Nuclear fudge on the Lib Dem stall

Bismark is quoted as having said that “politics is the art of the possible” and in perpetuating a nuclear defence policy that can never be realised, the Liberal Democrats  have succeeded in stepping out of the debate on nuclear weapons.  The policy of having a part time submarine which probably isn’t carrying any nuclear warheads is neither possible nor deterrent.
This position is the sort of contingency that is adopted by fence sitters who do not expect ever to have to implement the policy that they have adopted and quite frankly for a party that aspires to government it is an entirely unsustainable policy.
There are in fact on the nuclear debate only two main questions, do we want a nuclear based defence policy or not?  If the answer is yes then the policy of the Liberal Democrats is not that policy as it means in reality that we leave the warheads at home until after war has been declared.  If the answer is no then the policy of the Liberal Democrats is not that policy as it retains the warheads.

Fundamentally we are saying that we want to negotiate away warheads that we will never use and will never have the opportunity to use and so we have taken our warheads out of any possible multi-lateral agreement.

We all know that this position is unsustainable, we all know that we will have to return to the biennial nuclear debate in 2019 and we all know that there will be people in the party trying to fudge it again.  The trouble is that nuclear fudge is a toxic product and when each party sets out their stall right now there is nuclear fudge on the Lib Dem stall.

Some years back the Monster Raving Loony Party adopted a defence policy along the lines of “we will creosote all de fences so de politicians cannot sit on dem”.  It has come to something when the only real opposition to the Tory Government in England has a policy less credible than that of the Monster Raving Loony Party.

* Chair of Manchester Gorton Liberal Democrats, a member of the NW Regional Executive and the English Council and Vice President of LGBT+ Liberal Democrats

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  • Eddie Sammon 24th Mar '17 - 3:39pm

    I’ve come around to the idea of unilateral disarmament. This isn’t a peacenik policy if we significantly boost our conventional forces with the saving. We need precision weapons and if possible better armour for our troops and police officers.

  • Max Wilkinson 24th Mar '17 - 4:06pm

    Accepting that I’m likely to get a barrage of abuse, I think our policy is exactly the right one for a party that believes in multilateral disarmament. It’s very easy to take a black and white view, like Corbynite Labour or the Tory party, but ours seems altogether more pragmatic.

  • Well said Iain, Andrew & Eddie.

    And…………. how about a ballot on whether or not to retain the almost but not quite Trident policy with an electorate of all 85,000 paid up members of the party.

    Much more democrat than limiting it to the self selecting few hundred who can afford to go to Conference. A full written Pro and Anti statement could be circulated with the ballot paper.

    That way we’ll find out whether we all want to live in a Yellow Submarine on an unlimited diet of fudge.

    Me ? I don’t want to live in a yellow submarine, so that’s four votes for starters..

  • Max Wilkinson 24th Mar '17 - 4:40pm

    @ David Raw

    If a ballot of 85,000 should be used to decide policy on this one issue, then why not for all? There may be a debate to be had on a more direct form of member democracy, but we can’t pick and choose the issues to which bit would apply.

  • Kevin White 24th Mar '17 - 4:41pm

    I suspect that a lot of our new members who’ve come from Labour and the Tories swallowed the absurd leadership line. Conference attendance at York was boosted by 25% new Conference goers. I would urge them to think about Iain’s comments. I would also urge them to go and campaign for Jackie Pearcey in the Manchester Gorton by-election. She is sensible enough to oppose Trident.

  • Simon McGrath 24th Mar '17 - 4:42pm

    It was a very clear vote and unilateralism was rejected by a larger margin than the last few times the CND faction in the party has got it on the agenda.

    No need to discuss again until after the next election at the earliest

  • It was tongue in cheek, Max – but that’s how we choose the leader.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 24th Mar '17 - 5:51pm

    A very disappointing result, although not unexpected. It did seem to me that by far the most powerful, eloquent and moving speeches were those for the unilateralist amendment – although as a unilateralist, it’s not surprising that I thought so. I was especially disappointed by the very poor arguments used against the amendment. Some speakers tried to make a comparison between unilateral disarmament and Brexit – a bizarre and nonsensical comparison. It seemed clear that this absurd argument was a cynical attempt to make the mostly very pro EU people present, feel that voting for the amendment would somehow be letting the EU down – despite the fact that the vast majority of EU countries do not have nuclear weapons. Many speakers said “we are an internationalist party”, as if this was somehow an argument for keeping nuclear weapons. Again, a nonsensical argument. Surely being internationalist means seeking friendly and positive relationships with the rest of the world, rather than threatening it with weapons of mass destruction! I agreed with the speaker who suggested that opposition to the amendment was less about fear of Russia or North Korea, than about fear of the Daily Mail.

