Conference Countdown 2015: We cannot vote to become group members of CND

We all remember the pain of the General Election. We seemed to lose votes from two major groups of people.

The first were people who would not forgive us for working with the Tories in Government. They were tacical voters who voted Lib Dem in 2010 and then voted Labour/Green in 2015.

The second group were swing Lib Dem/Conservative voters. Many of them were scared by the Tories into voting Conservative to stop a Labour/SNP government that would wreck the economy and make the UK unsafe.

If we are to grow and prosper as a party we need to win these votes back. Some of the first group seem to be coming back to us, but the second group seem to remain scared by the Tories.

The election of Jeremy Corbyn last week could give our party a chance to survive, which might not have been there before. His view of a government run economy, of printing money for projects, for abandoning the EU and our nuclear deterrent gives the Tories a huge amount to attack him on. We all know that the Tory press will have a field day.

At conference we will be debating a motion that could play a major part in deciding whether the swing Lib Dem/conservative voters do come back to us.

This is the debate about Trident.

If this was a debate about whether Trident is the right missile system for the UK or about whether we really need four subs to deliver it then this is a debate I would welcome.

But it is not. In the motion it commits us to getting rid of Trident and having no replacement. This will move us from a multilateralist party to a unilateralist party.

This is wrong for three reasons.

  1. This would mean that we would rely completely on the US for protection against a nuclear attack. I don’t think we should rely upon them 100%. Can we rely upon sensible people as president of the US for the next 30 or 40 years, or might one President decide not to protect Europe? History tells us to be careful about US intentions in Europe.


  1. The nuclear deterrent is there to protect us from the growing number of states who have nuclear weapons. We do not know what Russia or China might be like in 30 to 40 years time. If we have no nuclear deterrent, and just rely on the US, we are vulnerable to them. The decision on a nuclear deterrent is a very long term decision. We have already reduced our nuclear arsenal by about 75%, and what have Russia and China done, invest in upgrading their arsenal.


  1. This would be a gift to the Tories. The Tories will attack any party that gives up our nuclear deterrent as a party that will take protection away from the UK. We know from the polling that this attack works. If Corbyn moves Labour to a unilateralist position the Tories will attack him for making the UK weaker on the economy and defence. Remember Neil Kinnock’s embarrassing TV interview attempting to justify giving up our deterrent? Why should we follow? Having some space between us and Labour is sensible.

Tim Farron recognises this as a real threat to our Party and his leadership of us. We cannot torpedo Tim’s leadership by passing this motion. A debate about a cheaper alternative to Trident is sensible. Voting to become group members of CND is not.

* Gerald Vernon-Jackson is leader of Portsmouth City Council, Lib Dem Leader at the Local Government Association and Chair of the English State Party of the Liberal Democrats

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  • The M.A.D. argument wasn’t very convincing in the 80’s, but in 2015 the world has decisively moved on. Our computer systems are being attacked daily by Chinese hackers, but apparently costly submarines that we’ve never used are the best way to defend us. I see no evidence for this and there’s no explanation as to why so many of our European neighbours see no need at all for a nuclear deterrent.

  • Robin McGhee 18th Sep '15 - 12:48pm

    Every point this makes is wrong.

    “This would mean that we would rely completely on the US for protection against a nuclear attack.”
    I am shocked at the ignorance of a former PPC for a naval city on this very basic question. We rely entirely on US companies and facilities for maintenance of the “independent” weapons system. A cross-party report in 2014 commented: “If the United States were to withdraw their cooperation completely, the UK nuclear capability would probably have a life expectancy measured in months rather than years”.

    “The nuclear deterrent is there to protect us from the growing number of states who have nuclear weapons. ”
    According to this logic every significant state should start developing nuclear weapons as soon as possible so it can “defend itself” (read: kill several billion people in a retaliatory strike) in the event of a hypothetical war. Are you seriously suggesting we are “safer” against being attacked than, say, a non-nuclear state like Germany? Do you think we would remain neutral, or not also the subject of attack, in the event of a nuclear strike on Germany by China or Russia? Do you think Chinese or Russian war plans for a nuclear strike on Europe carefully avoid strikes on Britain or France because those countries have nuclear weapons?

    “Having some space between us and Labour is sensible.”
    Yes, because making vital decisions about our national defence should be based on some arbitrarily-chosen here-today-gone-tomorrow opinion polling, not principle or analysis of actual strategic requirements. It’s not as if the party has a problem with being accused of sacrificing principles for power or anything.

