Campaign for a nuclear free Croydon

By - Tuesday 19th January, 2016

Opposition to Trident renewal isn’t just leftie idiocy, says Sean Creighton. So why can’t it get a hearing?

On Thursday 14th January, the Croydon Guardian ran an article on its website concerning the differences in the Labour Party over whether or not to replace Trident. The story contains no comments from local Labour Party activists.

While the article gives a lot of column coverage for the views of pro-Trident MPs, it did not mention that the usually anti-Corbyn journalist Simon Jenkins had an article on the same day giving his 100% support to Corbyn’s position on Trident. Jenkins mentions that the former Labour and Conservative Defence Secretaries Des Browne and Michael Portillo are opposed to Trident renewal. The issue is not just ‘leftie idiocy’.

My trade union UNITE’s General Secretary is sabre rattling, along with the head of the GMB, over the potential job losses. Yes, there would be a loss of 7,000 jobs, but the skills of those workers could be shifted to other projects. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament says that if just £3.1bn of the money saved was spent on house building, 62,000 jobs will be created. Trident will cost at least £25bn, at a time when the Ministry of Defence’s budget is being cut year on year, so this means the choice over Trident is also a choice between nuclear and conventional weaponry.

Back in 1982 I was on a short-term contract covering for a staff member on study leave in the Labour Party research team. This was led by Geoff Bish, a Croydonian. The team serviced the detailed policy committees that produced the Labour grogramme which committed itself to conventional over nuclear defence weapons systems.

The central objective of defence policy was to promote peace and security

Our defence priorities were to create military forces recognisably equipped and deployed for defensive purposes. This meant maintaining an adequate naval and air defence contribution; such a policy demanded adequate dockyard facilities for fleet support throughout the 1980s. Effective conventional defence continued to require an efficient industrial base.

The central objective of Labour’s defence policy was stated to be ‘the promotion of peace and security… British should have sufficient military strength to discourage external aggression and to defend ourselves should we be attacked. Labour’s role must be to work for mutual understanding between states, respect for legitimate national interests and international disarmament’.

The Labour Party of the time planned to:

  • cancel the Trident programme
  • close down all nuclear bases, British or American, on British soil or in British waters
  • oppose the siting of American ground-launched cruise missiles or neutron bombs in Britain
  • oppose the storage, research and production of chemical and biological weapons

‘The most urgent priority for Britain, as for the rest of the world’, a statement read, ‘is to draw back from the nuclear abyss. That means Britain taking action on her own account as well as pressing others to follow our example. Real security is not achieved by the nuclear arms race’.

The current debate within the Labour Party is about whether to return to its previous opposition to Trident. CND is organising a demonstration on Saturday 27th February in London. Croydon CND will be supporting it.

Sean Creighton

Sean Creighton

A former employee of and freelance project worker with community and voluntary organisations, Sean is active with Croydon Assembly and with the Planning and Transport Committee of the Love Norbury group of residents associations. He is Chair of the Norbury Community Land Trust. He is a historian of Croydon and South-West London, British black society, social action and the labour movement. He coordinates the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Croydon Radical History networks. He runs blog sites covering Croydon, Norbury and history events, issues and news. He runs a small scale publishing imprint called History & Social Action Publications. He gives talks on a range of history topics and leads history walks.

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  • Robert Ward

    I applaud the Labour Party for having a discussion on whether to replace the Trident submarines. This is a very great deal of money so committing to it should be vigorously debated. It is a rare case at the moment where the opposition is doing its job.

    Less praiseworthy is that the debate has been fixed in advance by putting people in lead positions who can be relied upon to give the ‘right’ answer from a Corbyn unilateralist perspective, but given that the government has made up its mind the other way this is good for democracy.