Greetings from a bustling Liberal Democrat party conference in Liverpool! Team Trident (aka Simon, Zoe and me) are here to talk to people about one of the big issues of the day – whether or not the coalition government proceeds with hugely expensive plans for a new generation of nuclear weapons in the midst of the biggest cuts to public spending in living memory.
Views on Trident are one of the big differences between the Lib Dems and Tories. Remember Nick Clegg during the leadership debates all those months ago, firmly planting his flag down in opposition to wasting billions on cold war weapons and calling for a review?
Well this is an issue his party feels pretty passionate about too. Our YouGov pre-conference poll of Lib Dem activists found that only 7% back what's known as 'like for like' replacement of Trident. And all the folks we’ve been chatting here so far seem surprised that even 7% of their party think that way. Clegg seems to be holding firm on Trident – telling the Andrew Marr show yesterday:
"I don't think people would understand why we would exempt Trident from the same financial pressures when people are having some of their benefits qualified in different ways. I don't think that would be fair."
Meanwhile over at the MoD Tory Defence Secretary Liam Fox has been adamantly briefing anyone who will listen that he won’t consider any significant changes, either to the Trident replacement plan, or its current 24 hours a day 365 days a week operation. But he's not been able to quash media rumours that the plan could be put on hold.
Against this backdrop the Trident events at conference have been standing room only. At our 'Trident what next?' fringe event yesterday, the room was packed and security were turning people away. Those that got in were treated to eloquent presentations by Shirley Williams, Tim Farron MP and Trident expert Nick Ritchie.
The temperature upped another notch at lunchtime when the Lib Dem membership voted overwhelmingly to select Trident as the 'emergency motion' they want to debate this coming Wednesday. The motion (link) calls for a full review of government plans to replace Trident, and the impact they're likely to have on rest of our armed forces.
Cameras in hand, we've been dashing round the conference floor grabbing interviews, asking tricky questions, and generally taking the temperature of MPs on the issue. And so far the strong indications are that the emergency motion will have strong support, not only from MPs but from party grandees. They clearly feel very strongly that Trident is an issue which defines the difference between the Lib Dems and Tories, and they want the Lib Dem arguments for alternatives heard and acted on.
Anyhow, time to head back into the debate now – will keep you posted.
Watch interviews with leading Lib Dems »
Conference notes that:
- In July the Chancellor announced that the Ministry of Defence will have to fund the £20–£30bn capital costs of a ‘like-for-like’ replacement for Trident.
- ii) The Defence Secretary has warned that this means severe restrictions in the way Britain operates militarily, regiments could be axed or the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy amalgamated.
- iii) The exclusion of Trident from the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) is now untenable; it should be included and receive the scrutiny which strategic, political and financial circumstances demand.
- Conference calls on the Liberal Democrat ministers to:
- Press for the extension of the SDSR to allow a full review of the alternatives to ‘like-for-like’ replacement of Trident.
- Ensure the SDSR considers cost-saving options such as ending continuous at-sea patrols and extending the life of Vanguard submarines.
- Ensure the SDSR makes explicit the opportunity cost of Trident replacement – in terms of cuts to troop numbers and equipment programmes.