Daily Telegraph – 11 July 1991
By Jon Hibbs, Political Staff
Labour and the Conservatives were locked in an acrimonious war of words yesterday over the extent of Mr Kinnock's retreat from the policy of outright unilateral nuclear disarmament that lost Labour the last two General Elections.
A bitter dispute broke out after the Labour leadership sought to clarify its policy by pledging to retain Trident indefinitely until the successful negotiation of an international agreement to eliminate all nuclear weapons.
The commitment by Mr Kaufman, Shadow spokesman on foreign affairs, was billed by Labour as the clearest repudiation so far of its 1980s flirtation with unilateral disarmament.
Its openness angered the Party's Left, while senior Tories said it did not go far enough to clear up the confusion about the role of Britain's independent nuclear deterrent if Mr Kinnock were to gain office.
The row centred on an article in the Guardian newspaper – a method of ad hoc policy-making guaranteed to annoy Labour backbenchers – written by Mr Kaufman, with the full approval of Mr Kinnock and Mr O'Neill, defence spokesman.
It was intended to rebut Tory charges that the Party's revised defence policy still left open the possibility that a Labour Government could negotiate Trident away while leaving a substantial Soviet nuclear arsenal threatening the West.
"To Labour it makes sense for Britain to play a continuing, constructive role right the way through the international nuclear disarmament negotiations,"
wrote Mr Kaufman.
"We believe that Britain ought to remain as a participant in those negotiations until they are successfully and finally concluded with an agreement by all thermo-nuclear powers completely to eliminate those weapons."
Mr Patten, Tory Party chairman, immediately condemned these "weasel words" and made clear that the Conservatives were determined to keep the defence issue alive in the run up to the next General Election.
He wrote to Mr Kaufman demanding a specific answer to the question: will a future Labour Government retain some nuclear weapons so long as the Soviet Union or other countries have nuclear weapons, or not?
Highlighting Mr Kaufman's promise to stay in talks until a deal to eliminate nuclear weapons was concluded, Mr Patten commented:
"It is one thing to remain a participant in such negotiations until such a happy outcome, but it is not quite the same as confirming that, until that outcome, you will keep a British nuclear deterrent."
Mr Dennis Canavan, the Left-wing Labour MP, said:
"It is rather ironic that the Labour leadership decides to hang on to nuclear weapons indefinitely at a time when the threat from the Soviet Union is fast disappearing. We should scrap Trident and spend the money on things like education and the NHS instead."
Mr Kaufman, who received five similar letters from Mr Patten in the five weeks after he last sought to clarify Labour's defence policy at the launch of its latest policy document in April, described the Tory chairman's reservations last night as perverse.
He said he expected that world disarmament talks would include Britain, France and China as well as America and the Soviet Union.
"What we need is an agreement by all thermo-nuclear powers completely to eliminate these weapons, successfully and finally concluded. I think that is reasonably clear. How can we remain participants in negotiations if we have ended our role? If we have got nothing to negotiate with, you cannot negotiate any longer,"
Despite Mr Kinnock's public repudiation of the CND case in 1989, the Conservatives have consistently claimed that Labour's policy is still unilateralist at heart.
Their objections owe much to the persistent efforts of Dr Julian Lewis, a researcher at Conservative Central Office, who specialises in defence and has provided Ministers with detailed briefs about each step in Labour's retreat from its 1987 policy.
They argue that what matters is not the weapons each side gives up during the course of disarmament negotiations but the weapons they have left at the end of the process – and therefore whether under Labour, Britain would be divested of its Trident force in return for cuts in the Soviet arsenal that would still leave some nuclear weapons in Russian hands.
Though Labour believes the Tories are becoming desperate in efforts to revive the issue as a vote-winner, Mr Patten's letter gave it warning of the next hurdle. If Labour does indicate it will keep a deterrent, it will have to be tested and the Trident submarine fleet maintained, he wrote.
"Not only must you tear up your commitment to negotiate away all our nuclear weapons for just a fraction of the Soviet nuclear arsenal, you must also tear up your commitments unilaterally to end British nuclear testing and to cancel the fourth Trident submarine,"
[NOTE: This crucial shift by Gerald Kaufman was the culmination of three years’ pressure on Labour by Julian Lewis via letters in the national press, initially in his own name in 1988 and 1989, but later by numerous drafts prepared for Conservative Party Chairmen Kenneth Baker and Chris Patten, as well as Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd. Notoriously, the day after the Kaufman article in the Guardian, Neil and Glenys Kinnock let it be known that they had allowed their very long-standing memberships of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament to ‘lapse’. The following related articles give the background to this vital change and show how it was in direct response to the remorseless and successful Conservative campaign.]
