Trident opposed by two-in-three

An exclusive poll carried out by YouGov for Left Foot Forward reveals that 63 per cent oppose the Government's plans to renew the Trident nuclear deterrent while a diminishing number of people believe that nuclear weapons make them safer.

An exclusive poll carried out by YouGov for Left Foot Forward reveals that 63 per cent oppose the Government’s plans to renew the Trident nuclear deterrent while a diminishing number of people believe that nuclear weapons make them safer.

The poll of 2009 adults carried out between 10th and 11th September shows that only 23 per cent believe that Britain should replace Trident with an equally powerful nuclear missile shield. 40 per cent say that Britain should “retain a minimum nuclear system, but it should be less powerful and cost less than replacing Trident.” A further 23 per cent say Britain should give up nuclear weapons altogether.

The poll also shows that the number of people who think that the possession of nuclear weapons makes Britain safer has fallen from 44 per cent when considering the threat of the Cold War to 32 per cent thinking of the threat faced today or in the future. Thinking about the international issues that Britain might face in future decades, 25 per cent think that “continued possession of nuclear weapons” makes Britain less safe.

The poll comes just days after Greenpeace published evidence that the true cost of Trident could reach £97 billion. Meanwhile, the online campaigning organisation, 38 degrees, today launches a petition on Trident.

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25 Responses to “Trident opposed by two-in-three”

  1. Jessica Asato

    Full YouGov Trident poll details for @leftfootfwd here:

  2. Kaveh Azarhoosh

    RT @tommilleruk 2 in 3 oppose Trident. Surely this is where cuts should fall first, as the whole point is not …

  3. Simon Fletcher

    RT leftfootfwd Two-thirds oppose Trident. Exclusive new poll

  4. James E Siddelley

    The first duty of any Govt is to ensure and to insure the territorial integrity of this (or any other) country.

    To fail to do that invites disaster – and there are no shortages of potential disaster scenarios we saw one in the Falklands War 1982.

    Public opinion is powerful, but it is not the only factor which needs to be borne in mind in any policy issue. If that were so it is very unlikely that hanging would ever have been abolished.

    I want my safety – and yours – guaranteed to the maximum extent possible.

    I will vote for those who say that they will do that.

    I will not vote for those who are recklessly prepared to NOT do that.

  5. keeprightonline

    Excellent, now try doing this poll in a booming economy, or at the height of war-time. In other words, not when Labour has failed this country economically and militarily.

    Your results are in fact a damning of the policies you lefties support. Good work!

  6. JRT

    Talking of fighting ‘media manipulation’, let’s look at those figures another way. 73% of people in this country believe we should have a nuclear weapons system. So on that basis alone we ought to retain nuclear weapons.
    Ask anyone if they want something for less (especially public services) and they’ll say ‘yes’, so it’s hardly a surprising result. I notice you didn’t ask ‘should we keep the nuclear deterrent or not’ which would spin the question in a way you wouldn’t like! Unfortunately, and most of the public aren’t aware, there are very few other ways of keeping a CREDIBLE nuclear deterrent other than Trident. It’s by far and away the cheapest – compare to what the French spend – availble credible nuclear deterrent and very good value for money. Not only is your position utterly false but you’re also guilty of the media manipulation you so deplore.

  7. Will Straw


    Hi JRT,

    I’m afraid that’s not quite right. 63% (ie 40% + 23%) favour retaining a nuclear deterrent and we don’t pretend otherwise. But by far the largest grouping (40%) call for a deterrent that is “less powerful and costs less” than Trident.

    As we will show later this week, there are cheaper alternatives to Trident which, given the latest noises coming from the US and the changing global threats that we face (vis a vis the era of the Cold War), need serious consideration.

    The public is already there. It’s time for politicians to play catch up.

    All the best,


  8. Miller 2.0

    “The first duty of any Govt is to ensure and to insure the territorial integrity of this (or any other) country.
    To fail to do that invites disaster – and there are no shortages of potential disaster scenarios we saw one in the Falklands War 1982.”

    How many countries have managed to do this successfully without nuclear weapons? How did they stop Galtieri invading the Falklands?

    For that matter, what application do they have in the days of asymmetric warfare and civilian terrorism?

    Keep Right Online, obviously nobody expects you to back Labour economic policy anyway…

    But perhaps we would be in better position to back Trident if we had let the banks collapse, eh?!

    I think the argument is fairly simple. I backed Trident when we had better finances. Now we don’t, I’m a lot more shaky. It’s better to spend money on stuff we will actually use, it seems to me.

