The last couple of weeks has seen the battle for parliament really kick up a gear. Starting with the leader’s debate on Thursday 2nd April, we’ve since had ‘FrenchGate’ – a memo that was leaked suggesting Nicola Sturgeon, (the new doyenne of UK politics), preferred David Cameron to Ed Miliband – which she refuted in the strongest possible terms.
We then had the confusion over Labour’s non-dom tax policy, which shouldn’t really have been that complicated, but did give way to probably the best election hashtag thus far, #nondominshambles. Last week saw another set of battle lines being drawn, this time over the future of the UK’s Trident nuclear defence system. The SNP have been clear that they want to scrap Trident, and Nicola Sturgeon made it clear that it was a “red line” issue for the party if they do enter into an agreement with the Labour Party. This has been jumped on by Tory HQ, who have since rolled out this poster:
This was followed up by the announcement by Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, that a Conservative government would build four new nuclear submarines to replace the current system. For the record, the Labour Party has remained committed to Trident, though may reduce the number of submarines used to carry Trident missiles from 4 to 3.
Since this policy would cost between £15bn and £20bn, it seems bizarre that in a time of austerity that no UK-wide party is suggesting that maybe we don’t actually need a nuclear deterrent anymore. Britain has not been invaded since the end of World War Two, and the only attack on our territory came in the shape of the Falklands conflict, where the Argentines hardly posed a major threat to our nation aside from the potential death of a few penguins. The Conservatives claim that we face “uncertain times” and that this cannot be disputed – the major hostile force at the moment appears to be Russia. Yet, Vladimir Putin doesn’t really seem like he’s going to be intimidated by our nuclear arsenal of 225 weapons, given that he currently has 1,643 warheads deployed and another couple of thousand sitting in a Siberian silo.
Other hostile nations at the moment include North Korea, who do potentially have a nuclear weapon, but not one that could reach the UK. There’s also Iran, but they are currently playing nice diplomatically so the Americans will lift the sanctions that are still holding them back economically. It should also be added that the UK are a NATO member and therefore benefit from the collective security provided by the NATO agreement – which does not require the UK to remain a nuclear state. Since the USA are also NATO members, as well as one of our strongest diplomatic allies, any threat to immediate British interest may draw the ire of the White House- especially if that threat involved Mr. Putin sending his submarines on manoeuvres in the North Sea.
The world is not the same place it was in the 1970s: threats to the UK are far more multi-faceted than they were during the Cold War, and Britain is no longer as prominent a world player. If there is a concern that stopping Trident funding would further decrease our world standing, it might be wise to look to Germany, which isn’t allowed nuclear weapons, but is still a major player on the world stage. We’d still have battleships, and one of the finest armed forces in the world, we’d be no less capable of pursuing military matters.
If you turn to the costs of maintaining our arsenal, it seems extortionate for a nation which is supposed to be cutting back it’s spending. Given that there is so much consternation surrounding HS2 – a national infrastructure project which could be hugely beneficial to the economy – it seems strange that the government is happy to stump up £20bn for submarines that we’ll likely never use, other than have them sitting around in the North Sea keeping all of the supposed threats to our nation at bay. Given that Foodbank usage has increased from 61,500 people to 913,138 people under the current government the money we currently spend playing our worldwide game of Battleships could maybe be spent actually making sure that people have enough money to feed themselves. £20bn is enough to train 285,000 nurses or 40,000 GPs, it would have been enough to build 1,000 new schools under Labour’s Building Schools for the Future initiative, and that number would increase given the Conservatives cut the school building budget.
It’s obvious that there could be huge advantages to the nation as a whole if we did away with Trident altogether. I certainly wouldn’t lose any sleep if the submarines were gone, in truth, I’d be more likely to lose sleep knowing that somewhere else there was a child going to bed hungry because their parents had to pay the heating bills. Trident is now being used as no more than a piece of petty politics, a way of playing the electorate (see the diatribe of Nick Boles). There are far more significant things we could use the money for, and likely see no impact to the safety of our nation.