* * *
'KINNOCK TO RETAIN NUCLEAR ARMS'
Guardian – 10 July 1991
By Patrick Wintour and David Fairhall
Labour last night committed itself to the indefinite retention of the British independent nuclear deterrent, indicating that it will keep Trident until disarmament negotiations end with an agreement by all nuclear weapon states to eliminate their entire nuclear arsenals.
The important policy development, provided by Gerald Kaufman, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, in an article in today's Guardian, is designed to rebut the mounting Tory attack that Labour's policy would allow Britain to negotiate Trident away, but still leave the Soviet Union with a sizeable nuclear arsenal capable of destroying Britain.
The statement follows discussions between Mr Kaufman, Neil Kinnock, and Martin O'Neill, the Shadow Defence Secretary. It is likely to anger the strong CND following in the constituencies . . .
Conservative Central Office believed Labour's refusal to offer a definitive answer on the nuclear issue would cause immense damage to Mr Kinnock in the General Election, diluting the impact of the Labour leader's renunciation of unilateral disarmament in 1989.
As a result, both Mr Kinnock and Mr Kaufman have come under a sustained barrage from Ministers demanding to know whether Labour was “prepared to negotiate away our independent deterrent in return for a mere fraction of the Soviet nuclear arsenal”.
In the Guardian, Mr Kaufman gives his answer:
“To Labour it makes sense for Britain to play a continuing constructive role right the way through the international nuclear disarmament negotiations.
"We believe that Britain ought to remain as a participant in those negotiations until they are successfully and finally concluded with an agreement by all thermo-nuclear powers completely to eliminate those weapons.”
Mr Kaufman believes his statement is worth the inevitable internal dissent because it “shoots the Tories' fox”. However, the Tories may yet come back demanding something even more explicit . . . [Italics added]
* * *
'ROW OVER KINNOCK’S U-TURN ON THE BOMB: LEFT TO ATTACK "FINAL BETRAYAL" '
Evening Standard – 10 July 1991
By Charles Reiss, Political Editor
A bitter row flared over defence today after Labour said it would keep the bomb as long as America and the Soviet Union hold on to their nuclear weapons.
The move was a fundamental about-turn – and, said Labour, Neil Kinnock's final break with his CND days. But it was branded by the Tories, from the Prime Minister down, as a fraud.
Tory Chairman Chris Patten pointed out that three-quarters of Labour's MPs were still members of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. He asked how anyone could believe Labour's "weasel words".
Mr Kinnock also faced ferocious attack from his Left wing, who will see the move as the final betrayal.
The new policy was slipped out in astonishing fashion, in an article by Shadow Foreign Secretary Gerald Kaufman in today's Guardian. Buried in the text came the pledge which, Labour asserted, sealed their defence policy. It said:
"To Labour, it makes sense for Britain to play a continuing constructive role right the way through the international nuclear disarmament negotiations.
"We believe that Britain ought to remain as a participant in those negotiations until they are successfully and finally concluded with an agreement by all thermonuclear powers to completely eliminate those weapons."
Labour sources made clear it was no throwaway line. It was a form of words deliberately and carefully planned by Mr Kinnock, Mr Kaufman, Labour's Defence spokesman Martin O'Neill and deputy leader Roy Hattersley. The Shadow Cabinet was not consulted.
Labour claimed that the statement was "the last brick" in a wall designed to rule out defence as an issue in the next General Election. The Conserva&sh ;tives promptly set about demolishing the wall brick by brick.
Mr Patten said:
"We have had a cloud of weasel words from Mr Kaufman which does not answer one simple question. Would a Labour government retain a nuclear deterrent so long as other countries had nuclear weapons – yes or no."
Mr Patten fired off an immediate letter to Mr Kaufman demanding an answer. "It does not need paragraphs of complicated linguistic philosophy," he said.
"We know Labour cannot answer it because three-quarters of the parliamentary Labour Party are members of CND."
Mr Major made no immediate public comment. But he was said to find it bizarre that Labour should reveal a vital and fundamental policy change in a newspaper article. It was not just extraordinary – but incredible.
