Labour Risks Trident Becoming its Defining Issue

In a tactfully orchestrated vote in the Commons yesterday, MPs voted overwhelmingly to renew the UK’s nuclear deterrent, Trident. Though shameful for the Government to play politics with national security, burgeoning divisions within Labour were brutally exposed as Jeremy Corbyn voted against the party’s official position of consent to trident renewal. Abstentions from Clive Lewis and Emily Thornberry, both on the shadow cabinet, were designed to paper over these cracks, but when backbench MPs begin to publically heckle their own party leadership, an image of chaos is portrayed to the electorate. These are worrying times for Labour.

Royal Navy's Trident-class nuclear submarine Vanguard
Replacement of the submarines is expected to cost around £31bn. Photograph: PA

In contrast, the Conservatives have, for the time at least, fallen in line behind Theresa May. Crispin Blunt, with an outstanding dissent, was the only Tory MP to vote against the Government’s motion yesterday. Say what you like about them, but the Tories are admirably pragmatic. After all, they did call a referendum of generational importance to evade addressing their divisions over Europe. Labour, as David Mitchell put it the other day, are contrastingly ‘rubbish at politics’.

It is that exact deficiency of political aptitude which many ex-Corbynistas now despise about the Labour leader. But Corbyn, though unspun and unpolished, is at least consistent: supporting nuclear disarmament throughout his entire political career. At a time when we scorn our establishment politicians for their flip-flopping Machiavellian ways, for merely holding their finger to the wind before deciding policy, Corbyn’s stance is surely to be applauded. Rather strangely however, his unbending principle is, for many, a blemish to his leadership credentials.

This is not to say the Labour leader is the finished article, far from it. His over-emphasis on issues like trident, which have little relevance to the everyday lives of many people in the UK, obfuscates the party’s ability to provide a coherent alternative to the Conservatives on matters which people actually care more about. Public opinion, after all, is not on the side of disarmament.

Angela Eagle and Owen Smith
It is expected that either Owen Smith or Angela Eagle will withdraw so that one ‘unity’ candidate will face incumbent Jeremy Corbyn. Photograph: totalpolitics

As such an explosive, yet now settled issue, the debate within Labour must now move on to which candidate is best placed to repel the threat of UKIP in its northern heartlands, and who is most able to position Labour as a clear alternative to the Conservatives on issues including austerity and housebuilding programmes. To that end, Owen Smith may well prove to be an effective leader should he ultimately prevail in ousting Corbyn. But whoever emerges after nominations close this week, there is no reason to suggest that Labour cannot conduct a healthy debate going forward; centred upon the concerns affecting the everyday lives of the people they are supposed to represent.

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