Corbyn’s No to the nuclear button marks the beginning of the end of his leadership

Jeremy Corbyn has now answered at least two radio or television interviewers, who asked him whether as prime minister he would ever press the nuclear button, with the fatal word: No. This is surely the most significant event to have occurred during the Labour party conference. It almost certainly marks the beginning of the end of the Corbyn adventure, and is both a human tragedy and a political relief.

Two things are abundantly clear: first, a major element of the parliamentary Labour party, from which any future Labour government would be drawn, is not ready to adopt unilateral nuclear disarmament as official Labour policy, either because most of its leaders believe that the UK nuclear deterrent is vital to our security or because they think such a policy would guarantee another ignominious failure at future elections, or both; and secondly, the electorate at large, except possibly in Scotland where there are special factors, is most certainly not yet prepared to agree to the scrapping of the UK nuclear deterrent, and would regard the election to government of a party or its leader committed to doing so as a threat to our national security.

Jeremy Corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn

Mr Corbyn’s repeated declarations that he would in no circumstances order the use of a nuclear weapon mean that if he were to be prime minister, the billions that we spend on Trident would have been wasted: the deterrent would no longer deter, since the whole world now knows that as prime minister Mr Corbyn would never permit it to be used. It’s now therefore inconceivable that a party led by Mr Corbyn could be elected to government. He has adopted and declared his own personal policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament regardless of the party’s eventual decision on the issue, and sooner or later he will have to accept the consequences. No amount of ingenious fudge or compromise can now undo what the leader of the Labour party has done.

He could have refused to answer a far-fetched, academic and hypothetical question, saying that a scenario in which there could be a case for Britain to launch a nuclear weapon was simply inconceivable, or that everything depended on the decision that the party still had to take on an issue that it had hardly begun even to debate, or that his decision in such unlikely circumstances would be governed by his honest assessment at the time of the national interest and national security. But such evasion, an essential and well understood tactic for any political leader, is not in Mr Corbyn’s nature. In that two-letter word, “No”, he has blown any chance of ever becoming prime minister at the head of a Labour government.

I write as one who has long advocated scrapping Trident and our nuclear weapon capability on the grounds that they are a waste of money and a damaging distortion of essential defence spending. But I am forced to recognise that a majority in the parliamentary party (probably) and a substantial majority in the country (certainly) disagree and that it can only be the policy for another day — or decade. When the implications of what he has said sink in, the Corbyn experiment is finished. Goodbye, Jeremy.

Footnote: This post is an edited version of what I have written as a comment on a recent post on the website Labour List.


26 Responses

  1. It’s a measure of how fatuous Corbyn is that he does not use this issue to launch an interesting and substantive debate. Which is better? One Trident or tens of thousands of killer drones? Or something else? What threats do we face? How to meet them? What in fact deters?

    Instead he stays with what he is. A dull unimaginative Trot-Lite unilateralist with no strategic insight. Authentic!

  2. Paul Sharp says:

    But Minister, we can’t possibly get rid of the deterrent while our enemies still possess one. I refer, of course, to the French.

    Sir Humphrey A.

    More seriously, but not much, I think this is actually a bit of a storm in a teacup -at least in the realms of strategy and defence. It’s not as if Mr. Corbyn’s declaration is of any use to the Russians in their calculations.



  3. Rob says:

    I too am deeply opposed to our nuclear capability but even I can read opinion polls. (

    Above all, the majority electorate respond positively to strong leadership but JC  has demonstrated weakness. Especially in his early days, complete honesty in politics and showing his hand in all very well but downright stupidity in unforgivable.

    Yes! Jeremy, that really was a very stupid mistake.  Why?. What could you hope to achieve?

  4. Those of us who voted for Jeremy Corbyn aren’t making any forecasts for his future career. If the truth be told, we didn’t think he’d win the leadership at the start of the campaign!  So experience has taught us to be wary of making predictions, especially about the future.

    Those on the Labour right never seem to learn though. Having got it terribly wrong once, I suppose it’s not that bad getting it wrong consistently after that!

    Can we wait and see how things go?

  5. Bob says:

    “We knew Jeremy Corbyn was mad, but now we know he’s psychotic. It turns out he won’t press the button to annihilate cities in a nuclear holocaust. How could anyone be that mentally unstable?” – quips the savagely comedic Mark Steel in today’s Independent. I can imagine Jonathan Swift writing something similar as a follow-up to his Modest Proposal, had he stayed around a bit longer… ” Young babies at about a year old, were cooking beautifully in the resultant glow…….”

    Brian, you say: ” I write as one who has long advocated scrapping Trident and our nuclear weapon capability on the grounds that they are a waste of money and a damaging distortion of essential defence spending.” So why not say so and support Jeremy in his probably career- nuking honesty? Why not celebrate his declaration instead of bemoaning it as fatally rash? Why not use your experience gained over 30 years of international diplomacy to help younger people see what you see – i.e. the hubristic folly of possessing an expensive and prestigious power tool no one ever really wants or intends to use? Or should we leave that bold step to another generation – hoping against hope that some scientist ( or spin doctor..) somewhere might again spin out a ‘proof’ of possible imminent nuclear destruction which will conveniently need further decades of reciprocal monitoring – before someone somewhere howls…. enough already! ?

