Controversy over the Trident nuclear weapons system has moved to the forefront of the general election debate after the subject unexpectedly appeared in the first televised discussion between the leaders of the three most prominent parties. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) insisted today (17 April) that “Trident has become a key election issue”.
Criticising the Labour and Conservative parties in the “leaders' debate” on Thursday (15 April), the Liberal Democrats' leader, Nick Clegg, described Trident as a “cold war” system. He asked how Gordon Brown or David Cameron could “justify or afford £100 billion over 25 years on a nuclear missile system, which was designed specifically to flatten St Petersburg or Moscow, at the press of a button”.
Clegg added, “I think the world has moved on and I think you two need to move with it”.
Both the Prime Minister and the Conservative opposition support the renewal of Trident, although the cabinet is reported to be split on the issue. Trident renewal has been strongly criticised by a range of churches, faith groups, NGOs, charities and trades unions.
Labour and Conservative spokespeople today went on the defensive on the issue, with Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth describing the Liberal Democrats' policy on Trident as "ridiculous".
The Tories' Shadow Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, well-known for his support of the arms trade, said that Trident was needed to protect the UK against "real threats".
CND Chair Kate Hudson welcomed the fact that “Nick Clegg spoke out strongly against wasting public money on Trident”. But she added that she would “continue to make the point that the Lib Dems should abandon all nuclear weapons, not toy with the idea of other forms of nukes”.
The Liberal Democrats want to replace Trident with a smaller and cheaper nuclear weapons system, while Plaid Cymru, the Scottish National Party and the Greens want an end to the ownership of all nuclear arms by the UK government.
Hudson added that many Labour candidates seemed to be breaking with their party's leadership over nuclear weapons.
She explained that, “In our survey of parliamentary candidates' views on Trident replacement, the responses so far from Labour candidates – many of them standing for the first time and in winnable seats – are over two to one against replacing Trident. The sooner this good sense permeates to the top, the better.”
CND is encouraging supporters to lobby their local candidates over Trident renewal.
Trident may well appear in the next “leaders' debate”, on Thursday 22 April, as the focus of the discussion is to be on foreign policy.