Have party members come any closer to a common view on nuclear weapons?

Lib Dem Voice has polled our members-only forum  to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. 741  party members responded – thank you – and we’re publishing the full results.

Nuclear weapons have always been a tricky issue for Liberal Democrats. In Bournemouth last year, the vote on whether to renew Trident was knife-edge close. We’ve been fudging the issues for years and the day of reckoning approaches. The Bournemouth  debate resulted in a working group being set up to fully investigate the possibilities.  They outline five options in a consultation paper here.

The first 3 options provide for some sort of nuclear weapon. They are supported by 59.11% but only 23.62% support like for like replacement.

Continue with the successor programme to Trident  23.62%

Contingency posture (partial replacement) 25.37%

Airborne Deterrent 10.12%

The two options which don’t involve having nuclear weapons are supported by 40.89%

Virtual capability 9.31%

Zero option 31.58%

Does this mean that the divide is growing? We’ll have to wait till Spring Conference in York to find out.

Here are some of the comments people made:

I do not believe in unilateral disarmament. I want nuclear weapons banned but we need in the meantime a viable deterrent to have something to bargain with.

Nuclear weapons are a worthless exercise in posturing as though UK were still a significant world power. We are not, and we have better uses for the money we’d save.

Only multi-lateral disarmament will be accepted by the public. Labour position is another nail in their electoral coffin.

I used to be a unilateralist but the prospect of a Trump White House makes a pretty persuasive case for not trusting in the US to provide our defence in future. I’d like to see cost savings though.

We do not know what will happen tomorrow let alone in years to come. Previous disarmament such as before 1939 (World War II) led to the war as the enemy did not think we would defend ourselves and when we did we were unprepared, costing huge loss of life and 6 years of horror.

We can either have a popular policy that is too expnsive or a cheaper unpopular and unworkable position

I would hope that no Lib Dem prime minister would order a retaliatory strike against civilian populations, even in response to a nuclear strike against the UK. On that basis the money would be better spent on our conventional forces or other sectors in dire need of funding.


  • 2,200+ Lib Dem paid-up party members are registered with LibDemVoice.org.  741 completed the latest survey, which was conducted between 13-15 September 2016
  • Please note: we make no claims that the survey is fully representative of the Lib Dem membership as a whole. The surveys are, though, the largest independent samples of the views of Lib Dem members across the country.
  • We have been able to test the LibDemVoice surveys against actual results on a handful of occasions. It correctly forecast the special Lib Dem conference would overwhelmingly approve the Coalition Agreement in May 2010. In the 2008 and 2010 elections for Lib Dem party president, it correctly predicted the winner. However, in the 2014 election it didn’t; see here for my thoughts on this. 
  • Polling expert Anthony Wells has written about the reliability/validity of LibDemVoice surveys here.
  • The full archive of our members’ surveys can be viewed at www.libdemvoice.org/category/ldv-members-poll



* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

Read more by or more about , or .
This entry was posted in LDV Members poll.


  • nigel hunter 17th Sep '16 - 11:08am

    Yes being unprepared for war in the 30s did lead to horror that is why we must maintain some kind of deterrent today. Equally as most of the ‘wars?’ of today need conventional weapons they are also needed I too fear the uncertainty of Trump in charge. The EU idea of an army could ,quite seriously, be needed as a reinforcement to a reduced NATO
    In the future ,however, a cheaper way will be found to negate nuclear weaponry. Then what?

  • igel hunter 17th Sep ’16 – 11:08am…….Yes being unprepared for war in the 30s did lead to horror that is why we must maintain some kind of deterrent today……

    What would ‘being prepared’ look like/…Would Hitler not have annexed Austria and started the ball rolling had we been prepared? When would we have gone to war; then or later?
    Far from being a deterrent, nuclear weapons have brought the world close to disaster on several occasions. Without nuclear arsenals the ‘Cuban Crisis’ would not even have happened; bear in mind that nuclear war could so easily of happened over the Russian submarine B-59 incident….
    Just today we are told that “UK armed forces ‘could not withstand attack by major power like Russia’. If conventional force fails would we be the first to use ‘nukes’?
    If the argument is that the US would help us then that is exactly the converse argument of those who demand an ‘independent UK nuclear weapon’….

