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Messy climbdown sees Labour move to keep Trident renewal

This article is over 7 years, 8 months old
The Labour Party conference saw Corbyn-supporting shadow defence minister Clive Lewis back a policy of supporting Trident nuclear weapons and praise the Nato military alliance
Issue 2523
Jeremy Corbyn speaking at a demonstration against Trident renewal earlier this year
Jeremy Corbyn speaking at a demonstration against Trident renewal earlier this year (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) passed a policy at its conference last weekend to oppose “aggressive wars”. But its commitment to weapons of mass destruction and the military seems firm.

Shadow defence secretary Clive Lewis, who supports Jeremy Corbyn, told the conference that Labour has a clear policy in favour of renewing Trident nuclear missiles.

Apparently Lewis had planned to say he would not try to change party policy on Trident because it was crucial for defence workers’ jobs.

But the line was cut at the last minute. This at least leaves the possibility of Labour opposing Trident renewal—just.

Lewis said, after the speech, “I won’t be coming back to conference between now and the next election to try to undo the policy we have on Trident as things stand.”

Labour’s review of Trident was put on hold during the party leadership election. The GMB and Unite unions are determined to back Trident renewal.

The Guardian newspaper reported Jeremy Corbyn, “has agreed to put to one side any attempt to reverse Labour’s support for renewing Trident in a bid to reduce tensions with unions and rebel MPs”

This is a significant retreat if true. In his speech Lewis said, “I am clear that our party has a policy for Trident renewal.”

He added, “I want to be clear that our party’s policy is also that we all share the ambition of a nuclear-free world. So we will take steps to make that ambition a reality.”

In other words, he’s against nuclear weapons in general, but for building new ones. Lewis also announced that a Labour government would build three new ships to support aircraft carriers.

He said that the work of building nuclear weapons system would be welcomed by business and “unions like GMB and Unite”.


“Your members help defend us and we will help defend them,” he said.

The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament said, “How can Labour claim to work for multilateral disarmament if it supports the government building a new nuclear weapons system at a cost of £205 billion?

“This means Labour is supporting nuclear rearmament.”

Lewis defended the Nato imperialist alliance, saying it was in keeping with Labour’s values of “collectivism, internationalism and the strong defending the weak”.

Corbyn has previously called on Nato to disband.

Lewis committed the party to spending 2 percent of gross domestic product, Britain’s total economic output, on defence.

The Tories pushed through a motion in parliament to support this spending target in March last year. The now shadow chancellor John McDonnell voted against.

Even then shadow defence minister Kevan Jones, who later resigned in protest at Corbyn, refused to commit a future Labour government to the 2 percent target.

Despite all the calls for unity, the pressure to keep making concessions on defence and Trident in particular is clearly having an impact.

Union outraged at promised ban

Shadow energy secretary Barry Gardiner told Labour conference that a Labour government would impose an “outright ban” on fracking.

The GMB union outrageoulsy said this was “nonsensical” and asked, “Which henchman, hangman or head-chopper do we want to buy our gas from?”

The Tories are pushing fracking, which is environmentally damaging and unsafe. Gardiner said, “The next Labour government will ban fracking in the UK.

“Fracking locks us into an energy infrastructure that is based on fossil fuels long after our country needs to have moved to renewables.

“The next Labour government will back the clean technologies of the future.

“We will consult with our colleagues in industry and the trade unions about the best way to transition our energy industry to create the vital jobs and apprenticeships we are going to need for the UK’s low-carbon future.”

Gary Smith, general secretary of GMB Scotland, said, “We heat our homes with gas and British industry is absolutely dependent on gas.

“By closing the door to it, we would be closing the door to energy independence in the UK, which in the current context seems absolutely nonsensical.”

Unison union general secretary Dave Prentis said he wanted to “keep the debate open” on fracking. “Nobody can say for definite that fracking is the way forwards. We will work out whether or not it is safe and whether or not it should go ahead.”

Scottish Labour leader against unity

Scottish Labour Party leader Kezia Dugdale, who backed Owen Smith for Labour leader, hasn’t got the hang of pretending to be united with Jeremy Corbyn.

In a recent newspaper article Dugdale wrote, “I don’t think Jeremy can unite our party and lead us into government”.

BBC News asked her about the article in the immediate aftermath of Corbyn’s re-election last Saturday.

Dugdale said, “I’m not changing that view. It’s very clear. It’s written down.”

A little later she said that “of course” Labour could win a general election under Corbyn.

A day later at a meeting of Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) Dugdale again attacked Corbyn, accusing him of trying to “undermine” her.

Corbyn had suggested the Scottish rep on the NEC should be elected by Scottish Labour Party members.

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