    I’ve got a better idea: couldn’t we just pretend to have a nuclear deterrent and spend the money on real necessities like the NHS and schools? We’d never have to use it. But no, I suppose not…

    JC has been a politician just about as long as you were a diplomat, and I don’t think his arts have deserted him to the  degree you seem to suggest when you say..” No amount of ingenious fudge or compromise can now undo what the leader of the Labour party has done.” I’m inclined to believe that Jeremy’s aim needs neither fudge nor compromise, but is falling quite neatly if somewhat prematurely into place.  I think that once he’d let his name go forward for the leadership, his aim was to do his level best to rescue from near collapse the party which some of us, as you know, have been in for over 50 years,  and which was in danger of becoming a pinkish creature of the likes of Mandelson and his ” filthy rich”  friends.  I think that becoming PM, for Jeremy, just sort of went with  the job….if you see what I mean. And in two short weeks the rage and disbelief his success has provoked in the ‘popular’ media, including the BBC –  with the honorable exception of Evan Davis –  has shown just what fallow ground there was waiting for him. And what a difference two weeks can make in politics!

    I agree he has scuppered his own chances of becoming PM, but I don’t think he’ll lose any sleep over that. I think he’ll just carry on putting his case, and I’d say the Corbyn  experiment – far from being finished, as you assert – has hardly started. He cares about the state of the country and the Labour Party, and right now he must see things going pretty well. I don’t think being PM in 2020 was ever in his thoughts. But having won the leadership, what else could he say……


  6. The telegraph is running a similar story. They’ve done a poll which doesn’t exactly support their line of argument

  7. Charlie says:

    Corbyn and his Trot type comments made by middle class white collar employees of the public sector was part of the reason why so many blue collar and those in SMEs voted Tory in the 1980s.

    . The Armed Forces have a wide range of support from all sections of society and even those who are antipathetic to the Police have pride when members of their families join the Armed Forces. In fact there is probably a wider cross section of society in the Reserves than many middle class left wing dinner parties: The Duke of Westminster and Bear Grylls( an Etonian)  started their  careers  Troopers in the TAVR.

    There is saying ” When poverty walks through the front door, love walks out the back door”.

    A very high percentage of blue collar workers are highly patriotic . If one has grown up up in rough area, being weak and being seen to be weak is an invitation to be mugged and burgled:   comment made to me by a member of 4 PARA(TAVR) who grew up in a rough area around White City, W London.

    A major reason why the Krays were tolerated was because they reduced petty crime and punished the culprits.

    As Orwell has pointed out in the Lion and Unicorn, the left wing intellectuals snigger at patriotism, physical courage and British traditions : the vast majority of the working class and middle class do not: Bevin, Attlee and Callaghan  understood  these issues.


  8. Dr Ian Christie says:

    From Dr Ian Christie (by email)

    I think the situation is analogous to that of George Lansbury in the mid thirties. A Labour leader who had been much loved, but who was a lifelong pacifist had to give way to Major Attlee faced with German rearmament.

    Brian writesThis is an illuminating analogy, I think.  It’s a reminder of the robust response to Lansbury’s pacifism by Ernest Bevin, who ‘was a firm opponent of fascism and of British appeasement of the fascist powers. In 1935, arguing that Italy should be punished by sanctions for her recent invasion of Abyssinia, he made a blistering attack on the pacifists in the Labour Party, accusing the Labour leader George Lansbury at the Party Conference of “hawking his conscience around” asking to be told what to do with it.’ []

    The idea that the British electorate could ever be converted to Mr Corbyn’s brand of pacifism-lite is pure fantasy, especially when the television screens are full of images of Russian tanks manoeuvring and Russian bombers bombing in Ukraine and Syria.  I’m afraid there’s no getting round the proposition that the Labour party will remain unelectable, and therefore powerless to do anything to improve the lives of the people it was founded to support and protect, as long as its leader is someone who would renounce Britain’s nuclear deterrent if he became prime minister.  I can’t see such a prospect as anything other than a tragic betrayal of everything that Labour stands for.

  9. @ Charlie,

    I must say one of my pet hates is the appropriation of Orwell’s writings by the political right. They are quick to mention Animal Farm but never mention that Orwell was an old style Trot! He fought for the POUM : Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista  in the Spanish Civil War!

    Have you ever read the Lion and the Unicorn? It contains:
    “Probably the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing-fields of Eton, but the opening battles of all subsequent wars have been lost there. One of the dominant facts in English life during the past three quarters of a century has been the decay of ability in the ruling class.”

    “If you had the kind of brain that could understand the poems of T. S. Eliot or the theories of Karl Marx, the higher-ups would see to it that you were kept out of any important job”

    Just as true today as it was then. Orwell’s complaint against the “left wing intelligentsia” was that :
    “In intention, at any rate, the English intelligentsia are Europeanized. They take their cookery from Paris and their opinions from Moscow.”

    In other words he was saying, as we might expect from his political stance, they were too pro-Stalin.

    The intelligentsia have changed somewhat since then. They still like their French cooking , and their Tuscan villas, but  are more pro-Brussels than pro-Moscow these days.

  10. Brian says:

    Brian writes:  I am grateful for all these comments.

    Charles Crawford: For once (!) I agree with much of what you say. Instead of taking the opportunity to launch a full debate on what is after all an intricate issue, Mr Corbyn has actually pre-empted it by unilaterally announcing its outcome — no nuclear deterrent under a Corbyn Labour government.  This puts the majority of Labour MPs who strongly or provisionally disagree with him in an impossible position.

    Professor Paul Sharp: Paul, it may well seem a storm in a smallish tea-cup in Moscow, Peking*, or the groves of academe. But it’s quite a serious matter for NATO and UK defence policy and the NATO nuclear umbrella, significantly increasing European dependence on the US (perhaps under President Trump?) and throwing our own national defence policy into disarray, at any rate if there should ever seem to be a realistic prospect of Mr Corbyn taking office as Britain’s prime minister.  That looks improbable in the extreme at the moment, but so did Mr Corbyn’s election as Labour leader until just a few weeks ago.  Of course the Corbyn takeover of the UK’s principal party of the left has other potentially dire implications too, e.g. for the outcome of the forthcoming referendum on UK membership of the EU, for the possibility of decades of far-right Conservative government unchallenged by an effective opposition, and for a potential political vacuum at the heart of British politics that could well be filled eventually by a potentially sinister right-wing authoritarian movement under a leader much more unscrupulous than Mr Farage.