Some saw the timing of the move as a first-class political blunder by Mr Kinnock. It shifts the spotlight on to Labour's defence troubles just at the time when the Government is deep in difficulties of its own over the future of Britain's armed services.
Defence Secretary Tom King and other senior Conservatives seized on the affair with glee as an unexpected windfall.
Mr Kinnock will now face massive pressure to give a straight answer to the question of whether he will keep a British nuclear deterrent as long as there is a conceivable nuclear threat from any other country.
* * *
'KAUFMAN SINKS NUCLEAR POLICY'
Evening Standard – 10 July 1991
By Tim Barlass
On the instructions of leader Neil Kinnock, Shadow Foreign Secretary Gerald Kaufman today finally sank Labour's unilateralist disarmament policy to a depth unrivalled by a Polaris submarine.
It has been a difficult and rough journey away from a policy that undoubtedly contributed to Labour's last two election defeats and is the most remarkable of policy U-turns.
Two years ago Mr Kaufman fudged the issue with great agility when asked if the Labour Party would "press the button".
"No responsible government would answer a question like that. You don't mean it as a trap but others intend it as a trap and I don't intend to fall into one."
That was more than an insignificant turn-round on Labour policy of 1983.
John Silkin, Defence Spokesman at the time, said the party would begin stripping Britain of its nuclear defences within days of coming to power. Cruise and Trident would be the first victims followed by Polaris and – within five years – every nuclear base, British or American.
Two years later Mr Kinnock stamped his authority on the Shadow Cabinet by telling colleagues there was
"absolutely no question of fudging on the party's unilateral defence policy".
He pledged that all nuclear weapons would be removed from Britain within a year of Labour forming a government.
CND's Sanity magazine in 1982 listed Mr Kinnock as a member of CND.
The Sunday Times reported in 1985 that Mr Kinnock had told a group of American Congressmen that if he ever became Prime Minister he would
"never authorise the use of nuclear weapons even if Britain itself was under nuclear attack".
Party strategists appeared to move increasingly away from their election-losing unilateralist stance.
* * *
'KAUFMAN'S KINGDOM OF HOT AIR'
Sunday Times – 14 July 1991
By Michael Jones, Political Editor
It must be presumed that Neil Kinnock actually intends to make Gerald Kaufman Foreign Secretary in the event of a Labour Government ... Mr Kinnock found that voters are not fooled by loose-tongued talk about national security. When he spouted nuclear disarmament in 1987, they did not like what they heard. Consumer marketing called for changes, and Mr Kinnock has accordingly changed. There, last Wednesday, was the latest policy shift, buried in the second sentence of the ninth paragraph of a Guardian article on page 21, penned by Mr Kaufman after consultation with Mr Kinnock and Martin O'Neill, the Party's Defence spokesman. It took a front-page explanation to tell us what he was getting at, but the drift was clear. A Labour Britain would remain nuclear-armed until further notice. Britain would retain its independent nuclear deterrent until there was agreement by all nuclear weapon states to eliminate their entire nuclear arsenals.
Mr Kaufman was not so categoric. His obfuscation confirmed Labour's continuing sensitivity on defence. There is still a “peace movement” to consider, enfeebled though it is, and Mr Foot is still around to link Mr Kinnock with his Bevanite antecedents. Mr Kinnock, however, has not spoken. He deputed defence last week to Mr Kaufman and put further distance between him and Labour's frontline troops by “letting it be known” he and his wife had let lapse their CND memberships.
It has not been a courageous episode in his leadership. A principled membership of CND surely required a principled resignation. He will, no doubt, be called to account. When he does, Chris Patten, the Tory Chairman, can take some credit for having pushed him into making the break. Mr Patten's recent letters to Mr Kaufman on defence have clearly worried the Labour leader, and Mr Kaufman's abusive replies failed to deflect the Tory attack as Mr Hurd joined in.
Before Mr Kaufman's entitlement to become Foreign Secretary proceeds, we should note his reactions to Mr Patten's central question, which he finally addressed in the Guardian. He called Mr Patten “silly”, “disingenuous”, “mischievous” and “untruthful” (April 16), “futile” and “frantic” (April 19), “puny” and “incompetent” (April 26) and “over-excited” (July 11). Then he and Mr Kinnock caved in. [Italics added]
* * *
'HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND . . . LOVE THE BOMB'
Sunday Times – 14 July 1991
By Michael Jones and Andrew Grice
The Kinnocks were the original anti-nuclear family. But their 30-year protest march has limped to an end: Neil and Glenys has quit CND.
