Outside the marginals

a commentary on the politics that followed the UK 2010 & 2015 elections

Corbyn would not press the button

This morning, Mr Corbyn told me explicitly, indeed with some irritation, that there was no way that he would ever use nuclear weapons because they are “immoral”. …

His position on ruling out taking such action as a last resort has immediately been criticised by not one, not two, but three of his shadow cabinet.

They haven’t just rejected his view, but are angry that he has pre-empted the results of the policy review he wants the party to carry out.
Laura Kuenssberg, Political editor, BBC News Website, 30 September 2015 : Risks for Corbyn over nuclear stance

Why is this such a surprise – or are “honest politicians” meant to become dishonest on being elected?

“Straight talking, Honest Politics” was the conference slogan.

Part of the “conventional” operation of the nuclear deterrent is that an enemy is meant to be uncertain as to whether the British PM would authorise a nuclear strike.  But we all know that Corbyn believes that nuclear weapons are immoral and that he wants to get rid of them.

There is one thing on which I want to make my position clear and I believe I have a mandate to do it. I don’t believe that £100bn spent on a new generation of nuclear weapons taking up a quarter of our defence budget is the right way forward. I believe our country should honour our obligations under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and take a lead in making progress towards international nuclear disarmament.
BBC News Website, 29 September 2015 : Jeremy Corbyn: Decoding conference speech’s key quotes

So if he was ever to become Prime Minister, there would be very little uncertainty as to whether he would (freely*) authorise a strike. Jeremy Corbyn is not “conventional”. (His critics presumably are and are well schooled in “saying what is necessary”.)

So what is the point of “asking the question”?

Does the interviewer expect him to say that black is white? (Honest Politics?) No one would believe him if he said “yes” – in fact he would just lose credibility.

  • “It looks to voters that you will put your own principles ahead of the protection of this country?”
    (ibid 00:04:45)
  • “And that is more important than the protection of this country?”
    (ibid 00:05:05)

Does the interviewer expect him to say “No, I would cast aside my most keenly held principles”? (Straight Talking?)

OK, it would be a surprise if he did a complete volte-face – but really what are the chances?

Surely it would be more interesting to ask him questions like:

  • “If you were Prime Minister, would all the Trident submarines be recalled to base?” “Would that then make Faslane a prime target for a nuclear armed enemy?”

or:

  • “If you were Prime Minister and a rogue nuclear state was to threaten to launch a nuclear strike against the UK, or possibly a friendly country like say Australia, what would you do?” “What would you do if such a strike was then launched?”

But the questions were not asked so we are no wiser than we were before. We still know that he is a “straight talking honest politician” who apparently sticks to his principles. His position is untested.


* It would be interesting to consider two scenarios:

  1. Is a British Prime Minister actually able to launch a strike without the acquiescence of the Americans? Is our deterrent truly “independent”?
  2. If we had a “unilateralist” Prime Minister, would the establishment be able, with say the assistance of the Defence Secretary and the Attorney General, to over-ride the Prime Minister’s refusal to launch a strike? (Read Chris Mullins next novel? see BBC News Website, 24 September 2015 : A Very British Coup 35 years on)
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One thought on “Corbyn would not press the button

  1. Pingback: Labour “split the atom” policy | Outside the marginals

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