    *(I see no reason to stop calling it Peking, just as I shall continue to refer to Rome, Florence, Moscow, Warsaw and Brussels.)

    Rob:  Special thanks for the link to such illuminating opinion polls.  Polls can prove inaccurate as predictors, but as snapshots of the state of public opinion at the time when they were conducted these tell an unmistakeable story.  Britain is not about to elect as prime minister anyone who is committed to abandoning the nuclear deterrent on taking office, whatever you and I might think about the need for it.  This may change, but not at any time soon.

    Peter Martin:  I’m not sure what you mean by saying that the “Labour right never seem to learn”; indeed, I’m not sure whether “the Labour right” means anything any more.  For example, I am anti-austerity and I like many (but not all) things in the Corbyn-McDonnell economic and financial prospectus;  I would favour phasing out the charitable status of the public (i.e. private) schools;  I would make the tax system much more progressive, with higher top marginal rates than the 50% for which Mr McDonnell seems willing to settle;  I believe Trident is now a waste of money and should not be renewed; I would bring the “free” schools and academies back under local authority control; I am for full internal self-government for both Scotland and England, and its own parliament for England, within a fully federal UK, substituting an 80-member federal Senate for the 800+ member House of Lords;  I would nationalise or mutualise or municipalise the railways and possibly the energy and water companies;  I would return to the principle of universality in the welfare system, abandoning the contributory system as far as possible;  I am convinced that Britain should remain in the EU through thick and thin, and even that there might be a case for Britain to join the Eurozone rather than being relegated to inferior status in the outer circle; and I would gradually lift limits on immigration pari passu with a programme of additional public services in areas of growing immigrant populations.  On the other hand, I recognise that a party that adopted such a programme could not win an election and that many of the measures I favour would have to be explained and advocated in campaigns lasting for decades.  And I think the election of Mr Corbyn, decent and honest man though he is, is an unqualified disaster for the Labour party and for the country.  Does all that make me, and the many people who think roughly like me, left or right wing?

    Bob: I suggest that before you condemn the whole concept of the (semi-)independent nuclear deterrent, which I regard as no longer necessary but valid and successful in its time, you should recognise that its entire purpose is to avert the use of nuclear weapons: and that that purpose is fatally negated by removing the element of doubt from the mind of a potential nuclear aggressor or blackmailer about whether Britain, if attacked, would retaliate in kind.  Mr Corbyn seems not to realise that deterrence is the established policy of the government and of the Labour party, until either of them makes a considered decision, after public debate and consultation, to change it; that until that happens, it is a vital obligation resting on any UK prime minister, whatever his private or public opinion of the issue, to keep open the possibility of retaliation against attack in order to deter it, not to rule it out and thus at a stroke abandon the whole policy;  or that in the present state of public opinion, there is not the smallest possibility that a party leader committed to non-use of the nuclear deterrent could win an election.

    You seem relaxed about Mr Corbyn having effectively disqualified the Labour party under his leadership from ever forming a government, which means the conversion of the party into an impotent protest movement incapable of putting any of its policies into practice and thus incapable of changing anything.  You may be intensely relaxed about the prospect of Tory rule, unchallenged by an effective opposition, for as far ahead as the eye can see.  I can only say that I am not in the slightest degree relaxed about that prospect. On the contrary, I can only see it as an unforgivable and devastating betrayal. Making members of the Labour party feel good about themselves and their party seems to me modestly desirable, but as an overriding objective of politics so trivial as to be unworthy of comment.
    (I originally used a harsher form of words.)

    Charlie: I see your point, although some of your generalisations are perhaps a bit sweeping.  I think the virtual disappearance from politics of men and women who have worn uniform — with one or two encouraging exceptions — even if only in peace-time, has changed the character of the debate on defence and other matters, and has widened the gulf in attitudes to the armed forces and to willingness if necessary to use armed force, as between traditional working class and lower middle class opinion on the one hand and typical middle-class liberal opinion on the other.  The former is pretty robust, on the whole; the latter seems increasingly to tend towards a rather limp form of pacifism-lite.  But here I am generalising just as sweepingly as your own comment!



  11. paul sharp says:

    Brian (or Ambassador Barder, since I am identified by rank), you say that the “entire purpose” of the deterrent is

    “to avert the use of nuclear weapons: and that that purpose is fatally negated by removing the element of doubt from the mind of a potential nuclear aggressor or blackmailer about whether Britain, if attacked, would retaliate in kind.”

    The “element of doubt” cannot be removed by whatever Mr. Corbyn may or may not say, even as prime minister, and no sane strategic planners would let let his utterances decisively shape their course of action. The great paradox of nuclear weapons lies in the fact that to deter, one must convince the other fellow that one would use them while, should deterrence fail in the sense of a full scale strike incoming, there could be nothing more irrational and immoral than actually responding. Vengeance alone would provide a reason for acting.

    The value of deterrence lies not in the certainty of a response which you claim Mr. Corbyn is undermining, but in the possibility, however remote, of a response. In the grim, basic, risk averse universe of nuclear strategy, that possibility has not been undermined so long as the weapons exist and can be used.




  12. “I am convinced that Britain should remain in the EU through thick and thin, and even that there might be a case for Britain to join the Eurozone rather than being relegated to inferior status in the outer circle”

    Well yes, there’s no real reason to stay in the EU if we’re out of the EZ . We end up marginalised, if we aren’t now, with little or no influence.

