'TRIDENT – THE DECISION'
[These items are included because of their historic relevance to the future of the nuclear deterrent.]
'BLAIR RESCUED BY TORIES IN LABOUR’S NUCLEAR REBELLION'
By George Jones and Toby Helm
Daily Telegraph – 15 March 2007
Tory support ensured Tony Blair's survival in the biggest domestic Labour rebellion of his premiership last night over updating the Trident nuclear weapons system. An attempt to delay a decision – backed by Labour rebels and the Liberal Democrats – was defeated by 413 votes to 167, a Government majority of 246.
A second vote authorising work to start on a £20 billion plan for a new generation of submarines to carry the nuclear missiles was approved by 409 votes to 161, a majority of 248. More than 90 Labour MPs defied the Government at the end of an impassioned six-hour debate as noisy protesters brought traffic to a halt in Parliament Square.
Without the Tory votes the Government would not have had a majority and Mr Blair's reliance on them was a blow to his authority in the last months of his period in office. It was the biggest Labour rebellion since 139 MPs voted against the Iraq war in 2003 and the third time Mr Blair relied on the Tories to avert defeat. Last year he needed them to carry his controversial plans to create more trust schools. Whips estimated that 95 Labour MPs backed the amendment calling for delay and then 87, including tellers, voted against the go-ahead. The previous largest domestic rebellion was in 2004, when 72 Labour MPs voted against university tuition fees.
During the debate, Stephen Pound, the parliamentary private secretary to the Labour Party chairman Hazel Blears, and Chris Ruane, the PPS to Peter Hain at the Wales Office, resigned. Nigel Griffiths, the deputy Leader of the Commons, and Jim Devine, parliamentary aide to health ministers, quit earlier this week. The rebels also included former ministers, firmly in the party mainstream, such as John Denham, Frank Field and Charles Clarke. John McDonnell, a Left-wing contender for the leadership, said party members would be "appalled" that, as with the Iraq war and trust schools, Mr Blair was relying on the Tories to force through policy. Last night the rebels vowed to keep up the fight against Trident.
David Cameron, pledging Conservative support, said renewal of Trident was "in the national interest''. He urged Mr Blair not to "appease'' critics in his own party who wanted to "run away from a tough decision''. Mr Blair acknowledged that last night's vote was not binding on the next Parliament. It would remain open to a future Parliament to decide in 2012-14 whether to put out contracts for new submarines to carry the missiles.
That option would not be available if MPs decided now not to authorise work designing a new generation of submarines to carry the deterrent from 2024 on – as it would take 17 years to design, test and deploy a replacement. Margaret Beckett, the Foreign Secretary, rejected calls from Labour MPs to promise a vote in the next Parliament. The Government could not bind future parliaments or governments. Maintaining a minimum nuclear deterrent was a "premium worth paying" to give Britain an insurance policy in an uncertain world, she said. In a letter to MPs, Mrs Beckett and the Defence Secretary Des Browne said the Government needed to confirm
"to the British people and to the rest of the world that we are not abandoning our deterrent".
Declaring that the Tories and the Government could "work together in the national interest", Mr Cameron said:
"In a dangerous and uncertain world, unilateral nuclear disarmament has never been and will never be the right answer."
To stony silence on his own side, Mr Blair spoke of maintaining security in an uncertain world, adding:
"I believe it is important that we recognise that, although it is impossible to predict the future, the one thing that is certain is the unpredictability of it."
He said in December the existing Trident submarines could be cut from four to three, while the number of nuclear warheads would be cut by 20 percent. The Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell warned that a "hasty" decision on renewal would undermine Britain's influence at forthcoming nuclear non-proliferations talks.
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'95 LABOUR MPs SAY NO. BUT BLAIR GETS HIS MISSILE'
BIGGEST REBELLION ON DOMESTIC ISSUE SINCE 1997. VOTE WON THANKS TO TORIES
By Patrick Wintour
Guardian – 15 March 2007
Labour's historic divisions over nuclear weapons came back to haunt Tony Blair yesterday when 95 Labour backbench MPs rejected his plans to commence the £20bn renewal of the Trident nuclear submarine system. The scale of the rebellion, the largest on a domestic issue since 1997, forced the government to rely on the support of the Conservatives to win the vote – a political fact that the Tories will deploy with a vengeance in the next general election, which is bound to focus on national security issues.