  9. JRT

    Will: Thanks for your response. Perhaps my comment about manipulation was rather unfair – but I did want to suggest that there’s a certain element of interpretation at work here.
    I look forward to what you have to say on alternatives and will take a look.
    A general point about ‘public opinion’ is that politicians should be vary wary about following it slavishly. If they did we’d end up with some policies that your organisation would be extremely opposed to (I’ve no doubt). Politicians sometimes need the courage to go against or even to set the tone of public opinion, otherwise the majority would tyrannise the minority and some very poor decisions would be made.
    On the subject of the US, I’m not 100% sure what you’re driving at there (please clarify) but we certainly shouldn’t slavishly follow what the US want, look where that’s led us! We need to forge as independent a path as we can whilst remaining close allies. Ditto on Europe. On the other hand, the US have always wanted us to have Trident and continue to do so because it supports their own case for having it.
    Britain’s retention of Trident has little to do with changing threats. This is the point about nuclear weapons (and has relevance to our armed forces in general) – it’s not about threats. We didn’t acquire nuclear weapons because we were threatened by the Russians, we acquired them so we could try and play with them and the US on the world stage. The concept of ‘threat’ is merely a means of ‘selling’ the weapons to the taxpayer, as it so often has been. Read the history. Especially vis a vis nuclear weapons – but the same with other items of defence inventory – it’s about the simple fact of having them; it makes you a player on the world scene. At the same time, however, you need a credible delivery system and Trident (or even a pared-down Trident) is the best way of doing so. You might or might not want Britain to be a player on the world stage, which is a somewhat different issue, but you have to admit that our possession of nuclear weapons is a major component of global influence. Again, the example of France is salutary. Further, why do the Pakistanis, Indians, Iranians and Koreans etc want them? It’s not about the threats they face particularly, which in the case of India say are minimal, it’s about being one of the powers. We don’t face any threats worth mentioning, except to our global status, and by (i) renouncing the nuclear deterrent and (ii) rejecting Trident you will be threatening our global status. Oh and handing over control of EU foreign/defence policy entirely to France – smart move.
    IF (!) you can find a genuinely cheaper alternative to Trident which delivers similar levels of credibility, go ahead, but I doubt you will. When I say genuinely, I mean the total cost which would have to factor in many elements such as the cost of firing all those expensively-trained submariners, developing and maintaining the necessary equipment (whichever form that would take?), training the new personnel to operate and maintain it, decomissioning Faslane as a base and dealing with the resultant unemployment in that area and ditto the ruin of the UK’s submarine-building industry. Also bear in mind that any new project would inevitably cost more than the ticket price – they always do. My point being, it’s easy to say that such and such a system costs x while Trident costs y, but there are a great deal of hidden costs which will not be factored into that equation. And we wouldn’t want to be guilty of manipulating figures would we? Good luck!

  10. Richard Blogger


    I am afraid your analysis is not correct. The only sensible nuclear deterrent is submarine based, because missiles in a fixed location means that they will become a target (hence you have to dig huge holes to protect them) and the range of the missile restricts the possible targets. A submarine based deterrent means that you can move it around in such a way that you can target anywhere and you can also hide the launch site from counter measures.

    The only sensible submarine to use is one with nuclear propulsion, because these submarines can stay under water the longest. Currently we have the Vanguard class of submarines and these are what is known as the “Trident system”. The replacement for Trident is a replacement for the submarines. The missiles are a separate issue. An alternative for Trident could be land-based and I doubt if it would be any cheaper than the replacement submarines. In effect, you have to replace the submarines to maintain the nuclear deterrent. If you do not replace the submarines you cannot have a deterrent. So this survey is incorrect. There are just two options[*]: replace the Vanguard class submarines, or have no nuclear deterrent at all. Taking this into account it means that 2/3 of people do not want a nuclear deterrent. However, my interpretation is only possible because the question is badly formed. The survey should be perfornmed again making it clear that without the Vanguard submarines we cannot have a nuclear deterrent. I would prefer for there not to be a nuclear deterrent, buit I think that the question should be phrased in such a way for people to express their views. This question was phrased to mislead the respondents.

    [*] There is a third option, which I think is the real reason why the question was badly phrased. The third option is to retain the existing Vanguard submarines and to upgrade and re-fit them. This will still cost billions, but will be less than building new submarines. In effect it puts off the problem of replacinhg Trident for another decade or so and hence it becomes someone else’s problem. This is what the Americans are doing, and I think it will be the option that the UK government will take. It will be announced as a cost cutting measure, and justified because it is “clearly” supported by 40% (the largest group in this survey) of respondents, while tipping a hat to the “clearly” 63% who want to keep the deterrent.

