The Corbyn Legacy; Why Trident is Key. It has been a month of political lows for Jeremy Corbyn. His attempts to alter Labour’s stance on the UK’s nuclear weapons policy has been met with stubborn resistance both from members of his own party and the trade unions that back it.
His recent reshuffle of his shadow cabinet included replacing his shadow deference secretary Hilary Benn, who openly supported the Syria bombings live on television to Corbyn’s displeasure, with the anti-Trident Emily Thorn berry. These changes in personnel and policy have continued to cause frictions and rifts between MPs, shadow cabinet members and officials, some of whom have threatened to resign their posts should the party stance on Trident change. They have also been met with derision by the pro-Trident Conservatives, who are eager to paint Labour as a party without unity or focus.
Despite this, public opinion surveys regarding UK policy on nuclear weapons over the years have always shown the topic to be incredibly divisive among the general populace from the moment Britain first gained nuclear weapons during the Cold War right up to the present day. Corbyn’s attempts to break from the modern tradition of support that all three major parties have for Trident has led to an influx of members of the public both new and old gaining and renewing membership with the Labour party. It has been the biggest member surge since Tony Blair’s New Labour movement.
Parliamentary voting on potential upgrades to the Trident missile system and Continuous At Sea Deterrence (CASD) – the policy of having one nuclear missile equipped submarine operational at sea at any given moment which has been in effect since April 1969 – will take place over 2016. Corbyn’s most senior Labour official, Iain McNichol, has stated that the Trident policy changes he wants to implement would have to be decided at the Autumn Labour party conference to be legal and Trade Union heads such as Sir Paul Kenny, leader of the GMB, have reiterated their firm support for Trident on the basis that it protects and creates British jobs. As the Trade Unions collectively have 50% of the vote on policy changes and 60% is needed to bring about a policy change at the Autumn conference, Mr Corbyn has a tall order ahead of him.
However the Labour leader has always wanted to put more power in the hands of regular party members and recent figures from local Labour constituencies are bound to put a spring in Mr Corbyn’s step. A Guardian survey has shown grassroots support doubling, tripling or even quintupling in certain areas since June last year – Bath went from 300 to 1,322 members and Colchester went from around 200 to nearly 1,000. Young people and university students are always going to be drawn towards Corbyn’s policy of a more inclusive and accountable type of politics, however the study also shows the return of a number of older Labour supporters who quit in disillusionment during Labour’s endorsement of the Iraq War and who now feel the party is reconciling with their views once again.
Whether the older generation of Labour supporters, some of whom probably dream of a resurgence of the far left style of the 70’s and 80’s, meshes with the new youth faction who see Corbyn as the potential harbinger of an entirely new form of Government is unclear. However there are some policies on which both sides seem to wholeheartedly agree. They are against bombing Syria, and they are vocally anti-Trident.
Mr Corbyn’s surprising rise to power in the Labour party and his incredible grassroots support have come largely from his ideology that modern Government must renew its relationship with the general public, hear and represent its views, and that party members must have more influence in policy making. Ideas such as crowdsourced questions during Prime Ministers Questions goes some small way towards doing this but if Corbyn is genuinely going to reconcile his agenda with the realities of modern politics it is on issues like Trident that he will have to stand his ground. If he cannot convince his party to represent the opinions of its members and constituents over the pressure of common Government policy, lobbyists and political pressure then there is little hope for him.
The next six months are key for Corbyn. Trident is one of the major issues that will underline whether he is at the forefront of new politics or simply a man out of time.
By Thomas Ward