Why Clegg is right on Trident

Scrapping nuclear weapons is a vote winner.

As parties scramble to pick up first time voters, they would do well to take note of the views of the younger generation. Polls show that while the majority of the population overall favour scrapping Trident, this sentiment is strongest in the 18 to 24 age group -- at 68 per cent. In fact, polls have indicated strong anti-Trident feeling across the political spectrum.

In terms of voting intentions,according to a ComRes/Independent poll in September 2009, 61 per cent of those planning to vote Labour support scrapping Trident, 63 per cent of those planning to vote Liberal Democrat, and most interestingly perhaps, 48 per cent of potential Conservative supporters, coming in 1 per cent higher than those wanting to keep Trident. Not surprisingly, scrapping Trident can be seen as a vote winner, not a vote loser.

This may be borne out by last night's leaders' debate, where Nick Clegg spoke out strongly against wasting public money on a Cold War nuclear weapons system. Brown and Cameron made their support for Trident very clear. All viewer polls since then show that Nick Clegg was overwhelmingly the most popular candidate.

It may not be specifically because he opposed Trident, but it certainly hasn't damaged his ratings. This is something that Labour in particular needs to be aware of. Some of those in the party leadership may still believe the old myth that Labour's anti-nuclear policies in 1983 led to its electoral defeat. In fact, the Tories polled less than at the previous election, but won out because the newly-founded SDP split the anti-Tory vote.

Be that as it may, there is no doubt that much of the rank and file of the Labour party oppose the leadership's pro-nuclear position. Now it appears that many current Labour candidates are openly breaking with the party's backing for Trident replacement.

CND has been conducting a survey of parliamentary candidates' views on Trident replacement. So far, the responses from Labour candidates -- many of them standing for the first time and in winnable seats -- are over 2 to 1 against replacing Trident.

Do candidates normally go against party policy in election surveys? I don't know the answer to that, but if the party leadership can't win their candidates to the policy, doesn't have the support of large numbers of party members, and is out of touch with public opinion, then maybe they really should have a rethink.

The minimum we should expect from all parties is that Trident should be included in the Strategic Defence Review. There can be no sacred cows, particularly not ones dating back to the Cold War.

Kate Hudson is Chair of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

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What Donald Trump could learn from Ronald Reagan

Reagan’s candidacy was built on more than his celebrity. Trump not only lacks experience as an elected official, he isn’t part of any organised political movement.

“No one remembers who came in second.” That wisdom, frequently dispensed by the US presidential candidate Donald Trump, came back to haunt him this week. Trump’s loss in the Iowa Republican caucuses to the Texas senator Ted Cruz, barely beating Senator Marco Rubio of Florida for second place, was the first crack in a campaign that has defied all expectations.

It has been a campaign built on Trump’s celebrity. Over the past eight months, his broad name recognition, larger-than-life personality and media savvy have produced a theatrical candidacy that has transfixed even those he repels. The question now is whether that celebrity will be enough – whether a man so obsessed with being “Number One” can bounce back from defeat.

Iowa isn’t everything, after all. It didn’t back the eventual Republican nominee in 2008 or 2012. Nor, for that matter, in 1980, when another “celebrity” candidate was in the mix. That was the year Iowa picked George H W Bush over Ronald Reagan – the former actor whom seasoned journalists dismissed as much for his right-wing views as for his “B-movie” repertoire. But Reagan regrouped, romped to victory in the New Hampshire primary and rode a wave of popular support all the way to the White House.

Trump might hope to replicate that success and has made a point of pushing the Reagan analogy more generally. Yet it is a comparison that exposes Trump’s weaknesses and his strengths.

Both men were once Democrats who came later in life to the Republican Party, projecting toughness, certainty and unabashed patriotism. Trump has even adopted Reagan’s 1980 campaign promise to “make America great again”. Like Reagan, he has shown he can appeal to evangelicals despite question marks over his religious conviction and divorces. In his ability to deflect criticism, too, Trump has shown himself as adept as Reagan – if by defiance rather than by charm – and redefined what it means to be “Teflon” in the age of Twitter.

That defiance, however, points to a huge difference in tone between Reagan’s candidacy and Trump’s. Reagan’s vision was a positive, optimistic one, even as he castigated “big government” and the perceived decline of US power. Reagan’s America was meant to be “a city upon a hill” offering a shining example of liberty to the world – in rhetoric at least. Trump’s vision is of an America closed off from the world. His rhetoric invokes fear as often as it does freedom.

On a personal level, Reagan avoided the vituperative attacks that have been the hallmark of Trump’s campaign, even as he took on the then“establishment” of the Republican Party – a moderate, urban, east coast elite. In his first run for the nomination, in 1976, Reagan even challenged an incumbent Republican president, Gerald Ford, and came close to defeating him. But he mounted the challenge on policy grounds, advocating the so-called “Eleventh Commandment”: “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.” Trump, as the TV debates between the Republican presidential candidates made clear, does not subscribe to the same precept.

More importantly, Reagan in 1976 and 1980 was the leader of a resurgent conservative movement, with deep wells of political experience. He had been president of the Screen Actors Guild in the late 1940s, waging a campaign to root out communist infiltrators. He had gone on to work for General Electric in the 1950s as a TV pitchman and after-dinner speaker, honing a business message that resonated beyond the “rubber chicken circuit”.

In 1964 he grabbed headlines with a televised speech on behalf of the Republican presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater – a bright spot in Goldwater’s otherwise ignominious campaign. Two years later he was elected governor of California – serving for eight years as chief executive of the nation’s most populous state. He built a conservative record on welfare reform, law and order, and business regulation that he pushed on to the federal agenda when he ran for president.

All this is to say that Reagan’s candidacy was built on more than his celebrity. By contrast, Trump not only lacks experience as an elected official, he isn’t part of any organised political movement – which enhanced his “outsider” status, perhaps, but not his ground game. So far, he has run on opportunism, tapping in to popular frustration, channelled through a media megaphone.

In Iowa, this wasn’t enough. To win the nomination he will have to do much more to build his organisation. He will be hoping that in the primaries to come, voters do remember who came in second. 

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war