Sunday, December 10, 2006

Kew was like that

My House Points column from Friday's Liberal Democrat News.

Carrying the banner

I was never a member of CND, even in its second heyday in the 1980s. But I did end up carrying the Richmond banner on a march.

That was because I had been out recruiting Liberal members. One charming family asked me in, offered me a sherry and, though they declined to join the party, made a donation. We fell to discussing the forthcoming march. I said that I had some sympathy for CND but did not support all its views. They convinced me that you didn’t have to like everything about an organisation to march with it. Kew was like that.

What worried me about CND then was its conviction that if Britain gave up its nuclear weapons we would set a moral example to the rest of the world. That attitude always seemed a leftover from the Empire. Britain getting rid of its weapons would not have made a blind bit of difference to anyone.

Which brings us to Monday’s statement on Trident by Tony Blair. I don’t buy the argument that Britain giving up its nuclear weapons will influence other nations. If I were the dictator of a rogue state – and I have had offers – determined to have nuclear weapons, I would not be influenced by what Britain did either way.

For Liberal Democrats there are two questions to be answered and our apparent new policy of cutting back the warheads and waiting to see what happens does not really engage with either of them.

The first is whether we think Trident too expensive because we see a greater need for troops and conventional weapons in the future. The answer to that depends on how we see Britain’s role in the world. Under Paddy Ashdown we were all in favour of intervention overseas to safeguard human rights. Now we are more sceptical.

The second question is whether we could sell that idea of unilateral nuclear disarmament to the British people. Blair certainly decided that it could not be done – he threw away his CND badge and invented New Labour. And it has been suggested to me that the working party that drew up our new policy on Trident was more afraid of the Daily Telegraph than Britain’s enemies.

1 comment:

Peter Pigeon said...

I agree with the first half of this. I certainly can't see North Korea or Iraq abandoning their plans to build missiles because we have given up half or all of our weapons. (I have same objection to the argument that the UK reducing carbon dioxide emissions will lead other countries to do things).

But I don't think there are just two questions to answer. Indeed the first - the argument that we need to have fewer/no missiles in order to send more troops to fight "terror", seems facile and unconvincing to me. It is widely repeated but I think it is rhetorical rather a real consideration.

The second is a real question. But isn't the big one: what sort of security threat will the UK face ten or twenty years down the line?