Jeremy Corbyn and the emperor's new clothes

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The outgoing executive director of CentreForum, Nick Tyrone writes an interesting blog post about Jeremy Corbyn and the nuclear button issue:

The crucial moment of this year’s Labour conference came not via a speech or indeed anything that happened inside of the hall. It occurred in an interview Jeremy Corbyn gave to the BBC yesterday morning. When asked, if he were prime minister would he ever use nuclear weapons, he gave a straight answer: “No”.

It was so defining because as he said it, I could imagine it appearing on Tory leaflets already. If Britain is attacked, PM Corbyn will not protect you. If Jeremy Corbyn becomes prime minister, it will give every other nuclear power licence to attack the UK with impunity, should one of them choose to do so. All of that will be overblown and not exactly what Jeremy said. He said “No” to the question because as someone with an abhorrence to nuclear weapons, he can’t imagine ever using them, ever. But it has left a huge stick for the Tories to beat him with nonetheless.

The problem that Corbyn doesn’t seem to get is this: nuclear weapons aren’t really expected to ever be used by anyone – they are supposed to be a means of deterring others from using theirs. So thus, if you have nuclear weapons and then you say to the world, “Well, I have these things but I’m never going to use them, even if someone drops a bomb on Manchester” then they aren’t really a deterrent anymore. I get that Jeremy doesn’t want to renew Trident and so he thinks having said deterrent isn’t important anyhow, but there really, really is no point in having it if you are announcing to the world you’ll never use it.

I agree that probably, based on past history, Nick is right. Jeremy Corbyn has perhaps sealed his electoral fate with his nuclear button statement. But I hope that the British people are wiser than that.

I strongly support Jeremy Corbyn on this issue. It’s fair to say that if Jeremy Corbyn had been leader of the Labour party 30 years ago, his stance on nuclear weapons would have been identical to what it is today. I come from a very different background. I have been a very strong multi-lateralist and supporter of the nuclear deterrent in the past. I lived slap bang next to the Cruise missiles when they were at Greenham Common. I’ve been shown round one of the inside of Cruise missile bunkers by a nice lieutenant of the US Air force. (Bizarrely, it was at a US Air Force barbecue on the base. The public were invited. We were shown round the bunkers as a family with our little son in his buggy). I live right next door to the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston. Many of my friends and party colleagues have worked or do work in the nuclear weapons industry. But I have now changed my mind.

The USSR is a distant memory occasionally referred to in schools by particularly conscientious history teachers. That power bloc had 40,000 nuclear warheads pointed at the “west” in the mid-1980s. Russia now has about 5,000, matched in number by the USA. It is just ridiculous that Britain still has nuclear weapons designed for the era of Brezhnev. Those Cruise missiles at Greenham went a long time ago, along with that nice US Air Force lieutenant we met. I walk my dog and jog just a few metres from the old Cruise missile bunkers, which are now overgrown with gorse bushes etc.

The situation we face now is a completely different one. We need to focus on the fragility of our public and private computer systems. An intelligent computer attack could paralyse this country, taking it back to the stone age, and leading to multiple deaths. We still face the terrible threat of catastrophic terrorist incidents. We need to focus on those threats. Trident can’t be pointed at a terrorist on the London Underground with a lethal rucksack or at some Chinese computer scientists in Beijing or at the makers of a “dirty bomb”. Trident was designed for one of the most powerful hegemonies known to man. It isn’t needed for dealing with rogue states.

Whether Trident costs £100 billion, or £1 billion, or somewhere in between, it needs to go now. The earlier we make the decision the better we can reskill and redirect the workforces involved in its current manufacture and maintenance.

It is just barking mad that this is even still a contentious issue. The terms “unilateralism” and “multilateralism” are now completely obsolete. We are into the era when keeping a nuclear deterrent is just mad.

That is why I applaud Jeremy Corbyn for quietly having the courage to say that he will not press the nuclear button. The Tories and their media chums can crow all they like. Sometimes, someone has to stand up, like the little boy in Hans Christian Anderson’s tale, and point out that the Emperor has no clothes.

The only problem being that, as far as I know, that little boy never got elected Prime Minister.