  • The first were people who would not forgive us for working with the Tories in Government. They were tacical voters who voted Lib Dem in 2010 and then voted Labour/Green in 2015……..The second group were swing Lib Dem/Conservative voters. Many of them were scared by the Tories into voting Conservative to stop a Labour/SNP government that would wreck the economy and make the UK unsafe…..

    By far the largest group were long term LibDem voters ( who were anything but tactical) who felt betrayed by the way the coalition was handled by those at the top….The survival of our party, as a party, depended on our taking every opportunity to show that we were ‘junior’ members, not ‘equal partners’, in the coalition…Instead, those at the top, took every opportunity to defend policies that, in opposition we would have voted against…

    The ‘hammering’ we took at every election, the lost deposits the ‘trailing a penguin’ should have rung bells, whistles and sirens…Sadly it didn’t.

  • Our defence policy deserves better than measuring “space between us and Labour.” If we can’t kick the habit of determining our stance in response to the month to month fortunes of other parties in the first year of the Parliamentary electoral cycle, when will we manage it?

  • Helen Tedcastle 18th Sep '15 - 1:21pm

    Are we a radical Liberal party or not? Do we vote for or against motions because we are more concerned with how it will go down with Tory-inclined voters and the Tory press? Or do we have principles such as working towards a more peaceful world and a better distribution of resources so far spent on weapons of mass destruction?

    This article gives a tactical argument for opposing the Labour Party and the policies that we know to date about Jeremy Corbyn. We do not know what official Labour policies are going to be yet.

    What we do know is that Corbyn was put into his new position by a huge grassroots up-swell of people who are fed up with tactical policy-making and endless triangulation.

    Why don’t we emulate that instead?

  • Eddie Sammon 18th Sep '15 - 1:44pm

    If no amendments are successful then I want the motion to fail. Is the motion just those nine lines on the conference agenda? One of the marks of a good defence policy is whether CND don’t like it, in my mind, so that’s why I want something that would say most, possibly all, of the savings would go back on defence and security, or that those departments would have “first dips” on the money saved.

    Do the people who live near Faslane mostly want to get rid of Trident? I’d like to see some polling on this.

    I think Caron Lindsay is also right that the party has been fudging this issue for years I am concerned that the current policy is just not very inspiring. The party might need to revisit this again in a few years in order to produce a more inspiring and credible policy.

  • Oh dear oh dear oh dear………….. Gerald seems to say ‘ but the Tories will have go at us……. if we reject Nuclear weapons’. So what ? IMO Nuclear weapons are both evil and not needed. Gerald the Coalition is over….stop pandering to the Tories…we need to set out Liberal principles……. pandering got us 8%. I would rather get 7% with clear Liberal principles and policies We need to be clear both and L:iberal (plus talked about), and build our core support. Rant over….I’m off into a dark room.

  • Was it Lloyd George who said ‘you cant cross a ravine in two or more steps…you have to do it in a leap’?. Lets make the leap to get rid of these weapons… now into my dark room I promise!

  • Laurence Cox 18th Sep '15 - 3:00pm

    Once again I find myself in complete agreement with Gareth here. Gerald’s argument that we cannot trust the US to defend us if we are attacked means that he does not believe in Article 5 of the NATO Treaty. In that case why is he not following Corbyn’s (previous) position of advocating leaving NATO?

    If the possession of nuclear weapons is essential to our safety, then the logical argument is that the more countries that have them the safer the world will be, and so he should also be arguing for the abrogation of the NPT.

    Now, I reluctantly have to admit that Gerald has a point that the Tories will attack us over this, but the right counter to their arguments is hammer home that the real reason for hanging on to Trident (and replacing it) is that it justifies our permanent seat in the UN Security Council. As Nye Bevan put it in 1956 in response to Labour unilateralists ” you will send a British Foreign Secretary, whoever he may be, naked into the conference chamber.”

    Unlike Corbyn, I want to see all the savings from not replacing Trident spent on conventional defence forces. All three services have been cut too far already and we need to spend more not less than 2% on defence. Trident, by taking funding away from our conventional defence forces, only weakens our ability to defend ourselves.

  • The point we, as LibDems, should make is that our ‘best defence’ is a well trained, well supplied conventional force………
    The public are far more concerned with the ‘terrorist’ scenario. We should be pointing out that ‘Trident’ is NO deterrent against any terror group with a ‘…The UK’s role should encompass the possibility of conventional forces to be deployed in helping to ensure that ISIS, and their ilk, do not get WMDs of any kind….