    BUT BUT!  The problem is that the powers-that-be in the EZ either don’t understand economics or they want the situation to be as they have created in Greece and elsewhere. The Germans and the Dutch insist on running huge trade surpluses which sucks out euros from the economies of their trading partners, then they scratch their heads in bewilderment when they run into debt and start to lecture them on the perils of deficit spending.

    We ‘d need to have rocks in our heads, as a net importing country, to sign up for a common currency agreement with Germany and Holland unless we hugely devalued our currency first. That would cause the EZ more problems that it would solve right now. The big exporters need us. They need countries like the UK and USA to take their imports. It doesn’t really do us any harm providing we don’t panic and understand that we do have to deficit spend the proceeds of the gilt sales to the exporters back into the economy.

    Those gilt sales force the exporters to recycle their surpluses. They use the eurozone to avoid their responsibilities to their  customers there.

  13. Bob says:

    Brian – hey, steady on! Your response is so far out of kilter with what I wrote that I really don’t understand it. Perhaps beginning by quoting Mark Steel’s satire on the deadly serious subject of our putative nuclear defence – and my own outrageous (?) addition of what Jonathan Swift might have made of it – disturbed your train of thought. You even begin your reply with something I’m quite unable to work out, i.e : “I suggest that before you condemn the whole concept of the (semi-)independent nuclear deterrent, which I regard as no longer necessary but valid and successful in its time…”   What am I supposed to make of that? If it’s no longer necessary, why….

    As for the GCSE lesson about the function (or not) of the nuclear deterrent, and my being “relaxed about living under Tory rule”…! I suggest you read my obviously wayward offering again. On a second – perhaps calmer  –  reading you might actually see what I’m saying about Jeremy Corbyn – especially my last paragraph.** I don’t even let him get near  Number 10, because that was never his original intention, but you’re determined to lay on his ‘failure’ with a trowel, i.e:  …he has ”  disqualified the Labour party under his leadership from ever forming a government…… an impotent protest movement… incapable of putting any of its policies into practice…. incapable of changing anything. ” Why don’t you read what I wrote – as below?

    **I agree he has scuppered his own chances of becoming PM, but I don’t think he’ll lose any sleep over that. I think he’ll just carry on putting his case, and I’d say the Corbyn  experiment – far from being finished, as you assert – has hardly started. He cares about the state of the country and the Labour Party, and right now he must see things going pretty well. I don’t think being PM in 2020 was ever in his thoughts. But having won the leadership, what else could he say……”

    Brian replies: Having carefully re-read both your comments, Bob, and my response to the first of them, I’m content to let my response speak for itself.

  14. Brian says:

    Brian writes in reply to Paul Sharp:  Paul, you may be right. But a well placed friend has just sent me a copy of a top secret diptel from an ambassador in London representing the Islamic Republic of Tsetseland, which as you know has recently fallen under ISIS control.  It reads as follows:

    “Respected Foreign Minister,  I have the honour to inform Your Excellency in strict confidence that the new English Labour Party leader Corbin has promised on public TV and radio that when he becomes Prime Minister he will on no account ever authorise firing of England’s only nuclear weapon, its Trident carried 24/7 in a submarine, even in retaliation against an enemy attack.  Now that our Republic has obtained its own nuclear rocket from our brothers in Syria, we shall be well placed to demand concessions from the English as soon as Corbin takes over Number Ten Downing Street after the next election in 2019, including the release of our brother jihadis from English jails and technical advice on construction of Anti-Ballistic Missile systems in our country, with the veiled threat of a limited nuclear strike against a medium sized town in England if they refuse.  We can safely rely on Corbin’s promise never to authorise use of the English nuclear weapon in retaliation for two reasons.  1. Corbin’s whole political life has been based on his conviction that nuclear weapons and the use of them are the greatest evils of our age and he would never recant on this semi-religious faith, even under the worst torture that our loyal security guardians could devise.  2. Even if Corbin did change his mind when faced with our demands, and threaten nuclear retaliation if we carried out our threat, it would be too late to change his instructions to the submarine carrying the rockets.  Our mole in the English Ministry of Defense has told me (Top Secret, Tsetseland Eyes Only) that on his first day as Prime Minister Corbin will be forced to write and sign four letters to be sealed and locked in safes in the four Trident submarines with instructions to whichever submarine commander is on patrol at the time on what to do about firing his Trident rockets if there has been an attack on England that may have paralysed the government’s chain of command, or if the government has been captured and replaced by enemy operatives. Corbin’s original letters will certainly have told the commanders never to fire their rockets, whatever the circumstances. That instruction specifically overrides any subsequent instruction that might be sent from London by radio to the submarine, in case the radio instruction is a fake or has been sent under duress.  Only Corbin’s letter in the sub’s safe can be treated as definitely authentic.  Therefore even if Corbin changed his mind and decided that England should retaliate with a nuclear strike against our motherland, the commander under the sea would be obliged to ignore the revised instruction and to treat it as suspect. He would have to open the letter, read it, and order the crew not to fire the rocket.  Mr Corbin’s government would effectively have renounced its nuclear capacity as surely as if its rockets had been destroyed.  For the duration of Corbin’s premiership we shall have a massive strategic advantage over England because for the first time ever we will know beyond doubt what the Corbin letters in the safes say, and I have every confidence that Your Excellency will prepare to take maximum advantage of it.  I have the honour to remain Your Excellency’s obedient servant,  [signature illegible].”

