Compass Rethinks Trident

Compass MPs Chair Jon Trickett leads the Trident debate

Compass held a packed meeting in the House of Commons earlier tonight, as part of our ‘Rethink Trident’ Campaign.

Jon Trickett MP, Chair of the Compass Group of MPs (pictured above), led a heavy weight panel of speakers including the Rt Rev Dr Thomas Butler, the Bishop of Southwark; international human rights campaigner Bianca Jagger; Gemma Tumelty, President of the National Union of Students (NUS); Kate Hudson of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and John Sauven, the Executive Director of Greenpeace UK. The event was chaired by Baroness Helena Kennedy QC .

Tonight’s Trident meeting was fascinating for me, as – prior to tonight’s meeting – I was one of those rare Labour party members who was truly neutral on the issue of Trident.

My instincts have always been be against nuclear weapons but I am also open minded. The problem for me with the whole Trident debate – both for and against – has always been that it is presented in such an enormous and all consuming way, making it feel remote and not real. This has had the effect of pushing people like me into the neutral corner…

I therefore made a plea to the panellists for people to move away from talking up the “machismo” arguments against Trident (e.g how many billions it costs, technical arguments about nuclear proliferation treaties and so on) and give people (particularly younger people like me who do not remember the cold war or the CND marches of the eighties) more information about the human stories related to Nuclear weapons – the Hiroshima story, the Chenobyl story and stories that really bring home the horrible reality of what can happen when a country actually uses its nuclear weapons.

Attendees

Tonight’s meeting attracted people from all wings of the Labour party. I spotted Shahid Malik MP, Kerry McCarthey MP, Television Presenter and former member of the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee Tony Robinson, Diane Abbott MP, Ann Black from the National Executive Committee, and Jon Cruddas MP. I have also been told that Lynn Brown MP had also been in attendance. Apologies to any other important people I missed! :-)

Below is a little report of what the speakers had to say.

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CND Chair Kate Hudson

CND Chair Kate Hudson (pictured above) gave a passionate speech against the renewal of the UK’s nuclear weapons’ arsenal. She quoted Kofi Annan who once said, “If we say we need nuclear weapons, other countries will also say they need nuclear weapons“. Kate said she really wanted to debate the concept of the “deterrent“, which supposedly meant that the weapons would never be used – but Kate infomed the audience that all countries which currently have nuclear weapons currently have a “Nuclear Use First” policy, meaning that in the perceived threat of an attack those countries would use the weapons in a pre-emptive strike. Kate said that a Government decision not to replace Trident would have a very positive effect on other countries and added that the UK needs to be more serious about multilateral disarmament.

Gemma Tumelty from NUS says no to Trident!

After a short contribution from John Sauven, the Executive Director of Greenpeace UK, it was onto Gemma Tumelty from the NUS (pictured above next to Bianca Jagger). I am really impressed with Gemma and wish she’d been the President of NUS when I was a student! Gemma linked the Trident debate to the debate taking place in the UK about education funding. For Gemma, spending the £76 billion it is estimated Trident will cost to “educate people to talk their way out of conflict rather than bomb their way out” would be a “far more sustainable route to peace“.

Baroness Helena Kennedy chairs the meeting

Other contributions came from the Reverend Tom Butler who informed the audience that the Church of England’s General Synod had passed a resolution on Monday saying that there was “no justification for nuclear weapons ever”.

Bianca Jagger asked the question “Deterrent to what? To use against who?”

Jon Trickett spoke fluently and passionately about politics being a “battle between hope and fear“. Nuclear Weapons were “on the side of fear“.

Jon Trickett said he was appealing to the conscience of Labour MPs to vote for the amendment he has tabled in parliament, which is to delay a final decision on renewing Trident until the current Prime Minister has left office. Jon made a reference to South Africa, where Nelson Mandela, the person with the “most morale authority on this planet” had taken the decision to disarm South Africa’s nuclear weapons as soon as he was elected President.

We then had some really stiumulating interventions from the audience.