    In today’s world Trident is an unaffordable ‘toy’ and, in any future threat/conflict involving ‘superpowers’, our nuclear arsenal will have no effect…

  • Phil Rimmer 18th Sep '15 - 3:14pm

    I could take issue with a lot of what Gerald says here. However, I will limit myself to his particularly shoddy bit of soundbite politics, unworthy of an internal policy debate.

    Gerald states, “A debate about a cheaper alternative to Trident is sensible. Voting to become group members of CND is not.” Nowhere does the motion suggest this, so I can only assume Gerald mentions CND purely to play on his view of how this will play with the LDV readership. Badly, he hopes.

    Unilateralism is not CND and CND is not unilateralism. As a Liberal, a pacifist and a unilateralist, I have never been a great fan of CND and I have never been a member. Over the last 35 years, I have done most of my peace campaigning through smaller groups such as Conscience, the Peace Pledge Union, Campaign Against the Arms Trade and others. On any given issue, one can rarely choose those who you happen to agree with.

    I can only hope that the debate at Conference is conducted around the issue as it stands today as opposed the faded rhetoric and soundbites of the 1980s.

  • John Tilley 18th Sep '15 - 3:30pm


    If the only votes lost in 2015 were those you described in your article, we would still have the more than 20 seats we held in 1997 and 2001.
    In your  analysis of the change in voting in 2015 you seem to have forgotten that in Scotland we lost all but one of our many MPs and we did not lose them to The Conservatives. 
    Trident was a big issue in Scotland, the SNP made sure everyone knew their opposition to Trident.    So how did the people of Scotland vote?   Not for Trident.

    Your suggestion that for people at our Conference to vote against Trident would be a threat to Tim Farron might be seen as turning the facts on their head.    

    Tim Farron has said he will “Lead the charge against replacement of Trident”.   He has said our MPs will definitely “vote against the replacement of Trident”.    

  • @Gareth Epps “In particular, we already cannot use Trident without US say-so, hence his first point is entirely spurious.”

    Saying that we can’t use Trident without US say-so is entirely spurious. There are three main components to the Trident system: Submarines (built in Britain), warheads (built in Britain) and missiles (built in the US).

    The trident missiles are part of a common pool that are all maintained in Georgia. However, once the warhead is fitted and the missile is loaded into the submarine, the system is entirely British-controlled.

  • Dave Orbison 18th Sep '15 - 5:16pm

    @Helen “Are we a radical Liberal party or not?” Sadly I concluded some time ago the answer is “once upon a time yes, but no more”. I do not believe Tim Farron for one moment will allow unilateralism be part of the LibDems manifesto. He has already stepped in with the tried and tested fudge of “Back me I’m the leader, let’s kick this into the long grass and have yet another, another, another, another, another review. ” Classic.

    I’ve yet to see what Corbyn is able to secure as Lab Party leader but at least he stands on a platform and track record that is unequivocally unilateralist. I believe this policy to be above party politics or at least should be.

  • Adrian 18th Sep ’15 – 5:29pm ………………Opposing Trident won’t win any useful votes and will put off Liberal-leaning voters who want to keep Trident. ……………

    Whereas supporting Trident will……..what?

  • Oh I long for a Radical Liberal Party – free from the fudge and smudge of ‘the centre’ & says what it means – means what it says, you may say I am dreamer, but I’m not the only one (sorry J L). Roll on with real PR when we can have a ‘centralist Liberal’ and a ‘Radical Liberal ‘Parties as they do in some other Countries.

  • “Voting to become group members of CND is not”. Sorry, but that is pretty cheap.

    Just for once, it’s time this party got off its knees and said the blindingly obvious. Spending £ 26 billion short term – £ 100 billion long term on something that no other European country has or says it needs (except post Imperial France) is a profligate waste of money.

  • Labour and the LibDems going into the next GE wanting to get rid of the UK’s nuclear weapons will just mean a Tory landslide. I know it’s hard to imagine getting less votes than 2015, but with policies like this it is very possible. Anyone that doesn’t want to vote Tory in England is being driven into the UKIP camp, both Labour and the LibDems will have to do much better.

  • Councillor Vernon-Jackson : “His view …………………………………..for abandoning the EU ”

    The Guardian, 17 September :

    ‘Jeremy Corbyn has finally ended uncertainty over Labour’s position on Europe, declaring that the party would campaign for the UK to stay in the EU in the forthcoming referendum. In a joint statement with the shadow foreign secretary, Hilary Benn, Corbyn said Labour would make the case for continued British membership of the EU, whatever the outcome of the renegotiation being sought by David Cameron’.