    A risk worth taking, I would have thought.  (The four letters rigmarole is of course public knowledge.)  The detailed scenario described is obviously far-fetched but I submit that the underlying point is sound.  Fortunately it’s almost certainly academic, since it’s well-nigh impossible to imagine Jeremy Corbyn [sic] as leader of the Labour party or any other party winning a general election and taking office as prime minister.

  15. Paul says:

    Thank you for that, Brian. Much food for thought and things I simply did not know. You might Google Paul Sharp, Taliban Diplomacy, one day when you have the chance.

  16. Charlie says:


    I have finished readings Orwell’s collected essays 1920-1950. In V3 , Notes on Spanish Militias, p352-p353.  ” I was only dimly aware of the differences between the political parties… Had I completely understood the situation I would have joined the C.N.T.”I cannot recall any comments other critical by Orwell for left wing middle class intellectuals, especially after 1936 and therefore I cannot see how it can be construed that he would support Corbyn et al.

    In the Lion and Unicorn , Orwell critcises the lack of vitality and daring of the ruling classes which he says  makes them unfit to rule.  Obviously Orwell did not associate with D Stirling ,the aristocrat  who founded the SAS and whose motto is ” Who Dares Wins”.

    Orwell criticise all those who had weakened Britain and made  the task of fighting the Nazis more difficult. In particular Orwell criticises the left for opposing conscription and their sniggering at physical courage and patriotism which he believes had made it more difficult to recruit high calibre people into the armed forces. Orwell’s criticism of the Blimps  was because they did not understand the ruthlessness of the Nazi war machine.

    When it comes to the risk of nuclear war, surely the largest risk is Saudi Arabia and Iran. Prince Talal of Saudi Arabia has said their position with regards to Iran is almost identical to Israel. How likely is it  that Saudi buys nuclear weapons from Pakistan if they feel threatened by Iran?  The Gulf Arabs feel let down by Obama. Iran believes in the return of the 12th Imam which occurs in a time of great conflict .  I would suggest that the threat of nuclear conflict between Saudi Arabia is only increasing and it is in this context which makes Corbyn’s decision naive.

  17. Charlie,

    Eric Blair/George Orwell was part of the Independent Labour Party contingent sent over in 1937 to fight with the Spanish Republicans.

    The ILP were very much to the left of the mainstream Labour Party in the 30’s and continued to be so, even during the war years running candidates at by-elections in opposition to coalition candidates.

    So  George Orwell ended up joining the POUM,  as the ILP has chosen to affiliate itself to that party.

    Of course we can’t say with any certainty just which of the 2015 leadership candidates an imaginary living George Orwell would have voted for. How would he have interpreted 21st century politics? We can’t know. We can better interpret the politics of his time though. That would have to include an understanding of why Communists campaigned for a Tory candidate when the ILP stood against them in elections for example.

    It would have to include an understanding of why so many of the intelligentsia at the time were so pro-Stalin. And why those who didn’t toe the line were labelled “social fascists”. Why the war suddenly changed from being an imperialists’ war to a people’s war after June 1941 etc .

  18. “… long as its leader is someone who would renounce Britain’s nuclear deterrent if he became prime minister.  I can’t see such a prospect as anything other than a tragic betrayal of everything that Labour stands for.”

    This statement confuses  the issue of pacifism with possession of nuclear weapons. There are 5 countries in the world who possess nuclear weapons legally. There are reliable reports that Israel possesses them illegally and that at one time South Africa may also have done so.

    Shouldn’t those who consider that nuclear weapons contribute to the security of the UK advocate that other countries, currently without them, should start to possess them too? Would Australia and New Zealand be better off with a nuclear deterrent for example? Would that make the world a safer place?

    We might also ask why those who consider the UK needs an independent nuclear deterrent don’t campaign to ensure that we do have a genuinely independent system? What would happen if a UK prime minister “pressed the button” but the US president considered that it shouldn’t be pressed? Would he pass an order to disable the satellite guidance system on which Trident and any future replacement would rely? There’s no way of knowing unless we have our own truly independent satellite network and missile launcher.

    “Press the button” is of course just a euphemism. Any PM would actually be ordering the killing of millions of innocent civilians by ordering a nuclear strike. If that PM were a Labour PM that truly would be a betrayal of Labour values.

  19. ObiterJ says:

    Corbyn’s comments about use of nuclear weapons do not necessarily mark even the beginning of the end of his leadership.  He obtained that position – to the surprise of many – with 59.5% of the vote.  His closest rival (Burnham) secured 19%.    Corbyn’s views on this subject merit serious attention in the light of the fact that, at a time of supposed austerity, the government is planning to spend an enormous sum on Trident replacement.  Whether, given all the other needs (e.g. hospitals, education etc), the UK should be spending immense amount on nuclear weaponry is a very serious political question.

    Even if the cost is considered to be acceptable, other important issues remain.

    The large spend on Trident reduces expenditure on more conventional armed forces.
    There is insufficient attention (as far as I can tell) to other possible (and maybe more likely) threats – e.g. biological, chemical.
    The independence of UK nuclear weapons is actually questionable – as discussed at
    The deterrence argument begs other questions such as in what circumstances would the UK use nuclear weapons before being so attacked itself.  The pre-emptive use does not seem to be against international law though the circumstances would have to be most extreme and such an attack proportionate to the threat.   I have discussed the position in international law at
    Is the UK acting in breach of the disarmament obligation in the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)? The UK has reduced its stock of warheads and aims for 180 (max 40 per boat) by the mid-2020s. Still a considerable arsenal ! Replacement of Trident could be seen as acting against the NPT though the government would argue that it is an update of equipment and not an enhancement of capability.