  11. 38 Degrees

    Two in three people oppose renewing Trident – read more @leftfootfwd #38degrees

  12. John Dodd

    63% of voters ‘oppose Trident replacement’ – poll

  13. Hannah Lownsbrough

    RT @38_degrees Two in three people oppose renewing Trident – read more @leftfootfwd #38degrees

  14. Leon Green

    RT @38_degrees Two in three people oppose renewing Trident – read more @leftfootfwd #38degrees

  15. Emer McCourt

    RT @38_degrees Two in three people oppose renewing Trident – read more @leftfootfwd #38degrees

  16. FAS

    Looking at this from a US perspective, I’m not sure that Trident simply isn’t on the wrong side of history. The Administration has articulated a goal of significantly reducing nuclear capacity en route to the ‘nuclear-free world’ of the Prague speech (the ‘noises’ to which I think Will referred above). That the Administration’s own push for disarmament has run into trouble with the US defense establishment isn’t surprising; what is surprising is that advocates of a defense posture more relevant to the threats of the post-Cold War world are actually starting to win, most visibly so with the defeat of the F-22. If the US really is moving toward a more cost-effective defense policy better suited to the wars we’re fighting now and are likely to fight in the future, it might behoove the UK to do the same, for reasons both of interoperability and simple self-interest. The UK may not need Trident to be a player in the world; it is, after all, the sixth-largest economy, which in itself is a pretty stick to wield, and while there is certainly a cottage-industry around Trident, the cost of maintaining the system may prove more economically damaging in the long run than cutting back now.

  17. Marcus Roberts

    Great debate here! Good to see the blogosphere is capable of respectful and constructive arguement afterall!

    I’d like to add that the Obama Administration is considering more moves in cutting back on high cost, high technology systems, particularly in the nuclear area as it moves away from the Cheney/Rumsfeld school of nuclear development. More details of this should be coming from the Department of Defence after the President’s UN General Assembly speech.

    Next, whilst I acknowledge that some believe that possession of a nuclear weapon is primarily a matter of prestige, I actually subscribe to the realist position on this one: nuclear weapons are an effective form of deterrent against nuclear threats. As such, we need to consider what nuclear threats we are likely to face and resource our defence needs accordingly. If we believe that those threats are more likely to come, in a global context, from North Korea or Iran rather then from Russia or China we need to adjust our nuclear posture and platform accordingly. Such a situation would require theatre level nuclear deterrent capabilities instead of a full intercontinental platform. I’ll be writing about alternatives later this week and would welcome any and all thoughts on what a credible alternative to Trident would be.

    Lastly, on the question of the poll itself, the basic options of the debate are there and fairly put: Trident, something else, nothing, don’t know. I think the results are significant in showing a desire on the public’s front to move away from a ‘Yes, Prime Minister’ position of buying “the nuclear missile Harrods would sell” in a vainglorious spending-lots-of-money-to-make-us-feel-safer approach to adopt a far more mature attitude charcterised by Obama nuclear adviser Joesph Cirincione as a “put your money where your threats are” approach.

  18. Andy Hull

    The more I read and learn about Trident, the more I think it is a cold war relic we don’t need and can’t afford. Firstly, in terms of the global strategic security environment and the probable hazards and threats of the 21st century, it is not fit for purpose. Secondly, its costs are astronomical, and those who back it need to get real about the economic situation we are in. Thirdly, if our sense of national prestige rests upon our ability to obliterate indiscriminately, we need a new cornerstone for our sense of national prestige. A window of opportunity is currently opening in terms of taking the small but important steps that will eventually help us get towards a world free of nuclear weapons. The UK needs to play its part.

  19. John

    If for the moment we assume we want some system of nuclear deterence, there seems to be three possible arguements for ‘replace Trident with an equally powerful nuclear missile shield’; security and defense, influence and the comparitive cost of the alternatives.

    In terms of defense, the Vanguard/trident system does provide a close to ultimate nuclear deterent. It is practically invisible, mobile, near to unlimited range, and can remain on mission for months at a time. Almost impossible to stop and can strike immediately. However, without any enemy now or in foreseeable future who would both want and have the capability to launch a suprise attack on the UK, surely this defense system far exceeds what is required and what is cost-effective.

    In terms of influence, I think the greater degree of influence we would get from vanguard/trident compared to an alternative less powerful nuclear defense system would be minor to non-existent. Indeed, if the alternative is significantly cheaper and we put that saving into conventental forces, increasing numbers and capability (more helicopters!), then surely a capability we would be willing to use gains us more inflence than capability which would only come into play in the most unlikely of scenerios.

    Not being an expert on costs I am looking forward to reading about the cheaper alternative on this site, but I find it hard to believe that, for example, increasing the number of Astute class submarines we are planning to build, (which would hopefully deal with the fair objections JRT has over what would happen to submarine industry), armed with nuclear cruise missile would not be both cheaper and increase the capability of our submarine fleet in it’s other roles. Of course, cruise missile would shorter range and impact but I think these are sacrifices the UK in today’s world should probably take.

    That said, extending the life of the current fleet of Vanguards and re-assessing the situation, in particular China and Russia, in 6-8 years time would be another viable option although I don’t see the overall situation changing much.