  • Chris Randall 24th Mar '17 - 6:50pm

    The fact is any nuclear policy for several reasons is ridiculous, the first being you need an armed forces capable of holding the enemy whilst you say this is the line you can’t cross or we will deploy, a weak arms forces like we have now couldn’t hold a on long enough. Second reason if you have weak conventional forces you have to deploy nuclear weapons not just earlier but because you haven’t the manpower. Worst still the real expense in war is equipment so even if we had a large amount of manpower you need the equipment to feed it with and this has been eroded over the last 40 years. We had for examp!e 1500 Centurions, then 980 Chieftains, then 480 Challenger 1s and now 112 Challenger 2s manned and ready to go. That is less then 2 regiments worth of Centurians which consisted after ww2 of 74 per regiment. This is less then the armies number of horses but worse less then even Switzerland and Serbia has! This cannot be allowed to continue, paying through the nose for a nuclear system that can not be afforded we can no longer keep shelling out for a brand new Rolls Royce when all we can really afford is a 25 year old Citroen CV2.

  • Chris Randall 24th Mar '17 - 8:01pm

    Just a small point as a serviceman in the 70s, 80s and 90s, we needed 22,000 troops to keep something like a peace in Northern Ireland, because of the stress level of 8 on duty, 8 on standby and 8 off, 7 days a week the tour for most was 4 months with out return or other tours for two years that means if Northern Ireland kicks off you will need around 132,000 in our glorious army, this without enough to cover Cyprus, Belize, the Falklands and perhaps Gibraltar and all the other places we protect the only reason I thought to mention this is death of Martin McGuiness and the bomb in Strabane.

  • Scott Craig 24th Mar '17 - 8:27pm

    A part time submarine is no more a deterrent than a yellow one.

  • @ Simon McGrath “the CND faction in the party”,

    A pejorative phrase which shows little respect for a concerned thoughtful and large part of the party – many of whom have never been in CND.

  • Richard Underhill 24th Mar '17 - 9:20pm

    Another coalition with the Tories seems unlikely somehow, with Labour impossible, so why have a policy at all?

  • @ Richard Underhill Yes, indeed. In fact why have a party at all ? It only causes vexation .

  • Stephen Yolland 24th Mar '17 - 11:04pm

    Simon McGrath belittles those he disagrees with as “the CND faction”. This entirely ignores those who voted for the amendment because they believe strengthened conventional forces are simply a better option for Britain than the massively wasteful 6% of defence spending that Trident represents.

    Seen any good aircraft carriers recently Simon? No, me either.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 24th Mar '17 - 11:23pm

    The article is overblown, the responses almost measured in comparison.

    The policy is a compromise. Yes those to the left of Ho Chi Min and the right of Genghis Khan would say fudge. Not actually the same thing. At some point on some issues those a little nearer the centre whether to the left or right of that sensible and derided place , often do have to compromise.

    I am a multilateralist who would support the renewal of Trident , war heads , full time . I would also work like a dog in government to get real multilaterist oriented negotiations going.

    If this is revisited again in the next two years the party can forget this real opposition nonsense.

    It would have become a talking shop !

    If we have , as David above wants, a ballot, we should on all main issues.I favour that. It is why Beppe Grillo is the third , now almost second force in Italian politics.

  • John Barrett 25th Mar '17 - 8:38am

    If there was nothing better to spend the money on, there would still be little, or no sense, in spending it on a part time nuclear deterrent.

    Surely we can come up with better ways to defend the country and use the massive costs saved for more sensible purposes.

  • Three times the LIb Dems have voted on nuclear weapons in recent years. The Unilateralist side hasn’t won any of those and its arguable that the margin has increased. Whatever else the view might be (and this has been horribly confused ever since Chris Huhne invented the idea of a smaller cuddlier deterrent in a cynical attempt to triangulate Nick out of the leadership election) it seems fairly settle that it isn’t unilateralist.

  • I find myself in agreement with Eddie, a rare thing indeed. However, given that the splits in the lib dems on this go as deep as my own household being divided, much as I agree with Iain I can also accept that others don’t and won’t, sad as that makes me.

  • My problem with this debate is that sincere people on both sides of the debate tend to repeat arguments that only make sense to those who already agree with them. There are too many loud voices in each camp that do that camp a disservice.

    I’m currently sitting on the reduced trident fence, and would love to be persuaded that we don’t need any, but I’m still waiting. The quality of the debate at conference was better than most, but it’s still a debate for the wider community, as the public mood is relevant.

    The moral approach seems to divide the world into those who are happy to see foreign children murdered in their beds, and those who are happy to allow their own children to be murdered in their beds. Those arguments will get cheers from your own side, but will not persuade this fence-sitter, never mind anyone who disagrees.

    Then there are those who attempt, but fail at reason. Unless you think that bank robberies are only successful when the staff know that each and every gun is real, is loaded with real guns, and handled by psychopaths with good hand-eye co-ordination skills, then how can you argue that simply having, but hoping not to use, trident is pointless? The same goes for those who think that having just two subs is pointless. is playing Russian Roulette with two bullets something you fancy?

