Trident - Meacher responds

Labour leadership candidate and former environment minister Michael Meacher responds to the Trident

So the UK will now be going overdressed into the negotiating chamber. At the preparatory session of the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva next month, countries facing international criticism over their nuclear programmes will naturally look askance at calls from the UK not to continue down the weapons development path. “You claim that in an uncertain world you need these weapons,” they will say. “What makes the situation any more certain for us?” Of course there is no adequate answer.

The risk is that instead of multilateral moves towards disarmament to make the world a safer place, we will see a cascade of nuclear weapons development and proliferation. Rather than going to the Geneva conference armed with proposals to demonstrably reduce reliance on nuclear weapons, we will be uncomfortably denuded of any moral or political case that could lead to wider disarmament.

A total of 95 Labour MPs voted for the amendment rejecting Government approval for renewal. The strong efforts made to reduce the size of the backbench rebellion, not least remarks ahead of the debate from Gordon Brown about his success in persuading MPs to vote with the Government, belie the claims that taking the decision now was a favour from Tony Blair to Gordon Brown (or any indeed other successor), in order to avoid such a divisive vote in the future. Indeed, Des Browne said as much on the Today Programme yesterday, when he admitted further decisions on submarines, warheads and delivery systems would be taken by Parliament in future years.

This makes it all the harder to understand why the Government opposed Frank Field’s amendment, which deleted nothing from the government motion but merely added a call to ensure a vote in Parliament ahead of the money being committed.

Thatcher made a virtue out of her perceived refusal ever to compromise. Blair’s attempt to appear similarly determined has been far less successful. It is this aspect which is most worrying for the future of the Labour party – an unwillingness to build bridges to MPs dissenting because their constituents express strong concerns. It’s a failure of parliamentary work that we last saw over the debate on detention without charge. Charles Clarke agreed to consult MPs further and see if a new consensus was possible. Blair’s determination to stick to the original 90 days proposal generated much disquiet amongst backbench Labour MPs and was a significant cause of the government’s defeat. The letter from Margaret Beckett and Des Browne circulated to MPs yesterday had a similar effect and magnified the size of the vote for the “case not proven” amendment.

The knock-on effects of yesterday’s vote will be seen most dramatically among party activists, causing immense disquiet. The sad fact is that we can expect to see fewer people out campaigning for Labour in the regional elections in May. Despite the repeated avowals of “respect” Tony Blair offers members who disagree with him, they would be more interested in taking part in a real debate.

In his speech yesterday, Gordon Prentice rightly described the lack of consultation as “a disgrace,” from the point when all motions discussing Trident at Labour Conference last September were ruled out of order to the truncated timetable for debate that ended yesterday. I have already said that if elected leader I would re-open this question entirely, not just on the timing, but on the principle. The Government has avoided an opportunity for promoting multi-lateral disarmament now and greater security for decades to come. We must continue to campaign so that future promised votes have a more positive outcome.

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The New Times: Brexit, globalisation, the crisis in Labour and the future of the left

With essays by David Miliband, Paul Mason, John Harris, Lisa Nandy, Vince Cable and more.

Once again the “new times” are associated with the ascendancy of the right. The financial crash of 2007-2008 – and the Great Recession and sovereign debt crises that were a consequence of it – were meant to have marked the end of an era of runaway “turbocapitalism”. It never came close to happening. The crash was a crisis of capitalism but not the crisis of capitalism. As Lenin observed, there is “no such thing as an absolutely hopeless situation” for capitalism, and so we discovered again. Instead, the greatest burden of the period of fiscal retrenchment that followed the crash was carried by the poorest in society, those most directly affected by austerity, and this in turn has contributed to a deepening distrust of elites and a wider crisis of governance.

Where are we now and in which direction are we heading?

Some of the contributors to this special issue believe that we have reached the end of the “neoliberal” era. I am more sceptical. In any event, the end of neoliberalism, however you define it, will not lead to a social-democratic revival: it looks as if, in many Western countries, we are entering an age in which centre-left parties cannot form ruling majorities, having leaked support to nationalists, populists and more radical alternatives.

Certainly the British Labour Party, riven by a war between its parliamentary representatives and much of its membership, is in a critical condition. At the same time, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has inspired a remarkable re-engagement with left-wing politics, even as his party slumps in the polls. His own views may seem frozen in time, but hundreds of thousands of people, many of them young graduates, have responded to his anti-austerity rhetoric, his candour and his shambolic, unspun style.

The EU referendum, in which as much as one-third of Labour supporters voted for Brexit, exposed another chasm in Labour – this time between educated metropolitan liberals and the more socially conservative white working class on whose loyalty the party has long depended. This no longer looks like a viable election-winning coalition, especially after the collapse of Labour in Scotland and the concomitant rise of nationalism in England.

In Marxism Today’s “New Times” issue of October 1988, Stuart Hall wrote: “The left seems not just displaced by Thatcherism, but disabled, flattened, becalmed by the very prospect of change; afraid of rooting itself in ‘the new’ and unable to make the leap of imagination required to engage the future.” Something similar could be said of the left today as it confronts Brexit, the disunities within the United Kingdom, and, in Theresa May, a prime minister who has indicated that she might be prepared to break with the orthodoxies of the past three decades.

The Labour leadership contest between Corbyn and Owen Smith was largely an exercise in nostalgia, both candidates seeking to revive policies that defined an era of mass production and working-class solidarity when Labour was strong. On matters such as immigration, digital disruption, the new gig economy or the power of networks, they had little to say. They proposed a politics of opposition – against austerity, against grammar schools. But what were they for? Neither man seemed capable of embracing the “leading edge of change” or of making the imaginative leap necessary to engage the future.

So is there a politics of the left that will allow us to ride with the currents of these turbulent “new times” and thus shape rather than be flattened by them? Over the next 34 pages 18 writers, offering many perspectives, attempt to answer this and related questions as they analyse the forces shaping a world in which power is shifting to the East, wars rage unchecked in the Middle East, refugees drown en masse in the Mediterranean, technology is outstripping our capacity to understand it, and globalisation begins to fragment.

— Jason Cowley, Editor 

Tom Kibasi on what the left fails to see

Philip Collins on why it's time for Labour to end its crisis

John Harris on why Labour is losing its heartland

Lisa Nandy on how Labour has been halted and hollowed out

David Runciman on networks and the digital revolution

John Gray on why the right, not the left, has grasped the new times

Mariana Mazzucato on why it's time for progressives to rethink capitalism

Robert Ford on why the left must reckon with the anger of those left behind

Ros Wynne-Jones on the people who need a Labour government most

Gary Gerstle on Corbyn, Sanders and the populist surge

Nick Pearce on why the left is haunted by the ghosts of the 1930s

Paul Mason on why the left must be ready to cause a commotion

Neal Lawson on what the new, 21st-century left needs now

Charles Leadbeater explains why we are all existentialists now

John Bew mourns the lost left

Marc Stears on why democracy is a long, hard, slow business

Vince Cable on how a financial crisis empowered the right

David Miliband on why the left needs to move forward, not back

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times