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Diane Abbott MP at the Rethink Trident meeting

Diane Abbott MP (pictured above) informed the meeting that the Labour MPs she’s been speaking to, who have told her they are in favour of renewing Trident, have told her they have taken this position because they think that the opinion polls are saying that they would be seen as “soft on defence” if they voted against the renewal of Trident and that a vote against would “lose Labour the next general election“.

Tony Robinson makes his point

Television Presenter and former Labour Party NEC member Tony Robinson (pictured above) said that Labour party members should begin to ask the Government about where it is going with its priorities.

A couple of attendees pointed out to the audience, however, that we needed to give people like former Russian President Boris Yeltsin more credit for dealing with Iran. One man said that we shouldn’t underestimate Iran’s intention to threaten.

Jon Cruddas joins the debate

Finally, Jon Cruddas MP, (pictured above centre) who was sitting in the audience, joined in the debate. As far as he was concerned, Jon Trickett had got the argument absolutely right. Jon Cruddas told the attendees that he strongly supports Compass’ Rethink Trident Campaign.

With Jon Cruddas

I enjoyed a quick catch up with Jon (pictured centre) after the meeting.

Jon’s campaign to become Deputy Leader of the Labour party is going from strength to strength. It was great to see him looking so happy and energised. The Deputy Leadership campaign clearly suits him :-)

And with that, after two excellent hours, the ‘Rethink Trident’ meeting was all over.

I definitely now feel I know a lot more about the subject of the UK’s nuclear weapons after the ‘Rethink Trident’ meeting, and now that I do, I really can’t understand why the Government would want to renew its nuclear weapons. I am open to more argument on the subject but the position just seems incomprehensible.

I express a huge thanks to Gavin, Compass’ brilliant General Secretary, for organising yet another stimulating and well attended Compass meeting.

Look out for more Compass activity on the Rethink Trident campaign by visiting www.compassonline.org.uk

5 thoughts on “Compass Rethinks Trident”

  1. I’m v. worried about the direction Compass seems to be taking. Surely they could find more pro-trident people to speak than this?

    Rethink indeed… with a predetermined conclusion!

    We must be wary of falling into an ‘animal farm’ situation, Miranda.

    I happen to be pro IND, in true bevanite style; indeed I am myself biased. But the fact that the government is offering a 20pc cut and only new submarines, not warheads, should, in my view, actually be seen as a step in the right direction.

  2. Thanks, Tom. Noted. As I said, my personal instinct is to be against but the whole enormity of the debate means simply being against is too simplistic. Go to the site and make your views known. There were people who agreed with your position at the meeting. I’m glad they came. There are also members of Compass who agree with your position but from what the survey results found, the majority didn’t. This is one what will run and run me thinks….

  3. Tom, why do you suggest it is independent? Is the Mutual Defence Agreement which means we rely on US technology a figment of my imagination? Or are the missiles made in the UK, rather than leased from the US as I understood…

    Also why do you say we’re just producing new submarines? They would last until the 2050s, so a decision on a new warhead is inevitable – Trident is a system of submarines, missiles and warheads. Don’t pretend you can split them up. Anyway the millions going into the ORION laser facility at AWE Aldermaston suggest the government has a clear view on a new warhead!

    If the government was ‘open’ to whether new submarines would carry nuclear weapons then it could in fact just produce more of the Astute submarines rather than designing a replacement for Vanguard…

    This is a recipe for ongoing proliferation…

  4. Tom,

    I am very much aware of the arguments and I have been to a number of meetings and done my homework, I am convinced that the general public and unfortunately most of the PLP are unaware of the full facts. The view that Jon T is articulating is that we should take a decision when we have a Prime Minister to lead the debate that isn’t leaving in less than 6 months. Seems reasonable.

    I am personally concerned that we won’t have a seat on the UN Security Council without Nuclear Weapons and that is a point that needs wider debate. Let’s delay the decision and have the debate.

    We don’t need to take the decicision now, we have unfortunately created a rod for our own backs as we could easily have delayed the debate until after the next general election and not picked another fight within the party that was inevitable.

    Obviously this has nothing to do with anybody’s legacy whatsoever.

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