Letters: Labour recycles the Trident debate

My parliamentary colleagues and other members of the Labour party urging a return to a policy of unilateral disarmament (Letters, 21 June) do so for laudable reasons, but they are mistaken. While pushing for faster and more meaningful progress towards Britain’s ultimate shared goal of a world free from nuclear weapons, Labour leader Ed Miliband has been clear from the outset that he will maintain Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent while other countries have a nuclear capability that could threaten the UK. That is the responsible choice taken by a future prime minister who understands that we cannot possibly know what the threats facing the country will be in 30 or 40 years’ time, the period that the imminent decision to replace the nation’s Vanguard submarines will affect.

Any government should constantly search for ways to deliver things as efficiently as possible, including this major submarine building programme that will sustain 13,000 cutting-edge manufacturing and engineering jobs across the country. But returning to the unilateralism of the 80s would risk weakening Britain’s future security and cause thousands of job losses. We should discuss how best Britain contributes to a goal of multilateral disarmament, but not at the price of distracting from the Labour movement’s vital job of holding this pernicious Conservative-led government to account for its manifest failures.
John Woodcock MP
Labour, Barrow and Furness

• Labour needs a divisive public debate about Trident renewal like a fish needs a bicycle. The British electorate won’t consider any party as a viable choice to form a government if their defence policy is aligned with that of CND. Labour learned that lesson the hard way when it advocated unilateralism in 1983 and 1987. We do not need to relearn it now.

Spurious inflated claims about the cost of Trident renewal, such as quoting the lifetime cost of a system that will be spread over four or five decades, rather than the annual cost, which is about that of running two small London borough councils, illustrates that opponents of nuclear deterrence are not interested in a rational evidence-based debate. I have no idea why any Labour figures would want to re-fight the internecine and damaging battles of the 50s and 80s with reheated unilateralist dogma, rather than come up with positive new policies on subjects the electorate won’t label as hard-left hobbyhorses.
Luke Akehurst
London

• It was very encouraging that some Scottish MPs and MSPs signed the letter.The issue of Trident has already featured in a number of discussions relating to the 2014 independence referendum. Opinion polls have consistently shown there is a clear majority of people living in Scotland who are against Trident’s replacement and who feel the money could be better spent on decent things like health, education and jobs. I hope that the Labour party in Scotland will respond to this letter by throwing its collective weight behind this call for a debate.
Arthur West
Chair of Scottish CND

• The MPs’ letter states: “Many people would prioritise spending on health or …read more  

The MoD will now struggle to hold the line between what happens at home and what happens in theatre | Hew Strachan

The supreme court decision to allow soldiers’ families to sue could have a profound effect on British and US military relations

I was on a flight back to the UK from a war college in the US when I read of the supreme court’s decision to permit families to sue the Ministry of Defence for failing to protect sufficiently the human rights of soldiers.

The feeling in America is that defence cuts are making Britain a freeloader within Nato. The Rand corporation’s recent report, Nato and the Challenges of Austerity, has asserted that the British army “has been reduced to an almost pre-Victorian level in terms of active duty numbers”, and warned of the danger “that US and European forces will no longer be able to operate together”.

This is where we came in. Before 2003, Britain’s procurement programmes were driven by the determination to ensure inter-operability with its principal ally. The need to prepare for an even bigger war after the Iraq war, rather than to fight the war in hand, meant that long-term equipment programmes were given priority over immediate operational needs in 2003-6. As a result, troops on the ground found themselves patrolling in inadequately protected Snatch Land Rovers. The lives lost as a consequence were what prompted this week’s ruling.

Once again British forces find themselves worrying that they will struggle to fulfil their professional ambition, to be able to fight alongside the big boys. European law has aligned itself with economic austerity to constrain their capacity for taking risk. At one level, the MoD has only itself to blame. Had it prioritised equipment for Iraq from the outset, and on the assumption that the conflict would endure, it might have averted the problem. But on several levels it deserves sympathy.

First, the duty of care to service personnel includes proper training in the use of sophisticated kit. Rushing improved vehicles into theatre can be as risky as not doing so.

Second, the Snatch Land Rovers, with their lack of under-floor protection against improvised explosive devices, left a fearful legacy in limbless survivors. By 2006 senior officers were using the armed forces covenant in a context different from that for which it had been designed. The government was attacked for not providing proper support to those who were wounded – and, by extension, for the lack of adequate equipment. So the covenant became politicised before 2010 and the subject of legislation thereafter. While the supreme court’s judgment was not concerned with the covenant, it is of a piece with it.

Formally speaking, those who swear “to serve Her Majesty, her heirs and successors” enter into an unlimited liability. Because it can require them to kill or be killed, it is unlike any normal contract of employment. Its obligations fall entirely on the employee, and not at all on the employer. The implication of the covenant and now of the supreme court’s ruling is that this will change. The MoD will struggle to hold …read more  

The Tory right's one good idea: bringing back national service | Stephen Moss

Don’t knock it – national service without the military association and for both sexes could be a lifeline for many young people

Rightwingers in the Tory party this week launched an “alternative Queen’s speech”. Or rather relaunched it – many of the 42 proposed bills were suggested in July 2010 when the Tory right already feared their party was sinking into a coalition mush. So here they are, again arguing for the death penalty (especially for the BBC), for leaving the EU, making same-sex marriages dependent on a referendum, abolishing the Department of Energy and Climate Change, banning the burqa in public places, and replacing the August bank holiday with Margaret Thatcher Day. What a jolly occasion that would be.

Some might be inclined to dismiss the proponents of this manifesto (most of whom seem to be called Bone) as loopy, but in fact they are performing a public service. British politics is far too technocratic and centrist, with each of the three established parties parroting the others. The frame of ideas is hopelessly rigid and restricted. That’s why Ukip has been enjoying largely undeserved success. Anything to shake up the sclerotic establishment.

Parties and factions within parties that put their cards on the table are to be welcomed. British politics, if we ignore the nationalists, is a natural spectrum of five groupings – left, centre-left, centre, right, centre-right – forced to squeeze into three (or perhaps two-and-a-half) because of the first-past-the-post system. Each of the big parties is a dialogue between two rival factions, which is quite healthy in its way as long as each faction fights its corner. Creative tension can be good for government. Bad government tends to occur when one faction is overwhelmed: see the Thatcher and Blair governments passim.

What’s more, the Bone-heads on the Tory right have actually come up with a good idea – the return of national service. National service, by which between 1948 and 1963 young men were conscripted into the British armed forces, tends now to be seen as a policy that only the most blimpish would support. But that’s because it is synonymous with conscription. Remove the automatic association with the armed forces, apply it to both sexes, call it citizenship training or community service, and it could be a useful and enlightened bridge between school and whatever comes next.

University is wasted on the immature, and it would be far better if people intending to go into further education spent a year or two (lengths of citizenship training could vary) working in their local hospital, the police force or some other public service. By the age of 20 or 21, they will be more mature and in a better position to tackle university life. They could also gain financial credits during their service, which would offset the ruinous fees now being charged by our higher education factories.

Disadvantaged young people who might otherwise be anticipating a life of worklessness will be even better served by citizenship training, which could be …read more