Glenys joined the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) when she was only 14; Neil was an active supporter since his university days in Cardiff. Alongside the Labour Party and the Anti-Apartheid Movement, opposition to nuclear weapons bound them together.
“There are no circumstances,”
he wrote on becoming Labour leader in 1983,
“in which I would order or permit the firing of a nuclear weapon”.
It seemed an unalterable conviction.
Last week, however, their 30-year march under the black and white banner of CND ended in the whimper of an unattributable announcement to a Tory newspaper. They had allowed their membership to lapse, the Daily Express reported in a mini-scoop it buried away.
Not a moment too soon, as far as CND's American-born Chairman, Marjorie Thompson, was concerned. Ignorant that they were her members no more, she railed against the Kinnocks on the terrace of the House of Commons after reading that a Labour Government would keep Britain's nuclear weapons so long as other countries kept theirs.
“Neil Kinnock should get out of CND and get out now,”
“Either you believe in peace or you don't. Clearly Neil Kinnock no longer does. Push has come to shove. He has changed his defence policy so many times, this is the end.
”His lust for power is so great that he is prepared to ditch any principle, including his commitment to getting rid of nuclear weapons, to get it. I would rather have a credible Conservative Prime Minister who believes in a nuclear deterrent than a bullshit Labour one like Neil Kinnock.”
Nor did Glenys escape the enraged CND leader's wrath.
“I don't see how a CND supporter can live in the same household as someone who doesn't believe in it,”
said Thompson. When reporters charged round to the Kinnocks' west London home to find out what the Labour leader's wife did believe in, she refused all comment and called the police. What was beyond doubt was that what she once called her “first and greatest passion” was over.
Thompson's intemperate outburst had been ignited by Gerald Kaufman, Labour's Shadow Foreign Secretary, in the middle of a carefully-worded Guardian article written in response to Tory taunts that Labour's defence policies were as muddled as ever.
“it makes sense for Britain to play a continuing, constructive role right the way through the international nuclear disarmament negotiations.
“We believe that Britain ought to remain as a participant in those negotiations until they are successfully and finally concluded with an agreement by all thermo-nuclear powers completely to eliminate these weapons.”
The policy shift was clear. After saying for months that Labour was not committed to divesting Britain of nuclear weapons while other countries retained theirs a tortured double negative roundly attacked by Tory leaders Kaufman had made it as clear as he dared that a Labour Britain would actually retain its nuclear capability so long as others did so.
Kaufman's words, hedged though they still were, spelled the final breach between Labour's defence policies and CND's call for unconditional, unilateral nuclear disarmament. As Thompson railed in reaction, Labour sources confirmed the inevitable: the Kinnocks are no longer members of CND.
It was not a sudden move. The Kinnocks drifted apart from CND after Labour's decision to push for multilateral nuclear disarmament two years ago. CND bitterly opposed the shift but fought on. Bruce Kent, CND's former Chairman, became Labour's Prospective Parliamentary Candiate in Oxford West and Abingdon. There were mutterings about Kinnock at the time, but no outright breach.
Kinnock, however, increasingly doubted the value of his CND link, and Kent's replacement by Thompson at CND exacerbated matters. Kinnock believes the current leadership is more interested in pacifism than disarmament. The final straw was CND's strong opposition to the Gulf War, which Labour supported.
For the Kinnocks, according to those close to them, the parting was more in sorrow than in anger. They simply decided not to renew their subscriptions rather than resign in a public protest. “It was not a PR stunt,” one Labour source said. “If it was, he would have done it when we ditched unilateralism.”
Labour officials also deny that Glenys went along with her husband to prevent newspaper stories that she was at loggerheads with him. “It was her decision,” one official said. “No one tells Glenys what to do.”
All the same, it cannot have been an easy decision. As a student, Kinnock had supported the Committee of 100, a militant CND offshoot. Glenys frequently visited the Greenham Common peace camp, protesting against the local siting of American cruise missiles, subsequently withdrawn under a US-Soviet arms deal that would not have been possible if cruise had not been deployed in the first place. There were CND posters at their home in Ealing, and their children, Stephen and Rachel, also joined CND.
Soon after becoming Labour leader in 1983, Kinnock was the star speaker at one of CND's biggest rallies, in London. He told 100,000 people in Hyde Park that CND was
“the living movement this is the movement for life”.