The move to defer "an early decision on renewal" was defeated by 413 to 167, with 95 Labour rebels joining the Liberal Democrats and other minority parties. The former Home Secretary Charles Clarke joined the revolt. In a separate rebellion, 87 Labour MPs voted against the principle of the renewal of Trident, with parliament overall voting 409 to 161 for renewal.
Critics claimed Mr Blair had blundered by forcing the issue at the tail end of his premiership, adding that the vote reflected low morale and a growing lack of discipline in the parliamentary Labour Party. It is the third time Mr Blair has been forced to rely on Conservative votes to push his policy through, following the votes on Iraq in 2003 and school trusts 12 months ago.
Liam Fox, the Shadow Defence Secretary, said:
"As Blair heads for the horizon, you see the rise of unreconstructed old Labour. Brown's certainly going to have his work cut out."
The Defence Minister Adam Ingram put a brave face on the reverse, saying:
"It is not a bloody nose for the government, this should be seen as a vote for the national interest, and not about the Labour Party".
The rebellion, which was even larger than organisers had been predicting, came despite desperate last-minute efforts by Mr Blair and his cabinet colleagues, including Gordon Brown, to stem the revolt.
Mr Blair told wavering rebels that although they were being asked in principle to maintain Britain's independent deterrent, in practice they were merely being asked to sanction two years' work on the design and concept phase of the new system. He also contended that no parliament could bind another, in effect suggesting the final decision on signing the expensive contracts could be revisited by a government in 2012-2014, led either by David Cameron or Mr Brown.
The decision to downplay the significance of yesterday's vote came after Labour whips warned that the rebellion was spiralling out of control. In a sign of panic, some parliamentary aides were told by whips they could miss the vote rather than rebel and so be forced to resign their posts on the lowest rung of the government ladder.
Despite the offer to abstain, three parliamentary aides – Jim Devine, Chris Ruane and Stephen Pound – resigned. They joined Nigel Griffiths, the Deputy Leader of the House who quit the government on Monday. The whips had also warned a backlash had started in response to a hardline letter sent to Labour MPs from the Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett. The letter warned that a big vote against Trident would signal Labour was returning to the dangerous divisions of the 80s.
The Labour rebellion came from three convergent sources: moral opponents of nuclear weapons in principle, sceptics that nuclear weapons are still necessary in a post-cold war world and a large group that believed the decision was being taken three years prematurely so Mr Blair could take the political hit himself rather than his likely successor, Mr Brown.
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'A RECORD-BREAKING REBELLION'
By Philip Cowley
The Times – 15 March 2007
Even in a party with a long history of division, it was still a record-breaker. Last night’s rebellion over Trident was the largest backbench revolt over defence policy since Labour first entered Government in 1924, topping the 79 MPs who defied James Callaghan over defence expenditure in 1977. Including abstentions, the Labour’s bachbenchers were split down the middle, and the policy only passed thanks to Conservative support.
Thus, three of Tony Blair’s key decisions – foreign policy (Iraq), domestic (education) and defence (Trident) – have all been passed only with the support of the Conservatives.
It did not come out of the blue. For all the talk about sheep and clones after 1997, Mr Blair’s MPs have been a rebellious bunch. They developed a taste for it during Labour’s first two terms when the Government was insulated by its landslide majorities. Both the Government and its MPs found it difficult to adjust when the majority fell in May 2005. Since then the Government has been defeated on four occasions, a postwar record for an administration with a majority of more than 60, and survived other revolts only by a series of retreats and deals.
The MPs that the Government should be most worried about are those who rebelled for the first time last night, in case they get a taste for it. The majority of MPs who in 2003 defied the whip for the first time over Iraq, later went on to rebel a second time. The majority of yesterday’s virgins will do the same, storing up trouble for Labour’s next Prime Minister.
Both John Major and Mr Callaghan enjoyed short-term honeymoons with their backbenchers after taking office – only for all hell to break loose once the honeymoon ended. Gordon Brown should fear the same.
