Perhaps Britain isn’t ready for Jeremy Corbyn’s straight-talking, honest politics. If the current Trident fiasco is anything to go by, Corbyn’s desire for a wide-reaching and honest debate may be strangled sooner than he expected. With an unwilling front bench and an over-excited Tory party, it grows ever more likely that the well needed discussion on Trident will be denied.
No one can deny that it has been a frantic week for Jeremy. If Conference didn’t make you feel uncomfortable enough, the Sky News interview on Wednesday morning certainly will have. In a nod to Eamonn Holmes, let me say that I, like Jeremy, do not hate Tories. In fact, I rather like the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Crispin Blunt. The Conservative member for Reigate has made his position on Trident clear: “as a nation, given the other potential demands on our defence budget, we can no longer justify the expense.’”
Unfortunately for Jeremy, this is a war on all fronts. Firstly, the unions are doing what Gordon Brown did with Trident: supporting it on the basis of employment. Even guaranteeing the security of these jobs isn’t enough for Jeremy’s opponents. Secondly, the Tories, and even his own frontbench opponents, are now circulating the idea that nuclear weapons are part of a symbolic form of patriotism. Mocked for not remembering fallen soldiers in an anthem that did not mention them, the Labour leader now faces a similarly styled offensive over Trident.
As the struggle continues, it is the Prime Minister who will have the last laugh. Or will he? In castig the issue as a political one, it is David Cameron who is playing games with our national security. But Jeremy was right: nuclear weapons did not stop Al Qaeda flying planes into the World Trade Centre, nor did they stop extremists striking our underground network. This may be hard to swallow, but it is true. We have entered a new age of modern warfare, and it is about time our defence strategy responded to this.
Apparently we need this Cold War technology as we enter into a new Cold War era. Putin may fight wild animals and talk tough, but is this macho positioning really reason enough to keep the deterrent? Those who buy this line should have a word with the owners of Beauchamp Estates and other agents across London. Trading millions of pounds worth of property with Russian speculators every day, the idea that the Russian state stands ready to drop a nuclear bomb on the city of London – a city it owns half of – is completely preposterous. The same can be said of the Chinese state too. What interest would China have in attacking a nation that it has invested £100bn in?
So this is where Jeremy is right, but it is also where his argument is being distorted. Painted as anti-military and anti-British, the overwhelming view is that Corbyn just isn’t interested. But the fact that he is suggesting we transfer the Trident spending to other areas of the defence budget suggests that he is. It is obvious that he does not wish to use the armed forces provocatively, but he has accepted time and time again that the force is necessary. As Putin positions his military in Syria, Jeremy is offering an alternative to the out-dated defence consensus.
We must remember that once upon a time, in the not too distant past, we were spending billions on the upkeep of Trident whilst British troops were fighting in Iraq. The National Audit Office reported that many of these soldiers were left without proper training or proper equipment. Rather than investing in technology that could have kept soldiers safe, we invested in a piece of technology that was of no use to them whatsoever. I do not think there is anything unpatriotic about stating that we should use the resources for Trident on practical solutions that actually keep us safe.
These are the ideas that I believe Corbyn must adopt. Enough talk of the money being swallowed into unknown areas. A good part of it must be actively spent on rehabilitating the nation’s defences. This does not mean recklessly spending on new armaments or equipment. Instead, it means helping the nation’s veteran’s re-enter normal life, whilst training a new age force ready to tackle modern threats. It means preparing an adequate response to climate change, a threat that we simply cannot nuke into irrelevance. It means having a leader, and a nation, with the guts to live up to its commitments and taking the first step towards a safer and more peaceful, non-nuclear world.