Tories plan to suppress Trident debate

This week defence secretary Philip Hammond stated the Trident Alternatives Review would not be made public, writes CND general secretary Kate Hudson.

This week defence secretary Philip Hammond stated the Trident Alternatives Review would not be made public, writes Kate Hudson, general secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND)

This gratuitous lack of transparency just seems bizarre and is a blow to the credibility of the government as a whole and the Liberal Democrats in particular. And it is also a blow to the prospects for a full and open debate about Britain’s real security needs.

The Lib Dems have been justifiably under fire following successive policy concessions made to the Tories as part of their bid to be in government. Yet on the question of Trident and its replacement, they have fought their corner – thanks primarily to the principles of the party grassroots.

At the Lib Dem Conference in 2010, defiant party activists, outraged at the omission of Trident from the then ongoing Strategic Defence and Security Review (pdf), tabled an emergency resolution. This won the ballot and resulted in a fiery hour on the floor with successive speakers arguing against the replacement of Britain’s nuclear weapon system.

Some argued against like-for-like replacement – which remains party policy – while others argued against Britain retaining a nuclear weapons system at all.

It was in this context that Nick Harvey’s Trident Alternatives Review, announced by Liam Fox in May, was lauded as a success for the junior partner in the coalition. Harvey, the Minister for the Armed Forces, was to hold the Tories’ insatiable appetite for Trident replacement to account and stimulate real debate with credible, evidence-based alternatives.

Just two months ago, at this year’s Lib Dem conference, Mr Harvey told a fringe meeting he was “absolutely convinced” the possibility of developing dual-use nuclear submarines was a “game-changer” for government plans. Even Ed Miliband told the Labour party conference the government had “done the right thing by commissioning a study looking at whether there are alternatives to the renewal of Trident”.

Now, in response to a question from Jeremy Corbyn, Philip Hammond has laid bare the significance of the review for the Tories:

“There are… no plans to publish either the report or the information it draws upon.”

This speaks volumes about the Conservatives’ openness to reasoned and transparent consultation over Trident replacement: it is virtually non-existent. Maybe that’s not surprising, but the really interesting issue is why. In my opinion it shows they’re scared of the debate – and that really isn’t surprising.

The majority of the population wants to see Trident scrapped; spending on Trident is a disaster for the public sector, including conventional defence; senior military figures describe it as useless; and the government itself has downgraded state-on-state nuclear attack to a tier two security threat.

When the decision on replacing Trident is due in 2016 and a general election will take place before that date, it is absolutely clear what the Tory strategy is: stifle the debate. That much at least is transparent.

See also:

We can still fight Trident: Here’s howDaniel Blaney, November 10th 2011

Scrapping Trident for the savings is a losing argument; CND need realistic oppositionAndrew Gibson, November 4th 2011

Memo to Westminster: UK “independent nuclear deterrent” not actually independentKate Hudson, May 27th 2011

Government ramps up Trident work despite coalition pledgeKate Hudson, February 18th 2011

Coalition needs to work out where it stands on TridentMarcus Roberts, August 4th 2010

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by becoming a Left Foot Forward Supporter today.