Philip Cowley is professor of parliamentary government at the University of Nottingham and author of The Rebels (Politico’s 2005)
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'LABOUR TRIDENT REVOLT GROWS AS MPs CALL FOR MORE TIME'
By George Jones, Political Editor
Daily Telegraph – 14 March 2007
The Labour revolt against renewal of the Trident nuclear missile system gathered momentum yesterday as 62 Labour MPs put their name to an amendment calling for more discussion time. As a result, Tony Blair faces the political embarrassment today of having to rely on Conservative votes for the go-ahead to begin work on the new system, which is estimated to cost up to £20bn.
A junior ministerial aide, Jim Devine, resigned yesterday over proposals to replace the weapons – the second member of the Government to quit this week. Mr Devine, 53, MP for Livingston, resigned as unpaid parliamentary aide to the Health Minister Rosie Winterton so he could speak against replacing the submarine-based weapons system. Nigel Griffiths resigned as deputy leader of the Commons on Monday in protest at the decision to start work on replacing Trident. Stephen Pound, Parliamentary private secretary to Labour chairman Hazel Blears, is considering his position after saying publicly he could not vote for renewal.
Four Greenpeace demonstrators yesterday scaled a crane on a barge beside the Houses of Parliament, unfurling a 50ft banner claiming Tony Blair "loves" weapons of mass destruction. The two men and two women plan to stay until the Commons vote tonight. They intend to phone MPs asking them to join the rebellion against renewal. CND plans a mass lobby of parliament this evening as part of a day of activities against Trident replacement. Thousands of demonstrators are expected in Parliament Square for a "time to say no" rally, where MPs opposed to a new missile system are expected to speak.
The Commons rebellion is expected to be one of the biggest Mr Blair has faced on a domestic issue, according to an analysis by Philip Cowley and Mark Stewart of Nottingham University. A total of 124 Labour MPs have now signed Commons motions critical of renewing Trident. Although not all will rebel, the number of Labour MPs voting against the Government is certain to be higher than 34 – the number needed to deprive Mr Blair of a majority of his own party.
John McDonnell, Left-wing contender for the Labour leadership, said the vote would be a "defining moment" for the Government.
"It's time for people to stand up and be counted on this issue, and that includes those ministers who we know either do not support this or who have serious doubts about the untimely decision-making process the Prime Minister is forcing on us.''
David Cameron, the Conservative leader, confirmed yesterday that his MPs would support the decision to update Trident, ensuring parliamentary success for Mr Blair.
"I think it needs to be done and I've always supported Britain having a nuclear deterrent, so when Trident comes to the end of its life it needs to be replaced," he said.
Adam Ingram, the Armed Forces Minister, said the Government was facing up to the "tough" decision on defence and national security. Despite the Labour revolt, he said the Government would not
"run away from it, we are going to face up to it".
Minutes of Labour's national executive put online yesterday by Labour rebels showed the party leadership had sought to stifle debate on Trident. At the January meeting of the executive, attempts to secure a free vote by Labour MPs and a vote at the party's national policy forum were blocked.
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'PARTY'S LONG HISTORY OF STRIFE OVER THE “BOMB” '
By Philip Johnston
Daily Telegraph – 14 March 2007
Tony Blair is the latest in a long line of Labour leaders to face a party rebellion over nuclear weapons. The "bomb" has been a source of party strife since Hugh Gaitskell took on his unilateralist wing at Labour's 1960 conference. However, it is often forgotten that Mr Blair was once a unilateralist. So, too, were several members of the Cabinet. And some of those who were never in CND were opposed to the decision, first taken secretly by Labour in the late 1970s, to replace Polaris with Trident.
Unilateral nuclear disarmament was the official Labour policy on which Mr Blair first stood for parliament at a by-election in 1982. At the time, he was a member of CND and openly backed its aims in his election address for the safe Tory seat of Beaconsfield. Unfortunately for him, it was the height of the Falklands War and the 29-year-old was roundly thrashed and lost his deposit. The following year he was elected MP for Sedgefield, again on a unilateralist ticket contained in a manifesto dubbed "the longest suicide note in history".
