Author Archives: David Grace

Is Trident’s successor a white elephant?

On Saturday afternoon Spring Conference debates motion F11 “Towards a World Free of Nuclear Weapons” which actually endorses the government’s plans to replace Trident with Successor at a cost of £200 billion, twice the original estimate.  The motion also talks about developing multilateral negotiations and ending Continuous-at-sea Deterrence (CASD) but in essence it supports a like-for-like deterrent, which we opposed through the coalition years.

I was on the working group which drafted the report which this motion approves, but I don’t agree. I’m tabling an amendment which agrees with most of the motion’s analysis and call for beefing up negotiations but also calls for Trident to be phased out and NOT replaced.

Many party members have long supported ending the UK’s nuclear weapons but others have placed their faith in nuclear deterrence on balance.  People may feel the global security situation inclines them more than ever to support replacing Trident with the Successor programme.  The argument can be summarised as “Oh my God, Putin !, Oh my God, Trump !  We better have our own nukes”.  I originally felt that the party’s latest working group on the subject was a waste of time.  Nothing had changed.  But I was wrong.  

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An open letter to Liberal Democrat MPs on Syria

Dear Tim and colleagues,

Have our five tests for bombing Syria been met ?

You have set out 5 conditions for Liberal Democrats to support action by the UK to bomb Syria.  When you meet at 5pm today you will decide if those conditions have been satisfied ?  Let’s take them one-by-one.

1) LEGAL

UN Resolution 2249  – OK, so we may go ahead and bomb Syria but what about the rest ?

2) WIDER DIPLOMATIC FRAMEWORK INCLUDING NO-BOMB ZONE TO PROTECT CIVILIANS

What, if any, evidence of plans for a no-bomb zone ?  None that I have seen.   Anyway how can you have a no-bomb zone in Raqqa when innocent, terrorised and enslaved civilians provide a human shield for ISIL ?

3) UK LED PRESSURE ON GULF STATES FOR INCREASED SUPPORT IN THE REGION

What, if any, evidence of such pressure ?  As a country we have promoted arms sales to Saudi Arabia and we avoid any chance of offending its rulers, who will easily dismiss any so-called pressure.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 56 Comments

Trident and the “doctrine of unripe time”

In his brilliant book on academic politics “Microcosmographica Academica” , F M Cornford wrote that there was only one argument for doing anything – that it was right. There were, however, many arguments for not doing anything, of which “the doctrine of unripe time” is one of the most common. This applies perfectly to the Liberal Democrat Conference debate on Trident. On the surface, the question seems simple – replace Trident or scrap Trident – but the waters have been muddied by an amendment from Baroness Jolly which says neither. It says we should set up another working group to consider options.

Over the last eight years conference has debated Trident no less than five times, sometimes alone and sometimes as part of a portmanteau motion. There have been two working groups which have taken evidence from senior civil servants, generals, academics and defence think tanks. In addition Ming Campbell conducted a review of options before we went into coalition. Finally in government we forced an official review of options by defence specialists. What can any party group possibly learn that will add to all that? What indeed! There is nothing new to learn. It’s just the “doctrine of unripe time” again. There is no reason whatsoever to kick this can down the road. There is a very good reason to make our minds up now. Some time in 2016 parliament will vote on the “Main Gate” decision committing over £100 billion pounds to Trident’s successor. Our working group would probably report back after that decision and all its regurgitation of old information would be utterly irrelevant.

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Opinion: Tax more and spend less

Nick Clegg with 2010 manifesto at Glasgow 2014 by Liberal Democrats

The 2010 election was notable for the failure of the three main parties to spell out clearly how they would reduce the budget deficit.  No-one wanted to scare the voters away.

2015 is already proving different. Nick Clegg has announced that Liberal Democrats would increase taxes by at least £8 billion and bring in a further £6 billion by tackling tax avoidance. There would still be up to £16 billion cut from  expenditure, £12 billion from government departments and £4 billion from welfare. Whilst not exactly a return to Keynesian economics, this is nevertheless a huge step away from the Tory approach which seemed to have dominated coalition fiscal policy. The balance between expenditure cuts and tax increases under Tory plans for the next parliament would be 98:2 whereas we will be proposing 60:40.

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Opinion: How can we advance nuclear disarmament?

To many the answer to this question is simple: de-commission Trident and don’t replace it. But this only leads to the next question – how do we get a British government to do this ?  It is a common mistake, and one that I have made too, to believe that passing a motion at our conference changes the world.  Trident

Of course, all we need to do then is win an election on the basis of policies agreed at conference and form a government.  Our brief current experience in government tells us that it may be a little more difficult.

The recent Trident Alternatives Review (TAR) and leaked versions of the party’s Defence Report to conference have become muddled and people are taking positions either before or without reading either document.  Certainly the speeches of Labour and Tory front and backbenchers in the Commons debate on TAR on 17th July revealed a depressing combination of wilful ignorance and prejudice. Both sides fell over each other to praise the need for a full Cold War system of nuclear deterrence and to denounce the Liberal Democrats for challenging it.

A couple of facts may bring some light instead of heat.  Firstly, all options including moving straight to no nukes would save nothing in the next parliament. Even decommissioning is expensive in the short run. As it is we still have old Polaris submarines awaiting safe removal of nuclear material. No option has a significant impact on the country’s current financial problems.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , and | 16 Comments
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