    Is the possession of nuclear capability actually our ultimate insurance policy?  After all, many other nations seem to get along quite well without this though it does seem to secure permanent membership of the UNSC which is close to the hearts of those in Whitehall.

    I say all of this just to show that there IS a serious debate to be had.  Perhaps if the UK is so threatened by others then a major change of foreign policy is required.  A move away from trying to be the world’s policeman (without the proper resources to do it) toward being a nation engaged with other nations but in a less threatening way.

    I think Corbyn was right to express his views and they will ring true to many who look deeper than the headlines and give these matters serious thought.

  20. Brian says:

    Brian writes:  Once again I welcome these thought-provoking comments.

    To deal with the most fundamental of them, I venture to suggest to Peter Martin and Obiter J that my original post, above, is not about the rights and wrongs of Britain’s possession of a nuclear weapon capacity, nor about the validity or lack of it of the doctrine of nuclear deterrence as applied to Britain, and still less about the morality of pressing a button to launch a shower of rockets that are intended to kill millions, most of them civilians.  It is entirely about two quite different questions, which may be summed up as:

    1.  Given that both Conservative and Labour defence policies are based (rightly or wrongly) on the doctrine of nuclear deterrence and Britain’s continuing possession of nuclear weapons for deterrent purposes, and until either party formally abandons that policy and substitutes a different one, is it acceptable, sensible or constructive for the leader of either party to declare in advance that as prime minister he would in no circumstances order the firing of a nuclear weapon, thus removing in a sentence the deterrent effect of possession of such a weapon combined with uncertainty in the mind of a potential enemy attacker or blackmailer about the possibility, however faint, of British nuclear retaliation against the threat or use of nuclear weapons against us?  It is that uncertainty which constitutes the deterrent.  Remove the uncertainty, as Mr Corbyn has done, and there is no longer any UK nuclear deterrent.  Nor has Mr Corbyn suggested a coherent UK defence policy to replace it.  No-one is asking Mr Corbyn to announce, contrary to his deepest beliefs,  his willingness to press the nuclear button in certain unspecified circumstances.  All he has to do is refuse to say in advance what he would do.  As Heisenberg might say, the uncertainty principle is at the heart of the matter.  Mr Corbyn has unilaterally abandoned it without the agreement of most of his shadow cabinet and without the party’s debate on the issue that he had promised — a debate that he has made otiose as long as he remains leader.
    2. Given that Mr Corbyn has declared that if he became prime minister, Britain would abandon the doctrine and practice of nuclear deterrence, and taking account of the state of public opinion as measured in numerous reasonably reliable opinion polls, anecdotally confirmed again and again, does a party led by Mr Corbyn stand any chance at all of being elected to government?  Of course it’s just possible that a united Labour party campaign advocating abandoning Britain’s nuclear weapons and the doctrine of nuclear deterrence, deploying all the arguments for such a revolutionary change (including some very cogent ones) and demolishing some of the obviously flaky case for the status quo, might over time convince enough of the electorate (and of the trade unions with a stake in the present situation) to bring a unilaterally disarming Labour Party within reach of victory in a future general election.  But given the huge size of the majority support in the country for retention of a nuclear deterrent, such a mass conversion would manifestly take many years, even decades, during which Britain would be condemned to increasingly harsh and reactionary Conservative rule.  In any case, since a clear majority in the parliamentary Labour party and the shadow cabinet are obviously strongly opposed to such a change, there is not the slightest prospect of such a campaign to change public opinion having the support of a united Labour Party, and without it such a campaign would be completely pointless.

    For all these reasons, I would answer both questions with a confident No.  It was unnecessary and reckless of Mr Corbyn to show his hand in advance on willingness to press the nuclear button and thus to wreck the possible deterrent effect of uncertainty, however tentative, about what he just might do if circumstances were to arise that could justify it.  And having made that elementary error, he has also effectively wrecked any realistic chance of the Labour party winning a general election in the foreseeable future as long as Jeremy Corbyn leads it.

    Whether Mr Corbyn’s conscience’s prompting to say honestly and openly what he would do or not do, rather than leaving the question ever so slightly open, justifies what he has done and all the consequences that flow from it, is perhaps for all of us to judge.  Whether the case for the doctrine of nuclear deterrence is so comprehensively flawed that its instant abandonment as Labour policy, without debate and against the strongly held views of most of the Labour leadership in parliament, and even if it ruins Labour’s chances of winning an election in the immediate future, was the right course, is for others to debate; what’s done in this case can’t be undone.  Arguments about how independent the UK nuclear deterrent really is, how likely it is that Britain will face the threat of nuclear attack or blackmail in the foreseeable future and if so from whom, whether the considerable cost of renewing and maintaining Trident, on a cold cost-benefit analysis, is justified in the face of so many other and more pressing needs on the part of our conventional armed forces, and whether even the contingent threat of its use and possible willingness to carry out that threat, without actually doing so, is immoral and arguably illegal under international law, are all legitimate subjects for honest debate — but not here.  None of them is relevant to the two questions that I have posed.  Anyone willing to argue for a Yes to either question is very welcome to post his or her comment here.  I don’t think anyone has so far done so.

    I have no response to offer on the other recent comments about the likely political position of George Orwell if he were alive today, or about the economic realities of the EU and the Eurozone, except that I am following them with much interest (although admittedly they are open to the mild charge of mission creep).

  21. Brian,

    You’re arguing that no potential PM should directly answer the question of whether and under what circumstances they would ever order a nuclear strike. Especially if the answer is he’d never use it. The argument is, of course, logically correct. There’s no point in having that capability if it doesn’t create at least some doubt in the mind of a potential aggressor.