Mr Blair's supporters argue that in those days many candidates cut their cloth to suit the Left-wing selection panels. But he was more enthusiastic than that. In a letter to Michael Foot, then Labour leader, after his defeat at Beaconsfield, Mr Blair called the unilateralist policy ''realistic, radical and profoundly relevant".
Other senior members of the Cabinet were also keen disarmers in the mid-1980s. Margaret Beckett, now Foreign Secretary, was then on the party's hard Left and a CND stalwart. In 1992, she said:
''I joined it because I wanted to see nuclear disarmament by whatever means, and CND was the only organisation then really working for it.''
Last year she was still ambivalent on the subject.
"I'm sure people will question whether we need [a replacement for Trident] or not,"
Mrs Beckett said.
''Obviously whenever you look at these issues the question is: do we go on with this?''
Peter Hain, the Northern Ireland Secretary, was a CND member until relatively recently and reportedly only allowed his membership to lapse in the past year or so. In 1981, he said
"unilateral nuclear disarmament offers the only hope of an end to the arms race and the only hope of any chance of peace".
However, by last year he was more concerned about the implications of reopening the nuclear weapons debate.''I was elected on a platform of maintaining the deterrent and I remember only too well what a terrible period we had when we were in favour, as a party, of unilateralism.
''I am not in favour of revisiting that issue,''
Hilary Benn, the International Development Secretary, attended marches in favour of unilateral nuclear disarmament in the 1980s. Last year, he supported CND's demands that Trident's replacement be fully debated
"both in conference, in the party, in the country and in Parliament".
Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, while not belonging to CND, was opposed to replacing Polaris with Trident. In 1984, a year after entering parliament, he called it
"a project which, while escalating the risks of nuclear war, puts at risk the integrity of our conventional defences".
CND's heyday in the Labour Party has long passed. There are currently about a dozen members of parliamentary CND together with 15 ''sympathisers".
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'DEFENDING OURSELVES IN AN UNPREDICTABLE WORLD'
Daily Telegraph – 14 December 2007
It is comforting that even a Cabinet with a generous smattering of reformed ban-the-bombers sees the logic of maintaining Britain's independent nuclear deterrent. Despite a predictable rebellion by Labour Left-wingers, this evening's Commons vote will ensure its continuance deep into the 21st century, because the Tories are backing the Government. We have already questioned the haste with which this decision has been taken. A judgment of this magnitude warrants more than a cursory Cabinet discussion and a one-day Commons debate. We are looking at the defence of the realm from 2025 to 2050, so why the hurry? Lord Chalfont … makes a powerful technical case for speedy action, yet a corporation making an investment decision a fraction of this size would ponder long and hard before committing itself. The suspicion lingers that the vote has been fast-tracked for party convenience, to fit in with the Blair/Brown hand-over timetable. Hardly the best basis for policy-making.
That said, the decision is the right one. The Trident system, which the Thatcher government ordered as a replacement for the Polaris A3TK Chevaline, has proved excellent value for money. Costing £12.57 billion when it entered service in the mid-1990s, it actually came in under-budget. It has another 20 years or so of life left in it. Over that entire period, it will account for about two percent of total defence spending. Tony Blair has estimated the cost of its replacement at between £15 billion and £20 billion. That compares rather favourably with the £19 billion price tag attached to the introduction of ID cards, or the £20 billion that the new Eurofighter – designed to combat an air force (Soviet) that no longer exists – has already cost the taxpayer.
Opponents of renewal argue that the strategic threat facing this country in the post-Cold War, post-9/11 world has changed fundamentally and that the concept of mutually assured destruction is meaningless against terrorist groups. Such a view is sanguine. The Prime Minister has warned that we "cannot be sure that a major nuclear threat to our vital interests will not emerge over the longer term". He is right. North Korea has already developed a nuclear warhead; Iran is in the process of doing so. And an increasingly assertive (and nuclear-armed) Russia, which intends to spend $183 billion on weapons over the next decade, may yet prove as much of a threat in the future as it has in the past. The suggestion that, as nuclear weapons proliferate, we should renounce them, is dangerously perverse. In an unpredictable world, maintaining our nuclear defences is the duty of any responsible government.