Trident: Why Brown Went to War with Labour; as He Prepares to Take Power, Gordon Brown Has Served Notice to the Labour Party That He Will Make No Compromises on Security and Defence Issues. Our Political Editor, Martin Bright, Reveals the Behind-the-Scenes Battles, of Which Trident Is Only the Start

By Bright, Martin | New Statesman (1996), March 19, 2007 | Go to article overview
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Trident: Why Brown Went to War with Labour; as He Prepares to Take Power, Gordon Brown Has Served Notice to the Labour Party That He Will Make No Compromises on Security and Defence Issues. Our Political Editor, Martin Bright, Reveals the Behind-the-Scenes Battles, of Which Trident Is Only the Start


Bright, Martin, New Statesman (1996)


On the eve of the Commons debate on the future of Britain's Trident weapons system, I counted at least three conspiracy theories doing the rounds at Westminster about why the government was rushing into renewal of our independent nuclear deterrent. Each was exquisitely detailed; each had a certain degree of credibility. The first can be labelled the Blair Legacy Theory. This posits that the Prime Minister was always determined to sign up to Trident renewal before he left office, as a way of yoking Britain for ever to the fate of the United States--no debate, no consultation. This theory is given weight by an exchange of letters between Tony Blair and George W Bush dated 7 December 2006 in which Blair stated: "We have therefore to set in train the steps necessary to maintain our current submarine-based nuclear deterrent system, replacing those elements--in particular the submarines--that will reach the end of their planned life by the 2020s."

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The second could be described as the British Aerospace Procurement Theory. This notes that the main beneficiary of any contract to replace the Trident fleet of submarines would be BAE Systems, currently the focus of corruption investigations in six countries across the globe. Is it any surprise, ask the proponents of this theory, that the decision by the Attorney General to drop the Serious Fraud Office investigation into BAE's dealings with Saudi Arabia came just days after Blair had informed Bush of his intention to renew Britain's nuclear deterrent? Both were designed to guarantee the commercial future of the UK arms manufacturer.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

No set of conspiracy theories would be complete without Rupert Murdoch, and so it is with Trident. The News International Theory has it that, over the summer, the media mogul became so concerned that Gordon Brown would distance Britain's foreign policy from the US that he warned Blair his support was no longer guaranteed. According to this version, the new spate of tough talking on defence, the war on terror and Trident in particular can be explained in part by a desire to placate newspapers in the Murdoch empire. Murdoch is said to have been particularly concerned that Brown was preparing to model his foreign policy on Olof Palme's: the Swedish centre-left politician of the 1980s was fiercely protective of his country's independence. Brown's support for Trident may not be enough to calm Murdoch's fears, however. Mark Leonard, director of foreign policy at the Centre for European Reform, has already coined the phrase "Olof Palme with nukes" to describe the direction of Brownite thinking.

Year zero

There is another explanation. Perhaps Blair and Brown genuinely believe that Trident replacement is the best option--that the decision must be made now in order to have the new hardware ready for 2024 when the present Trident system becomes obsolete.

Brown is privately disdainful of the rebels. He speaks of modernising the system as just the right thing to do. He does not credit the idea that there is a popular groundswell of opposition: a recent demonstration in Glasgow could muster only 2,000 protesters.

Within parliament he would do well to be less dismissive. The leaders of the rebel amendment to Trident, which called for a delay in the replacement timetable, claimed among their ranks many of Brown's closest allies. Even several ministers voting with the government confided privately that they were doing so with a heavy heart. "Politics is about compromise. Now is not the time to make an issue of Trident," said one. The sensitive period of transition is not the time for a gratuitous act of conscience, they argue. Now is the time to knuckle down and prepare for difficult local elections and parliamentary elections in Scotland and Wales.

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Trident: Why Brown Went to War with Labour; as He Prepares to Take Power, Gordon Brown Has Served Notice to the Labour Party That He Will Make No Compromises on Security and Defence Issues. Our Political Editor, Martin Bright, Reveals the Behind-the-Scenes Battles, of Which Trident Is Only the Start
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