They were there to defend their way of life, he said.
“We don't do it with cruise missiles. Britain is becoming nothing more than a platform in the first line of another country's defence.”
Kinnock, however, was already hedging his bets. Tribune reported his willingness to put Britain's nuclear-armed Polaris submarines into disarmament negotiations to bring about nuclear reductions elsewhere. To some, however, it was an ominous softening of CND's call for the instant abolition of all Britain's nuclear weapons.
But Kinnock held firm to the main thrust of CND policy in his early years as Labour leader. Supporting Tony Benn in the Chesterfield by-election a few weeks after that report had appeared in the Sunday Times, Kinnock confirmed he would never retaliate with a nuclear weapon against a nuclear attack, and said he would get rid of Britain's nuclear weapons as soon as they could be dismantled.
The trouble was that the policy simply would not sell. Questions abounded. Would a Labour Britain strip its own defences merely to shelter under America's nuclear umbrella? The answer seemed to be yes. A visit to Moscow to meet Konstantin Chernenko, the Soviet president, made matters worse. Kinnock came away with an offer of a missile-for-missile reduction, leaving Britain nuclear-free while Russia remained armed to the teeth.
Labour sources say Kinnock began to change his mind after the Reykjavik Summit between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in October 1986. But he believed that he could not change Labour's unilateralist policy before the 1987 General Election for fear of setting off another round of in-fighting. In truth, he had little choice but to go along with the line he had propagated for so long.
Margaret Thatcher's third election victory in a row proved to be the catalyst. Labour research showed that 27% of non-Labour voters did not believe a Labour Government would defend Britain properly. For Kinnock, two election losses under unilateralism were more than enough. The Party's market research pointed the way forward, and he took it. The change was quickly apparent. He conceded that the British people viewed with “utter incomprehension” the idea that Labour would “give away so much for nothing”.
For Kinnock two loopholes remained: his 1983 pledge never to order or permit the firing of nuclear weapons; and the question of whether Britain would negotiate all its weapons away while other countries retained theirs.
His advisers persuaded him to “bite the bullet” on the first by embracing the “doctrine of uncertainty”. Kinnock's explanation was:
“As long as the weapons exist, the assumption by others will be that there may be circumstances in which those weapons might be used.”
The second point, cleared up only last week, was trickier. Kaufman hinted last November that Labour might retain nuclear weapons while others retained theirs, and Kinnock went further in a carefully rehearsed answer in April:
“We have at no stage made a commitment to getting rid of all nuclear weapons for as long as others have them”.
It was ingenious but failed to do the trick. Sensing Labour's weak spot, Tory ministers attacked. Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, challenged Kinnock and Kaufman to
“state once and for all that, as long as the Soviet Union possesses nuclear weapons, a Labour Government would also keep at least some of ours”.
“We knew it had to be done,”
one Labour source said.
“But we did not want to respond to the ravings of Conservative Central Office. We wanted to do it on our own terms rather than respond to the Tories.”
Last week the Guardian offered the chance. Kaufman told Kinnock that he believed the time was right to put the final piece in the jigsaw, penned his article and submitted it to Kinnock, who made minor amendments, approving the crucial paragraph requiring the complete elimination of all nuclear weapons before Britain gave up hers.
Labour frontbenchers praise Kaufman for pursuing a skilled, step-by-step approach. “We could only go as fast as the Party could go,” one said. “It was a masterstroke by Gerald.”
But Tribune, which saw the way Kinnock's nuclear wind was going years ago, dubbed it
“a breathtaking capitulation to the Conservatives”,
while CND claimed that 100 Labour MPs remain members.
Some Shadow Cabinet members are also privately dismayed about the way Kaufman's statement was sneaked out without prior consultation. This week the 1,000-strong Labour Co-ordinating Committee, the Party's biggest pressure group, will urge local parties to submit motions to the October Party Conference rejecting the Kaufman line.
Facing this disarray, the Tories have it easy. Labour had
“produced a defence policy that appeared to protect them rather than the country”,
the Prime Minister said.
“You cannot defend the country with a couple of sentences tucked away in a Guardian article. This country knows the Opposition only too well. It knows their unilateralist tendencies.”
For Neil and Glenys Kinnock, such tendencies are indeed deeply rooted. But a General Election looms and Downing Street beckons. CND, for all its leader's outrage, will not be allowed to get in the way. [Italics added]