Labour Party conference briefing

labour party conference

An MP who has spent his whole life campaigning against nuclear weapons now leads the Labour Party. And at Labour's annual conference next week, party policy on Trident is set to be debated and a new policy decided. This could provide crucial opposition to Trident in next year's Parliamentary debate.

This represents a huge opportunity for our movement to make progress towards scrapping Trident. If you are a member of the Labour Party, please read our conference briefing below and share with your Labour Party contacts.

If you would like a hard copy of the briefing, we will be distributing these at conference. Alternatively, you can download a PDF at the bottom of the page.

Labour Party Conference Briefing 2015 - Changing Labour: Time to scrap Trident

This Labour Party Conference looks set to be the last before Parliament votes next year on whether or not to replace Trident. This comes at the end of a general election year in which nuclear weapons have been high up the political agenda, within the Labour Party and beyond, in a way that hasn’t been seen for a generation.

The massive cost is one element of that debate. A Trident replacement’s estimated lifetime cost – including the procurement of submarines, replacement of warheads, in service costs and decommissioning – is estimated to be at least £100billion. The opportunity cost of spending on Trident is enormous – whether the alternative is spending on homes, jobs and healthcare, or on conventional weaponry.

Security is another element of the debate. In a world of changing global threats and continuing austerity it is vital that Britain’s defences remain relevant to the modern world. The Trident nuclear weapons system is a relic of the Cold War that does nothing to challenge contemporary security threats like terrorism, climate change and cyber warfare. Nuclear weapons possession makes us a nuclear target and contributes to proliferation: our insistence that Trident is necessary for our security will lead other countries to come to the same conclusion. A secure world is a world without nuclear weapons.

Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn understands these issues and concerns. He has consistently supported a Britain without nuclear weapons since joining CND at the age of 15. His landslide victory in the leadership election came with a clear anti-Trident platform. Over the course of the campaign Trident was raised at almost every husting and became a key issue, showing the appetite among Labour Party members for a change in policy. Jeremy’s victory must now pave the way for an open, genuine debate about this issue before MPs vote on replacement next year. When this debate takes place, all arguments can be considered objectively and the voice of members can be heard. In this context CND is confident that an anti-Trident position will be reached.

As part of his leadership campaign Jeremy published a detailed policy document on Defence Diversification, setting out how the jobs associated with Trident could be redeployed to other areas of the economy. The document states that not replacing Trident ‘gives our country an opportunity to invest in industry, innovation and infrastructure that will rebalance our economy and transform it into a high skilled, high-tech world leading economy.’

The initial decision to start work on Trident replacement was taken in 2007, with the largest Labour rebellion on a domestic policy issue since 1920 and members of the Government resigning in protest. There was a further rebellion earlier this year when the House of Commons voted on an Opposition Day motion calling for Trident to be scrapped.

Although the initial concept and design phase of the work on Trident replacement has already taken place and the final decision on replacing the submarines is likely to be taken in 2016 – well before the next general election, an incoming Labour Government will have the power to cancel the project and will need a clear plan to maintain the high-skilled jobs involved. The planned Defence Diversification Agency (DDA) outlined in Jeremy Corbyn’s policy will make this happen, as part of the government’s overall economic strategy, providing a just transition to sustainable high-skill jobs together with the economic and industrial leadership to regenerate our economy.

The Scottish Labour Party is already moving ahead on this issue, with Trident set to be debated at conference in Perth following a call from newly-elected deputy leader Alex Rowley, who described Trident as a moral issue ‘with serious question marks over whether it is the best way to defend the country’ and called for ‘debate across the party’.

Labour CND has tabled a Contemporary Motion for Conference, following the announcement of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that Japan would bring a resolution to the United Nations calling for global nuclear disarmament. The Contemporary Motion, which has been endorsed by a number of CLPs, calls on Labour MPs to vote against Trident replacement and Labour Party members and affiliates to join the campaign to scrap Trident.

The Labour Party and the 2015 General Election

Trident became one of the key issues at the General Election, with candidates being asked their views on replacement at hustings around the country and increased media interest in the position of the parties.

The Labour Party manifesto of 2015 stated support both for Trident and for multilateral disarmament. The manifesto said ‘Labour remains committed to a minimum, credible, independent nuclear capability, delivered through a Continuous At-Sea Deterrent.’ But added that a Labour government would ‘actively work to increase momentum on global multilateral disarmament efforts and negotiations, and look at further reductions in global stockpiles and the numbers of weapons.

These contradictory positions need to be resolved in favour of disarmament, helping to break the nuclear logjam and trigger an international disarmament process.

Trident was the subject of heated debate at the National Policy Forum during 2014-15, after more than 50 CLPs from across the country passed a motion amending the NPF document setting out Labour’s position on Trident. 90% of those submissions called for Trident to be scrapped. Following this, the leadership conceded that a debate on Trident was necessary, stating 'the process and debate leading up to the next Strategic Defence and Security Review in 2015 needs to be open, inclusive and transparent, including examining all capabilities, including nuclear'. This was an important development as the Conservative and previous Coalition governments have refused to include consideration of Trident in the SDSR.

There have also been positive developments amongst Labour parliamentary candidates – those standing in 2015 were also opposed to Trident in large numbers. 75% of those who responded to a CND survey stated their opposition to replacement. Those opposed to Trident include longstanding MPs Diane Abbott, Fabian Hamilton and John McDonnell, alongside those elected for the first time including Richard Burgon, Vicky Foxcroft, Lou Haigh, Clive Lewis, Rachael Maskell, Kate Osamor, Jo Stevens, Catherine West and Daniel Zeichner. Shadow Scottish Secretary Ian Murray, Labour’s sole Scottish MP, is also opposed to Trident replacement and committed to voting against.

Attitudes have changed about Trident, both within the Labour Party and the country as a whole. Labour needs now to reassess and reconsider its policy for today’s global context – in an open and democratic fashion. That is what the party – and the country – require.

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