Trident needs a sensible, mature debate. Labour MPs’ bickering simply plays into the Tories’ hands by deflecting attention from their European split

by Owen Jones via The Guardian 

Emily Thornberry. Photograph: Richard Saker for the Observer

Emily Thornberry. Photograph: Richard Saker for the Observer

Last night, a group of Labour MPs yelled down the shadow defence secretary, Emily Thornberry, as she discussed the issue of Trident at the parliamentary Labour party’s (PLP) weekly meeting. They then briefed what they had done to the waiting media, who found it all terribly amusing. Is this how grownups go about politics? In what other line of work is it acceptable to shout down a colleague because you don’t like their presentation? Here’s the sort of macho, yah-boo circus that deters anyone vaguely normal from wanting to have anything to do with anything political. These same MPs will, undoubtedly, be the first to complain about the Labour leadership briefing against their colleagues. If at a local Labour party meeting – never mind the PLP – a bunch of activists linked to Momentum started trying to shout down their local MP, we might expect it to make national headlines: the thuggish hard-left trying to drown out anyone who disagrees with them.

I don’t want to write about this. I want to write about the consequences of Tory cuts to services, tax credits or universal credit, about the Tory split on the European Union, about the privatisation of the NHS. But unless this approach to politics is checked, it will continue to proliferate. It seems there was only a handful of hecklers, and they are alienating even those MPs with a principled stand in favour of Trident renewal. But the damage is being done, allowing the Conservatives to tear strips off one another over the European Union – if they choose to do so – with little political cost.

I happen to be among those who believe Labour should be focusing on domestic issues, rather than Trident, though an impending parliamentary vote on funding rearmament makes that difficult. But we are, supposedly, a mature democracy. What does it say about us if we unable to debate whether to spend tens of billions of pounds of public money on nuclear weapons, which some former senior military officials believe is a waste of money, 25 years after the Soviet Union collapsed?

Ex-armed forces head Field Marshal Lord Bramall and two senior generals could hardly be dismissed as proto-Corbynites when, seven years ago, they declared that: “Nuclear weapons have shown themselves to be completely useless as a deterrent to the threats and scale of violence we currently face or are likely to face, particularly international terrorism,” adding that: “Our independent deterrent has become virtually irrelevant, except in the context of domestic politics.”

Major General Patrick Cordingley – who led Britain’s forces in the Gulf War – has said: “Strategic nuclear weapons have no military use. It would seem the government wishes to replace Trident simply to remain a nuclear power.”

David Owen was among those who abandoned the Labour party in the early 1980s, partly in protest at its nuclear unilateralist stance; but back in 2009 he stated that the cost of replacing Trident was “no longer credible”. Then there’s the Tory ex-defence secretary, Michael Portillo, who says: “Our independent nuclear deterrent is not independent and doesn’t constitute a deterrent against anybody that we regard as an enemy. It is a waste of moneyand it is a diversion of funds that might otherwise be spent on perfectly useful and usable weapons and troops.”

Even Tony Blair confessed in his memoirs that he hesitated over renewal, that he could “see clearly the force of the common sense and practical argument against Trident”, though concluded that abandoning Trident would be “too big a risk”. Bear in mind that, when Parliament voted on Trident renewal in 2007, 95 Labour MPs voted against, leaving Blair dependent on Tory support.

And here’s the point. Some may support Trident. Some may support nuclear weapons, but only a smaller, less expensive option. Some may oppose nuclear weapons altogether. How we defend jobs, skills and communities in communities currently dependent on Trident needs discussion, too. But there is a sensible, mature debate to be had. Unfortunately, those MPs yelling at their own senior colleagues have no interest in it. They seem determined to create such a poisonous atmosphere that reasoned debate is rendered impossible. Even from their own perspective, it makes no sense. If they want to win back the party leadership in a future contest, they need to convince the party membership. Yet they are only toxifying their brand while damaging their own party. I hope Labour decides on a free vote, then moves on to the key domestic issues facing Britain. But this risible attempt to shut down debate – and make politics even more unpleasant – needs calling out for what it is.

See original article here.