  • ‘Labour and the LibDems going into the next GE wanting to get rid of the UK’s nuclear weapons will just mean a Tory landslide’……stop worrying what Labour may or may nor do – that’s up to them – we should do what we think is right and argue it, I’m getting fed up with we shouldn’t do this or that because it will up set who ever. I joined the Lib Dems because I want Liberal policies & principles not to support what wont offend some people.

  • Dave Orbison 18th Sep '15 - 7:40pm

    Tim Farron is a multilateralist see quote for interview – Politics Home. So that’s it that folks. There is NO way under his leadership the LibDems will become unilateralists. So no, not a radical party at all.

    “I’ve always felt that a like for like replacement of Trident would be the wrong priority. I’m not a unilateralist, I’m a multilateralist. I think the best option is a scaled down Trident, that allows us to divert more funds into military personnel and other public services, it allows us to demonstrate to the world that we are making an independent decision to step down the nuclear ladder, but we remain a nuclear power and we remain at the table to effect multilateral disarmament. For us to at this stage go unilateralist would be pointless gesture politics.”
    – See more at:

  • David Cooper 18th Sep '15 - 9:12pm

    @The nuclear deterrent is there to protect us from the growing number of states who have nuclear weapons

    Nobody suggests messing with North Korea, precisely because they have nuclear weapons. Not necessarily expensive ones- it appears that a low cost nuclear solution is just as good as our gold plated Trident system. They simply need to exist. But unilateral disarmament is a terrible idea.

  • Greenfield

    I think everyone who has joined the party wants “Liberal policies and principles”. However, there are a lot of them who support keeping a UK nuclear deterrent. Being Liberal doesn’t mean we have to give up Trident and let other NATO countries pay for our protection.

  • Dave Orbison 19th Sep '15 - 8:11am

    David Raw is correct to say that Corbyn two days ago when interviewed by the BBC made it clear that he had no intent of coming out of the EU. Crystal clear and based on his belief in cooperation across Europe. So one less bogus thing to throw around re Corbyn. That said Tim Farron on BBC North last night made cited Corbyn’s commitment to exit the EU as a bigger threat to the security of the UK that not singing the national anthem. Desperate, shoddy and misleading.

  • Point taken Malc… that is why I feel it is a ‘touch stone’ for me being in a Radical or Centralist Liberal Party. Against Weapons of mass Destruction (Radical) , keep WMDs/Status Quo ish (Centralist). When I joined the Young Liberals in the mid 70s we were (the then Liberal Party) we were against holding Nuclear weapons (I still have a national leaflet stating our position on this). For me this is a defining issue and one which may end membership/activism or at the very least dampen it. I understand the reverse is true for those who take the opposite position.

  • Dave Orbison,

    It seems Tim was finding it difficult to keep up with the rapidity with which Jeremy Corbyn is changing the position he held during his election campaign on various things!

    Since Corbyn portrays himself as a conviction politician, it is hard to believe his convictions have changed so rapidly… He has always been a Eurosceptic of the Bennite tradiation. Here is a long article about it if you want

  • Malcolm Todd 19th Sep '15 - 9:51am

    David Cooper 18th Sep ’15 – 9:12pm

    “Nobody suggests messing with North Korea, precisely because they have nuclear weapons. ”

    Simply not true. I don’t think it’s certain that NK has usable nuclear weapons yet (I stand ready to be corrected by the more knowledgeable); but it certainly hasn’t had them for very long, yet it’s been a pariah state for decades. Why has no one done anything about it? … China. That’s why.

  • Malcolm Todd 19th Sep '15 - 9:53am

    “2. The nuclear deterrent is there to protect us from the growing number of states who have nuclear weapons. ”

    Like the American argument for everyone carrying handguns, this is wrong in a crucial respect: nuclear missiles can only be used to kill and destroy, not to protect. The moment deterrence fails it becomes obvious that it is a terrifyingly bad policy.

  • …………..“Nobody suggests messing with North Korea, precisely because they have nuclear weapons. ”…………

    A very, very ‘dodgy’ analogy….It leads to more and more, often unstable, regimes trying to get them…”If I have them no-one will mess with me”…..
    There have been attempts by terrorist groups in Pakistan and the Caucuses to obtain ‘nukes’…It isn’t beyond the possible that religious/political sympathisers in positions of power will ‘lose’ a weapon in this way…..

    Trident will be no deterrent….

  • @ Geo Meadows
    I would have said rather that Corbyn DID not do fudge (past tense)

    In the last week he seems to have been doing fudge rather extensively… He has to to keep his MPs onside….

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