    But, even if we accept your argument that Jeremy Corbyn has been unwise to be so candid, does it mark “the beginning of the end of his leadership” ? I doubt it. Jeremy Corbyn is past normal retirement age anyway. He’ll be 71 (?) at the next election so if anything can be regarded as the beginning of the end it’s his age!

    However things pan out, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership in the next few years will be seen, by future historians,  either as a turning point in the political direction of the Labour Party or as a final, but unsuccessful, attempt by the left to gain control of the party.

    It’s always dangerous to make predictions – especially about the future ! But here’s mine for the next five years. The UK and the world are on the brink of a new serious recession. GFC part3.  The Government’s neoliberal understanding of economics is incorrect, and its desire for balanced budgets is, at best naive, and at worst just another part of a blatant attack on ‘social democratic’ Britain. The economic situation will be dire at the time of the next election. There is no possibility of the Govt ever ‘achieving’ their cherished balanced budget. The harder they try, the worse it will be  in 2020.

    The issue of the nuclear deterrent will have little or no effect either on Corbyn’s future leadership, or the election result, which, if I’m right, Labour will probably win. If I’m wrong and Tory economic policies turn out to successful, they won’t. Elections are nearly always decided on economic issues. So, ironically, in the event of a Labour victory Jeremy Corbyn’s ‘unwise’ remarks will, should he choose to carry on for a few more years, become just another reason for scrapping Britain’s nuclear deterrent.

  22. Dan Goodman says:

    Brian, aren’t you fetishising the military a bit? I mean, for every political party there are probably a large number of policies they have that are oppposed by a majority, and in some cases by a large majority. Clearly, these policies don’t stop people from voting for them. Why should the use of nuclear weapons be a line in the sand for people unlike all these other policies? I rather suspect that when it comes to it, people will vote based on more immediate concerns to their everyday lives. Indeed, the YouGov link that someone posted earlier suggests to me that actually people are more flexible in their opinions about the nuclear deterrent than you suggest. Although a big majority are in favour (66:34), that question doesn’t give any indication as to the strength of feeling about how important it is to them. The next question they asked was about what they would like if the only option for keeping the deterrent was very expensive, and then support drops to 56%. When asked how persuasive the argument is that we don’t need nuclear weapons because we can wield influence without them, 41% found it persuasive to only 42% who found it unpersuasive. If you suggest the argument that nuclear weapons are unnecessary because they don’t help us face 21st century problems, 48% found it persuasive compared to 36% who found it unpersuasive. Taking all these types of opinions into account doesn’t give the impression to me of an electorate who couldn’t conceive of countenancing someone who was anti-nuclear weapons, but rather gives the impression of an electorate who are currently in favour, but are actually quite open to argument on the issue. In this respect, it may be rather like attitudes to the death penalty. In 1983, 75% were in favour (much more than the amount of support for nuclear weapons). Support has been gradually falling, and now it’s around 45%, but at no point was this a line in the sand issue that decided an election.

  23. Brian says:

    Brian writes in reply to Dan Goodman:  No, I don’t think I’m “fetishising the military” — nor am I likely to, since I’m personally in favour of the UK abandoning its nuclear weapons! It’s more a question of trying to assess the electoral implications in four and a half years’ time (and also the impact, if any, on all the various elections scheduled for next May) of the prospect that if the present leader of the Labour party were to become prime minister, Britain’s nuclear deterrent would be suspended, or possibly terminated.  The figures you quote suggest that this would be contrary to the wishes of around two-thirds of the electorate (I doubt if the various refinements of policy that you mention will have any impact since none of them is on offer).  This strongly implies that it would, or will, be an electoral handicap for Labour.  How great a handicap?  In other words, how heavily, if at all, will this factor weigh compared with other issues such as economic competence, credibility of other policies, and potential prime ministerial credibility of the leader of the party?  I suggest that the answer to that will depend on such factors as (a) the extent to which the mainstream media (television, radio, newspapers) and the social media (Twitter, Facebook and their offspring) choose to concentrate their fire on Mr Corbyn’s rejection of the concept of Britain’s nuclear deterrent (“by saying he’d never press the nuclear button Corbyn will leave us defenceless against nuclear blackmail and even against a nuclear attack for the first time since the invention of nuclear weapons — even Nye Bevan was opposed to unilateral nuclear disarmament”); and (b) the state of international relations at the time:  if the Russians are behaving especially aggressively and/or the middle east is still up in flames with both the Russians and the Americans actively engaged on different sides, generating a general sense of national insecurity.  In both cases I would expect a significant number of votes to be influenced to a greater or lesser extent by Mr Corbyn’s repudiation of deterrence and the effect this will have on people’s general perception of Corbyn as a trustworthy potential prime minister and of Labour as a credible party of government.  But I agree that this is unlikely to be the main determining factor  in how any significant number of people will vote — it will in many cases just be one factor among many.

    (Of course in a few cases it may be a positive factor for Corbyn and Labour, where the voter is passionately committed to unilateral nuclear disarmament, although Corbyn’s public statement of refusal ever to press the button falls a long way short of a commitment to get rid of Trident and not to replace it with any other nuclear weapons.  In the latter case there wouldn’t be a button for Corbyn to refuse to press.)

    I hesitate to speculate on the plausibility or otherwise of your suggestion that public opinion may be moving slowly towards getting rid of Trident.  The position of the Scottish SNP government and the popular Ms Sturgeon may well be having that effect, although I don’t know of any hard evidence for it.  Even if there’s no measurable movement of opinion in favour of denuclearisation, the respectability conferred on the anti-nuclear position by the Scottish establishment might well reduce the weight given to this particular issue by many UK voters in their decisions on how to vote.

