The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, will change the direction of his party after suffering a setback on Sunday after delegates at the party’s annual conference rejected his plan to debate the abolition of Trident, the UK’s nuclear weapons program.
Mr. Corbyn consistently pledged during the recent leadership contest that he would oppose the renewal of Trident, and had hoped that the Labour Party conference would vote on the issue this week. Appearing on the Andrew Marr Show yesterday, he spoke of his desire to persuade his party that disarmament was both desirable and a legal obligation. He also made clear that his plan for Trident would see the money saved by its abolition ring-fenced for engineering projects, so that no jobs would be lost if his policy is implemented.
Unfortunately for the Labour leader, conference members voted against him, with just 7.1 per cent of party members in favour of his proposal to add a debate on the issue to the conference agenda. Mr. Corbyn has consistently sought to gain the support of his MPs by citing his mandate, which comes from party members; that so many of them voted against one of his flagship policies will therefore be particularly embarrassing to him. However, a source told The Guardian that the result was a victory for the leader’s plan to make policy-making within the party more democratic. “Jeremy’s strategy is to allow open debate and delegates have decided to debate important issues like the refugee crisis and housing”, they said. However, few will see it that way, and the defeat brought the issue centre stage, allowing the Conservative Cabinet minister, Chris Grayling, to write in The Daily Telegraph that Mr. Corbyn’s anti-nuclear views showed that he was not fit to be Prime Minister.
The issue of the UK’s nuclear deterrent is expected to lay bare the divisions within Labour, which has been consistently pro-Trident since the election of Tony Blair as party leader in 1994. Lord Falconer of Thoroton, who served in Mr. Blair’s Cabinet, expressed his unease with Mr. Corbyn’s stance during an interview with The Daily Telegraph at the weekend. The peer, who is currently the Shadow Justice Secretary, made clear that there could be no half-measures on Trident, calling it “a binary issue”, and making clear that he would likely resign from his post if there was a policy change.Hillary Benn, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, and Tom Watson, who himself was recently elected as Deputy Leader, are also firmly in favour of maintaining the party’s support for Trident.
Most of the Shadow Cabinet is believed be pro-Trident, and the proposed renewal is supported by a majority of Labour MPs. After yesterday’s vote, the renewal of Trident is likely to remain official Labour Party policy for the foreseeable future. It now seems clear that Mr. Corbyn faces an uphill battle to change that.