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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The Tories have missed a chance to show that they care about student debt

After condemning Jeremy Corbyn for his "betrayal", the government has still raised the top student interest rate to 6.1 per cent. 

For weeks, the Conservatives have assailed Jeremy Corbyn for his alleged betrayal over student debt. The Labour leader told NME during the campaign that he would "deal with" the issue. But he later clarified that this did not amount to a "commitment" to wipe out student debt (which would cost around £100bn) and that he had been "unaware of the size of it at the time". For this, the Tories have accused him of Clegg-style hypocrisy. 

There is little sign, however, that the attack has proved effective. Labour’s manifesto said nothing on the subject of student debt and Corbyn's language in the NME interview was ambiguous. "I’m looking at ways that we could reduce that [student debt], ameliorate that, lengthen the period of paying it off," he said. There is no comparison with the Liberal Democrats, who explicitly vowed not to raise tuition fees before trebling them to £9,000 as part of the coalition. Young voters still credit Corbyn for his vow to abolish tuition fees (were he to break this promise in power, it would be a different matter). 

A further problem for the Tories is that they have spotlighted a problem - student debt - without offering any solution. At present, graduates pay a marginal tax rate of 41 per cent on earnings over £21,000 (20 per cent income tax, 12 per cent national insurance and 9 per cent student loan repayment). This, combined with the average debt (£50,800), leaves them struggling to save for a home deposit, or even to pay the rent. The Conservatives, unsurprisingly, are unable to sell capitalism to voters with no capital. 

Yet rather than remedying this problem, the government has compounded it. The Department of Education has ruled out reducing the top interest rate on student loans from 6.1 per cent, meaning the average student will accrue £5,800 in interest charges even before they graduate.

By maintaining the status quo, the Tories have missed a chance to demonstrate that they have learned from their electoral humbling. Had they reduced student debt, or cut tuition fees, they could have declared that while Corbyn talks, they act. Instead, they have merely confirmed that for graduates who want change, Corbyn remains their best hope. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.