Trident is weird

Jeremy Corbyn had a good night in this evening’s debate, but had a really tough time over Trident, where he refused to commit to retaliatory use. Tough gig.

Cards on the table, I am against Trident and Britain keeping nukes, an indefensible use of public money in my opinion. I’m coming at this from the point of view of being disappointed that they even exist so long after the cold war, which doesn’t seem very modern, and doubting the honesty of many self-declared multilateralists about changing that. I know my union won’t be happy.

This hasn’t always been my view, and from a Labour point of view I also think if the public rate them or want Labour to keep them (not the same thing), we are right to concede to renewing. My views aren’t always popular, and besides, this is party policy. If we go down this line though, what would be the point in having them but not putting a serious retaliatory threat behind it, or stepping away from NATO’s involvement in this?

I’m pleasing no-one here, am I. At least my union will be happy.

But Trident is weird, in its emotiveness. It’s fully understandable that something so awful gets an emotional reaction. But the fact that the emotive side of the Trident argument is all about some quite distant hypothetical scenarios which in reality would generally result in nothing nuclear happening, even if we were stupid enough to get into them.

Mutually assured destruction works as a deterrent and prevents nuclear war. The whole point is that the ability to use them means you don’t get into that situation without first strike, so people who argue for saying we should be prepared to use trident in retaliation should actually be seen as arguing we would never to have to. An acceptable reason to have nukes.

Not having nuclear weapons has been shown to be pretty much comparable in terms of results and also gets you ‘not nuclear bombed’. There’s no strategic incentive. You can’t get much out of occupying or exploiting a destroyed or irradiated country, so the real danger is becoming a third party to someone else’s nuclear conflict. People who favour nuclear disarmament should also be seen as arguing we should never really need to use nukes. An acceptable reason to go without nukes.

Despite opposing Trident I can admit that both logics work and that both are motivated by achieving safety.

More broadly I think there are good enough arguments from many angles of Trident for me to be convinced that our country can manage defence and avoid any kind of nuclear annihilation with it or without it. I think therefore that the real and usually ignored issue is actually mostly an argument about public spending and employment, or wider foreign policy issues such as power projection and the role it plays in modern strategy.

Given this, I’m not very susceptible to the emotional arguments which suggest that millions of humans here or elsewhere will shortly all be vaporised because Britain has nuclear weapons/no longer has nuclear weapons. In reality, we are not going to get drawn into using them either way, are we?

Despite the power of these things and the polarity of the debate, it doesn’t really matter all that much unless we are talking about public spending, skilled jobs, or much wider geopolitical strategy. It definitely shouldn’t be the shibboleth it gets made out to be, and in any event, if you’re going to get angry about something, it might as well be something more immediate and relevant to your life, closer to home. Call me parochial but I’m more worried about whether kids are going hungry.

A facebook critique of the Corbyn project


“There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen”.

It’s been a big week.¬†As with many posts, I’m adapting this from a facebook comment, and hoping to preserve it so I can remember what the hell I was thinking. If you’re reading it, know that you are secondary, puny audience.

I wanted to put up a quick critique of the Corbyn political project which maps some of the arguments typically employed by supporters – I have lost track of what the professional part of the project itself is trying to get across, to be honest. At least this smokescreen/fog of war type approach has some kind of communicative value!

Just to explain the contest, a friend who is a Corbynite posted a link to this video, and criticised it for bowing to the frame of electability, where Corbyn should, according to said friend as I understand him, not have to justify himself, but instead confront the value of the argument used by Corbyn’s critics. It’s worth a watch.

I think whether people value the frame of ‘electability’ is a key conceptual divide and contradiction among Corbynites (for there are many of those). It is also the key ‘weapon’ of his critics on the right of the party who suspect he is vulnerable, and an important ‘concern’ for critics who comre from a soft left or Gramscian perspective.

From this angle (one I share), Corbynism represents a ‘primitive historic bloc’ – or to put it simply, something that represents a ‘good start’ for the left in terms of establishing its ideas and leadership, but only that. The real problem of the current juncture is that for some, this ‘good start’ has stalled, or started rolling down a hill with the handbrake on – a proper bloc can only be formed by building towards a social majority, but the project seems more concerned with holding support that it already has, to the extent that its ability to build seems crippled.

For those critics Corbyn has who are of the left rather than the centre, a failure of electability overlaps heavily with this concept, and is also conveniently wielded as a weapon by those who are fundamentally hostile to Corbyn’s ideology. If his backers were in a listening position over the last few months, this would have been taken on board and responded to. Instead however the response has been ultra defensive and has largely walled off the leader himself, behind a cotery of like-minded advisers and thousands of activists who don’t really do nuance.

For a sensible person, his actual electability can be gauged to an extent, via polls and the like. But whether he is electable is neither here nor there – it’s the fact that having banged on about non-voters during the leadership election, he now doesn’t seem to understand or discuss how. And this applies to ‘persuading the populace’ as much as getting them to vote for you – in other words finding outsiders a place in the ‘bloc’. And this is deemed acceptable, nay, noble by the project as a whole. Why, I cannot understand.

What’s the theory of change?


So there are two types of challenge that more thinky-type Corbynites identify within the ‘electability’ frame – the inside challenge (Corbyn actually is electable and you aren’t giving him a chance) and the outside challenge (elections aren’t very important / elections are not important at all). Continue reading