  20. raul

    Two out of three people oppose renewing Trident via @38_degrees

  21. RichBatsford

    RT @38degress Two in three people oppose renewing Trident – read more @leftfootfwd #38degrees

  22. JRT

    Richard Blogger:
    My comments (I won’t call it analysis because my original comments weren’t long enough to qualify as analysis) WERE correct because they entirely concur with yours! I merely failed to express it very well, so my thanks to you for putting much more cogently what I was driving at. This refers to my first set of comments in which I – rather too strongly – ticked LFF off for distorting, in my view, the implications of their research, and asking questions which were evidently intended to do so.
    As you say, the majority of the public want a nuclear force. The only means to have a credible nuclear force is via the Trident MISSILE system and the Vanguard class submarines. This is the reason why we acquired Trident; it’s the cheapest possible credible and largely independent nuclear weapons system we could have. I’m glad we both agree on that. Thus, the collorary of this poll is, in fact, that the majority of the public want Trident, even if they don’t know it!! LFF are being ‘economical with the truth’ and if they’re not aware of this then they are being rather dense. I wonder which? On your interesting point regarding refitting the Vanguards – perhaps, although this would be a foolishly short-sighted policy as it would cost more in the long-run surely as you’d need to refit them and then build the replacements anyway. Just the sort of policy this government is likely to take but then hopefully they’ll be out of office by the time the decisions are to be made. I’m not entirely hopeful their likely replacements will do better, but hope springs eternal in the breast of man…
    On the topic of today’s announcement: (i) the Government has not announced reduction of the UK’s nuclear submarine fleet, merely that it would consider doing so in a certain set of circumstances. (ii) that would go no distance to reducing the number of UK nuclear warheads – i.e. our nuclear stockpile – merely the number of delivery systems. (iii) QED is clearly an ostensibly cost-saving measure and has little to do with really changing our nuclear posture, thank goodness (iv) I use the word ostensibly because reducing the submarine numbers by one will probably not save much money at all and it fails to factor in the hidden costs of not building a fourth submarine, which is different again from scrapping the existing fourth sub(v) it proves the point that the UK nuclear forces are NOT (triple underlined) a response to threat or a deterrent at all but a factor in the international power relationships which Britain has with other countries. It also shows that if we lose our nuclear deterrent we lose an enormously significant factor in that power relationship. (vi) the Americans, who have a vast nuclear arsenal, can afford, actually, they need, to trim theirs quite significantly – this would probably best be done by reducing the number of land-based ICBMs, air launched weapons etc. We can’t cut much because we have just about enough to make the whole thing viable in the first place, and building and maintaining three subs doesn’t cost much more than building four owing to diminishing returns to scale etc. That’s why the decision to build four submarines was made in the first place.
    If you don’t comprehend the rationale behind our nuclear posture, then I suggest you go and read the historical sources on why we have them. As most people won’t bother to do this (sadly) you could do worse than listening to Prof Ron Smith’s comments on the Today Programme this morning.

  23. Sallie

    RT @38_degrees: Two in three people oppose renewing Trident – read more @leftfootfwd #38degrees

  24. JRT

    Marcus – don’t look to the US for policy examples for us. We’re not reforming welfare here, this is about our international position; they’re starting from an entirely different base and with an entirely different set of conditions.
    If we put our money where our threats are we’d spend approximately nothing on defence policy (although the paradox of that is we’d soon find that we’d have some threats to spend some money on – the Falklands War or 1939-1945 is a splendid example). We face no threats; defence policy hasn’t been about threats since 1945 and even before that there was a pretty…flexible relationship.

  25. rwendland

    Richard Blogger @ 21/4:27 pm:

    The MOD says life extending the current Vanguard subs similar to the U.S. is impractical. Something to do with the reactors and/or steam generators corroding too fast I recall. If practical it would clearly be most sensible to life-extend, so keeping in step with the U.S. replacement cycle (assuming we want to keep WMDs). With the current plan half way thru the life-time of the Vanguard replacements the U.S. will replace Trident with another missile, which we will have to go along with. The U.S. have agreed that the Trident replacement will be compatible with a new missile tube we will use, but being out of step with the U.S. introduces risks and costs mid-life to our replacements.

    One idea that I have seen no-one explore the practicality of, probably because the Royal Navy and BAE would hate it, is to retain the current Vanguard subs as a less functional limited mobility Trident platform until the U.S. enters its replacement program. That is without the nuclear propulsion functional, utilising the backup diesel and battery propulsion to keep them moving off-shore, sometimes submerged. This would mean Russia and Israel could probably succeed in a pre-emptive strike, but not less capable forces such as China, India, Pakistan, North Korea and maybe one day Iran. So it would be a partial deterrent. But it would be a lot cheaper and get us back into the U.S. replacement cycle. Put under this pressure the Navy/BAE/Rolls Royce would probably also find ways to life-extend the reactor systems!

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