    And don’t get me started on those who don’t know the difference between a nuclear sub and a nuclear war-head.

    The debate needs to acknowledge the purpose of a deterrent, but focus more on what else can make us safer. What are the threats facing the country these days? They are many and complex, and I assume that anyone suggesting a simple solution hasn’t thought it through. Trident is very expensive, so there is a fair chance we could get better value for money from other options, but it’s up to those wanting a different option to make the case.

    Deterrent systems like Trident could be compared with vaccination. If it’s working well, we might think we don’t need it, and if it works really well, we eventually won’t need it. Some think it’s all a big con by Big Pharma, and others think it’s a con by government. Some just think it would be better to spend the money on other parts of the health service.

    Is Trident the equivalent to the smallpox vaccination? Should we ditch it for MMR, or would you rather rely on homeopathy?

  • gerald clayton 25th Mar '17 - 2:51pm

    Don’t send young men to the front line unprotected. In the next few years underwater detection will make these submarines more trackable than an Amazon delivery.

  • Laurence Cox 25th Mar '17 - 5:13pm

    @gerald clayton
    Don’t fall for the line from the snake-oil salesmen selling underwater drones. The Swedes, who are no laggards in defence, still have problems trying to decide if there are Russian subs in the shallow waters around their islands; the deep ocean is far, far bigger. Russia’s GNP is about the same size as Spain’s; they just don’t have the resources to create the sort of networks you would need to track nuclear subs.

  • In the next few years underwater detection will make these submarines more trackable than an Amazon delivery.

    This is simply not true. The ocean is vast; passive underwater detection technologies, especially of submarines designed for stealth, as these will be, is short-range.

    Use of drones to help with underwater detection will help with monitoring of specific known channels and access points. It will not, plausibly, allow the finding of an individual submarine which could be anywhere in any ocean over the entire globe.

  • Tony Greaves 25th Mar '17 - 9:56pm

    What gets me about this debate is not that the party has a laughable policy (fortunately no-one outside cares too much at present about our policy on nuclear weapons so not many will notice) – it is that people think that the amendment at York was “unilateralist”. It seems that some education in the history of defence policy over the last half-century is needed. It is of course the policy which the Liberal Party adopted when Jo Grimond was leader in the early sixties and held until forced into support for British nuclear weapons by the SDP (and notably the mad doctor) in the 1980s.

  • John Mitchell 25th Mar '17 - 11:50pm

    I agree with what both David Raw and Lorenzo Cherin said in that some measures should be opened up to all party members through a ballot. That could pose significant challenges in what issues are to be debated this way but I’d still support the party exploring it.

    I would support the option to renew the Trident system with a continuous at sea deterrent as a multilateralist. The points on reduced armed forces expenditure and resources are valid but I think the UK should have both a well resourced armed forces and a credible nuclear deterrent and not have to choose one or the other. Hard choices have to be made but I do believe that defence is one area where you can’t really afford to compromise, unless other nations are also willing to do so.

  • Stephen Hesketh 26th Mar '17 - 6:26am

    As I sat in the auditorium before the vote I couldn’t help but wonder how many would ultimately be swayed not be the quality of the arguments but by something not even mentioned – the fear of what the Mail/Express/Sun etc would say and the effect this might have on the rebuilding of our party.

    It also seems to me that many of those supporting the main motion wanted their cake (fudge) and to eat it. Can we really afford good traditional and the very latest developments in conventional forces and cyber defences if we purchase something that, in Britain’s case is more to do with posturing than defence and is, in reality, but a short stones throw from a like for like replacement?

    Regarding the intentional over reduction of the debate to unilateralist/multilateralist terminology, I would like to understand from those who pushed a 20th century ‘multilateralist-internationalist’ line, how they think the overwhelming majority of the worlds nations sleep in their beds at night and have resisted being over run by nuclear states?

    The reality is that while Britain continues to maintain a semi-independent nuclear capability, other areas of public spending WILL suffer. You really can not have your fudge and eat it. To suggest you can is essentially dishonest.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 26th Mar '17 - 8:00am

    Tony Greaves, Yes, it was annoying that several speakers in the debate said “we have always been a multilateralist party”, ignoring the fact that the old Liberal Party had a unilateralist policy for several years. It is a pity that at the merger of the two parties, it was the SDP support for the “nuclear deterrent” that prevailed. But I don’t really understand why you feel that the amendment was not unilateralist? It did state that Britain should not have nuclear weapons.

  • Stephen Hesketh 26th Mar '17 - 12:38pm

    Catherine, was it not a motion about replacing a semi independent submarine based nuclear retaliation weapon with another?

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 26th Mar '17 - 6:31pm

    Stephen Hesketh, I was puzzled by why Tony Greaves thought the *amendment* was not unilateralist, as it said that Britain should unilaterally cease to have nuclear weapons.

  • Stephen Hesketh 26th Mar '17 - 9:10pm

    Catherine – point taken!

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