Nuclear weapons — and especially those nuclear weapons whose use would incinerate tens of millions of civilians — are an obscenity. A future Labour government must abolish Trident.
In the first instance, this is a moral question: Ban the Bomb! Imagine, if you can, the worst case: a nuclear attack on the UK in which London and other big cities were destroyed and millions were murdered by a foreign power. Perhaps the attack came from a rogue state run by a strange and insecure freak, perhaps it came from a resurgent Russia run by a ex-secret policeman gangster. What then?
We are told by those who are pro-Trident that a rational, reasonable response would be to burn and kill the three million citizens of Pyongyang in revenge. Or to lay waste to St Petersburg, and kill five million. Or Moscow, with eleven million. If North Korea — if you could imagine it — launched a nuclear attack it would have nothing to do with the citizens of that country. They have no power, no control. To incinerate the people of North Korea - or Russia, or Iran — because they have the misfortune to be ruled by cynical criminals is immoral. Shooting down missiles aimed at UK cities would be rational self-defence; destroying millions of lives in a revenge attack would be a war crime. We shouldn’t do it; we shouldn’t justify it.
Even if the Trident nuclear weapon system were free, it should be abandoned. However Trident is very far from being free. Estimates of its running and replacement costs over the next several decades seem to run to £100 billion or more. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament estimates 150,000 new nurses, 1.5 million affordable homes, or the tuition fees of four million students could be paid for if Trident was scrapped.
Labour should write into its Manifesto that it intends to abolish Trident and spend the money, instead, on the NHS, homes and abolishing tuition fees. Labour should be clear and bold; Labour MPs should understand it is expected they vote to abolish Tritdent. Such a policy could be a big vote winner. The left should advocate all those opposed to Trident and for socially useful spending join the Labour Party and fight for the policy, now. If some Labour Party right-wingers resign, so be it.
Several thousand UK jobs depend on building and maintaining aspects of the Trident programme. Opposition inside the labour movement to abolishing Trident comes from — amongst others — Sir Paul Kenny, leader of the GMB union. Sir Paul was recently knighted. His job at the GMB pays, apparently, £121,000 a year. Just because Sir Paul is a loudmouth and occasional cynical-left-talker does not mean his view, that a Trident upgrade should go ahead to guarantee jobs for GMB members, should be discounted.
That view is shared by thousands of more honest people — people without knighthoods, people who just want to pay for the weekly shop. And just because the GMB is in a membership competition with the Unite union (which also has its cynics), doesn’t mean GMB members’ jobs are not important. All workers’ jobs and wages are important. No, the way for Labour leaders and the left to win the argument inside the labour movement is to guarantee all workers whose jobs are endangered by the cancellation of Trident useful work with no loss of pay.
A Labour government could do this and still have £100 billion to spare. It seems that a large part of the British ruling class’s attachment to Trident has little to do with the specific worth of the weapons system. It has more to do with maintaining the image of Britain as a world power and keeping the British state inside prestigious international institutions such as the UN Security Council. These are things socialists have no interest in. Welfare, education and humanity — not war and imperial prestige.