  • Laurence Cox 17th Sep '16 - 6:34pm

    The difficulty with discussing this issue at a Party Conference is that anyone who could answer many of the questions posed about future threats would be already covered by the Official Secrets Act.

    Really, the only two sensible options in the Consultation paper are continuation of the Successor programme and the zero option. The UK is not threatened by a conventional invasion; one of the chief concerns during the Cold War was Soviet tanks crossing the north German plains, but that would be much harder now and I cannot see the Russians seeking to conquer the whole of Western Europe. What they might well do is to seek to regain Ukraine and the Baltic States, which we could not defend without the threat of pre-emptive use of nuclear weapons. I am not sure whether the USA would even try to defend the Baltic States, despite Charter 5, regardless of whether Trump or Clinton is the next President.

    Neither the contingency posture or the virtual deterrent are sensible because they would both turn locations on the UK mainland into first-strike targets. The airborne deterrent is even worse: we are buying F-35B not C aircraft, and without catapults could not launch F-35C from our aircraft carriers – this is a sign that the whole consultation paper has not been properly thought through.

    If we really want to save money on the submarines, why not turn to the USA and pay them to build them for us. They are already planning to build 12 successor submarines to their Ohio class (the Columbia class) and it would be cheaper to buy theirs’ off-the-shelf than to design and build our own. If the working group think that F-35C is an option, then they should really have considered this possibility. Barrow could stick to building hunter-killer subs.

    What really concerns me about this debate is that it draws attention away from the poor state of our conventional forces as identified by the recently-retired General Sir Richard Barrons:

    Whatever we do about Trident, we do need to invest more in our conventional defence (in particular more ships) and we should be prepared to spend above 2% of GDP to do so.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 17th Sep '16 - 7:02pm

    I am for a multilateral disarmament and said so in the survey , it is important that on these issues we consider wider consultation than the party conference , as to go unilateral on the basis of a conference vote worries me for our electoral prospects, as well as the principle of the matter.

    The worst view for the unilateral stance quoted was not based on economy or morality, but on the appallingly, little nothing , rather than , little England , view, that we are a nothing player , an insignificant country , not an important power in the world . Absolutely wrong and outrageous, explain that to those who yearn to live here, to those around the world who look to us , and to the voters of this great country that love it !

  • Dave Orbison 18th Sep '16 - 12:18am

    I believe there are many justifications to support unilateral nuclear disarmament and especially on economic and moral grounds. It has nothing whatsoever to do with being a little Englander.

    As reported in the news today our conventional forces are seriously under strength. We have a housing crisis, a funding crisis in the NHS and public services are being dismantled as never before.

    We need to make choices. With the exception of France, the rest of Western Europe survives without any need for them. That does not mean we will not spend on conventional arms.

    The other problem with multilateralism is that there is simply no chance of it ever being achieved.

  • The last country to unilaterally give up its nuclear weapons was Ukraine with neighbouring Russia signing an international agreement to respect that country’s sovereign borders. Well we all know how that went!

  • “Have party members …” That should read “have some party members” – oddly enough while Lib Dem Voice has the capacity to ask people, for their views, the National Party has no interest in balloting party members.

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • Alex B
    Economy shrinking and debt payments going through the roof. But hey ho let's give everyone a juicy pay rise....
  • Helen Dudden
    I believe what ever the Party you must have standards. To answer for an error of judgement is the only way we can clean up Westminster. It is often difficult ...
  • Andy Hinton
    While I agree that on principle it seems desirable to treat both sexes equally, I suspect there is a pragmatic point here about which prisons tend to be the mos...
  • Mel Borthwaite
    Calling for a “fair settlement” to the teacher strikes is a totally bland phrase and, of course, the government argues that the pay offer is fair. Bland sta...
  • David Le Grice
    By both the Westminster and Scottish government's logic, men convicted of raping other men and who are gay and not bisexual should be sent to a women's prison. ...