supported by some present but many clearly were more enamoured with an unequivocal “No trident, no replacement” kind of motion. The Chair of Green Liberal Democrats felt that there would be few difficulties in the party adopting a unilateral approach; David Grace, Chair of Lib Dems for Peace and Security, asked whether multilateralism had failed in relation to (for example) Putin’s Russia.

Simon Foster, a politics lecturer and former Bournemouth councillor, pointed to the possible aftermath of the General Election. The Liberal Democrats need to be able to stand up and speak out against Trident renewal in the event of a Lab/SNP confidence and supply arrangement, he insisted. He also proposed that, should a leadership election be forthcoming after May, Lib Dems against Trident must ensure that Trident is made an issue that no candidate can ignore.

At this moment, by pure coincidence, Tim Farron entered the room. 

Simon Foster wants Trident to become a key issue
in the event of a leadership contest
Tim outlined his own opposition to Trident and indicated that he had, in the past, been a member of CND. He began his contribution by challenging the “Thatcherite lie” of multilateralism versus unilateralism. He praised Liberal Democrats for preventing the current government pushing ahead with a like-for-like renewal and suggested that even scaling back Trident would represent a huge step forward. 

Clearly there is a moral case for scrapping what is euphemistically referred to as a nuclear deterrent, but Tim argued that the substantive issue “is not just about doing what’s morally right...but making intelligent use of our budget.” He also sought to highlight the fact that the Liberal Democrats remain “the most pro-disarmament of the main parties”, which is certainly true but perhaps doesn’t help those of us directly challenging the SNP. Tim added that he favoured strengthening our military.

Tim Farron: "Lib Dems are the most
pro-disarmament of the main parties"
Tim will undoubtedly be a key asset in assuring any proposed anti-Trident motion is successful, but the fact that he seemed to broadly favour Toby’s approach provides some food for thought. 

In summary, it was a very positive meeting and clearly the group is determined to ensure that the party commits itself to an abolitionist position on Trident in the near future, with both like-for-like and submarine-based replacements being ruled out. Thanks to Kevin (and others) for facilitating the event, and to Kate and Tim for their thoughtful contributions.

Further information on Lib Dems Against Trident can be found on their facebook page.


Left Lib said...

Tim is the official spokesperson for the Lib Dems on foreign affairs and he has to support party policy whether he agrees with it or not. If there is a leadership election after May then it is up to him whether he wants to shift his position.

Anagnostis said...

Meanwhile, somebody needs to have a quiet word with Nick. Insulting half the population of Scotland ("rag-tag mob") on each and every occasion is not a very inspired strategy when you've marginal seats to fight.

I don't care, personally, but who is he chanelling? Metternich?

Andrew said...

@LeftLib - I appreciate this. He did reaffirm party policy but he seemed to go further than this in suggesting support for a possible motion. And this is what I meant by "food for thought" - we, as a group, need to utilise Tim's support carefully and wisely. The motion we put forward has to be able to a) be something Tim can personally support and b) be something he can sell to the party.

Tim clearly has no time for Trident, which is positive. However, he does have a lot of time for those who favour a more gradual approach and he wants to use at least some of the savings made from scrapping Trident to be used to strengthen the military.

@Anagniostis - I think you know where I stand on this. I sometimes wish Nick would read my blog! That said, his announcement that he wouldn't do a deal with the SNP was just common sense - it won't happen. On the other hand insults don't help anyone, other than the SNP.