    I’m not sure that there’s any real analogy with public opinion on the death penalty, although it’s an interesting idea.  In the debate on the death penalty, establishment and educated opinion was ahead of the rest of the population for a good many years, as on many other social issues. In all of them enlightened laws abolishing hanging, legitimising homosexuality, etc., in the face of generally hostile public opinion had a normative effect by making it less respectable to continue to hold reactionary views when the law itself had declared the behaviour in question acceptable.  None of that is true of the Trident issue, where abolitionism is still a minority taste even within the establishment and informed opinion.

    On all these aspects of the issue, the polls will be worth watching, not necessarily as predictors but as periodic snapshots of opinion to indicate broad trends.

  24. Dan Goodman says:

    Brian – it seems we’re now in agreement then, that Corbyn is (a) correct, (b) in disagreement with the majority, which will cause some to choose not to vote for him, but that (c) this disagreement is “unlikely to be the main determining factor  in how any significant number of people will vote”.

    So… hardly “the beginning of the end of the Corbyn adventure”?

    I understand why you were against Corbyn before he was chosen to be the Labour leader. I disagreed, but I could see your points. What I don’t understand is why you (and so many others) continue to attack him now, especially when you actually agree with what he says! You may think he was the wrong choice, and that we’ll regret it in a few years, but he was the choice that was (overwhelmingly) made. Surely it’s better to get behind him now and try to do everything to support him rather than contributing to the enormous wave of propaganda directed against him?

  25. Brian says:

    Brian writes in reply to Dan Goodman again:  Dan, I don’t accept your account of my position in relation to Mr Corbyn.  I made it clear in my original post that I share many of his views (but by no means all of them), but recognise, as he seems only now to be beginning to do, that the most controversial of them, including on Trident, have so little public support that to incorporate them in Labour policy, even if the rest of the parliamentary party were to agree, would be electoral suicide.  There are many things about Mr Corbyn that represent severe electoral handicaps for the Labour party and one of the most serious is his regrettable action in pre-empting a debate within the party on Trident by reversing established Labour policy, without consultation or the consent of any party organ, by declaring publicly that he would not press the nuclear button in any circumstances if he were to be prime minister.  This is not the only thing that will count against him at election times but I believe that it will emerge as the most damaging.  You accuse me of continuing to “attack him” after his election (in a bizarre election process) as party leader and call on me to support him “rather than contributing to the enormous wave of propaganda directed against him”, but I am not going to be deterred from expressing my views on current issues affecting the Labour party, even if these sometimes explicitly or implicitly involve criticism of Mr Corbyn, by fear that they will be misrepresented as “attacks” on him or his colleagues or as “propaganda directed against him” when they are neither.  If I wanted to mount attacks on him or to contribute to propaganda against him in what I write, I assure you that I would write very differently indeed.  I write only what I believe and what I believe is in the best interests of the Labour party and the UK.  If that sometimes reflects badly on Mr Corbyn, that’s just too bad.  I am credibly assured that he’s a nice, gentle, sincere and principled man.  I can’t vouch for that personally, as on the only occasion when I was hoping to meet him, long before the leadership election, when he and I were scheduled to speak at a public meeting, he failed to turn up, without explanation or apology.  But all that is irrelevant to the central point:  I believe on numerous grounds that he lacks almost all the qualities required of a party leader and of a potential prime minister: and that consequently his election as party leader is a calamity for Labour.  I well understand the feeling that despite all the defects he should be given a chance to show what he can do and that allowances should be made during his first few weeks or even months as leader for his inexperience of leadership in any form:  fortunately it is not in my power either to give him that chance or not to give it to him.  If he does better than I expect, I shall be unfeignedly delighted.  But it does Labour and the interests of our society no favours to pretend that everything is fine about his leadership when it obviously isn’t — as his abysmal ratings in the polls already show.  Attacks on his critics that look as if they are intended to silence them are likely to be counter-productive.

    That closes this particular exchange.

    I take this opportunity to answer one point that has been raised earlier in this thread (not by you) in the context of Trident.  It is sometimes suggested that the UK’s permanent seat (and veto) in the UN Security Council are in some way connected to or even dependent on our status as a legitimate nuclear power, with the implication that we would lose them if we gave up nuclear weapons.  This is plainly wrong.  Our permanent member status and the veto that goes with it long pre-date our possession of nuclear weapons.  Whether or not we give up our nuclear weapons, we can be removed from our permanent membership of the UNSC only with our own consent, short of a massive and radical amendment to the UN Charter which not only we but probably all the other four permanent members would almost certainly veto, in the unlikely event of the vast majority of the general membership of the UN supporting it under the complex procedures laid down in the existing Charter.  So it’s wholly irrelevant to the debate on the future of Trident.  Personally, I am doubtful whether our continued permanent membership of the Council is in Britain’s interests, but I’m clear that that bird wouldn’t fly far if I released it!

  26. Rob says:

    Brian, I expect that the meeting you refer to was one I also attended. When he left us in the lurch and I telephoned to complain he apologised. Apparently he forgot. All well and good but for his own survival Mr Corbyn would be foolish to forget that today he represents LP members many of whom are not yet in step with his own personal beliefs. No-one doubts his sincerity but to shift the Party in his direction he has yet to demonstrate that he can actually lead it.

    On your second point: Britain must hold on to its SC veto. Any attempt by any leader at any time to remove it would be howled out of the Commons. In any event, the remaining four would view it as a threat to their own future status and exercise their own veto against any attack of Britain’s veto. Whether we like it or not Britain is stuck with the status quo. For just 5 out 193 countries to hold a veto is obviously undemocratic though it has at least kept the major powers glued to the negotiating table. Without it the UN would have evolved into a second League of Nations and at least two of the Five would have walked away by now. Then what?

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