Monday, October 29, 2007

Chris Huhne on scrapping Trident

When the timetable for the Liberal Democrat leadership election was announced, some members complained that the contest was being rushed through. How could we have a proper debate if we were being railroaded into having a new leader in place before Christmas?

Then it became clear that there were only going to be two candidates - and two very similar candidates at that - some of us started to wonder how the contest could possibly be made to last so long.

Weeks and weeks of two very similar men saying very similar things? My personable Westminster-educated former MEP who has spent two-and-a-half years in the House is better than your personable Westminster-educated former MEP who has spent two-and-a-half years in the House? It was not a prospect that inspired.

So it is good to see something of interest happening in the contest. Chris Huhne's call for the scrapping of Trident is encouraging. And it is particularly encouraging because of the reasons he gives for it.

Traditionally, Liberals who have opposed Trident have used two arguments.

The first is that nukes are really, really awful and if only you knew how really, really awful they are you would agree with me.

It does not occur to them that their opponents may know just as much about nuclear weapons as they do.

The second is that if Britain gives up its independent nuclear weapons then it will set an example that other countries will follow because they are so impressed by our superior morality.

To which the only possible answer is "bollocks".

Instead, Huhne has offered a different argument:
it would be 'ridiculous' to spend up to £15bn updating the ageing submarine-based nuclear arsenal, describing it as a Cold War relic. He also argued this would risk further tying Britain to American policies, something he suggested should be avoided in the wake of the Iraq war.
I think there is far more chance of voters accepting this argument than there is of their accepting the two traditional ones. It is forward-looking, acknowledges the national interest and lacks the faint aroma of hand-woven yoghurt that traditional Liberal policies sometimes have.

Incidentally, I was amused by Antony Hook's counter-argument that, if we reopen the Trident issue, then the debate at our Harrogate Spring Conference this year will turn out to have been a waste of time.

When you have been going to Conferences for as long as I have, you will realise that most debates turn out to have been a waste of time.

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