In September 2010, Lib Dem Voice ran a revealing poll of its members to gauge opinion on Trident. With results strikingly similar to YouGov polls of Lib Dem members nationally, it found that 57% were opposed to replacing Trident and nuclear weapons altogether, while 90% were opposed to replacing Trident with a ‘like-for-like’ system.
It was commendable that the Liberal Democrats carried this sentiment into their 2010 election manifesto: standing apart from the Conservative and Labour consensus of ploughing £100bn into nuclear weapons amidst the worst economic crisis of recent times.
Opponents of Trident outside the party were also inspired by Lib Dem Conference in 2010, when an emergency motion was secured demanding that Trident be included in the forthcoming Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR). Speech after speech was delivered by Lib Dem MPs and activists denouncing Trident on strategic, economic, legal and humanitarian grounds.
Now as we approach Lib Dem Conference 2012, some tough questions need to be asked about the party’s direction on Trident.
The Trident Alternatives Review is the vehicle through which the Lib Dems are able to argue for alternatives to ‘like-for-like’ replacement of Trident. Just last year Nick Harvey MP, then Minister for the Armed Forces, said he was ‘absolutely convinced’ that the review would produce a ‘game-changer’. Now, followingHarvey’s unexpected dismissal from the MoD, and its oversight now located outside the ministry, there is a danger that the review will be rudderless.
Resuscitating the review
David Laws has been drafted back into government and is apparently charged with overseeing the Trident Alternatives Review. But with such a wide-ranging, cross-departmental brief it is difficult to see how he can dedicate the kind of serious attention and consideration which the Review demands.
It is undoubtedly a tough time for the party, and with Nick Clegg apologising over tuition fees it is also a humbling time. But this conference is an opportunity to reassess the party’s direction, to take stock both of its progress and its failings.
The Lib Dems’ strength historically is that they are able to strike a different chord from Labour and the Tories: to be something different.
Opposition to like-for-like replacement of Trident is one such difference, and this must be defended, including putting time and conviction into the Trident Alternatives Review. But why stop there?
In 2010, 90% of the Party opposed like-for-like replacement of Trident and 57% rejected nuclear weapons outright. Rather than pulling back from that opposition, isn’t it time to start building on this position? After all, the opportunity cost of spending on nuclear weapons could not be more devastatingly clear: the cuts are really beginning to bite, and people are dying as a result, yet we waste absurd amounts of money on a cold war weapons system.
Now is the time to translate Lib Dem values into actions. Opposition to Trident can provide, among other things, the balanced books with which to achieve real Lib Dem goals.
* Dr. Kate Hudson is General Secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and a leading anti-nuclear and anti-war campaigner.