15th November 2015

Jeremy Corbyn, the Queen and Trident

The irrelevance of both deference and deterrence

The election of Jeremy Corbyn to leader of the Labour Party has created a media storm. To hear some of the comments one would think we are not in the early 21st century but back to the last time old Etonians formed the majority of the Cabinet. That was led by Macmillan but what has happen in the meantime is the decline of deference. Then one could imagine some people genuinely being upset if others strayed from strict etiquette expected and it did manifested itself during the 'swinging 60s' with Mary Whitehouse in the vanguard. However by the time the Sex Pistols swore on television the power of indignation was but over. Since then impertinence has become the norm, often with the newspapers like the 'The Sun' being the cheerleaders. On the face of it this revival of indigence is a little surprising but of course it comes from a different agenda. So rather than being the social outcast or fossil often portrayed Jeremy Corbyn may well epitomise the age, especially with known hobbies of working an allotment and his love of Arsenal.

Whilst we may have lived through the decline of deference the continuing popularity of the Queen could give cause to think otherwise. But this would fail to recognise that this institution has also changed with the times. Under the strict political neutrality of the palace the monarch's role has changed from being served to serving the public. In this way it continues to win the argument on the how the British to choose their head of state, by being the least worst. In the same way as monarchy has moved on so too has republicanism, as embodied by Jeremey Corbyn. With the monarch limiting the their duties to those of a ceremonial head of state the argument moves to one of principle and as replacing it would need a considerable amount of political capital to achieve, it easy to come to the conclusion that it is not really that important. In today's world the question of the monarchy has become an irrelevance. Whether that changes in the future is another matter. The monarch still has the powers to dismiss and appoint Prime Minister as illustrated by the removal of democratically elected Prime Mister, Gough Whitlam by the Governor-General of Australia, Sir John Kerr, the Queen Representative in Australia in 1975.

I am sure that there are many with a sense of nostalgia that would like us to return to the 1950s or even the era of Downton Abby when deference ruled but the genie is well and truly out of the bottle and this manufactured indigence will be seen for what it is. Likewise on many of Corbyn's other so called controversial issues such as the Middle East and conflict resolution there will be those who will try to make much but they will find the public get bored of it or even agree with him. However there is one that will probably not go away and that is the renewal of Trident. This is a very polarised debate. Why it should be is difficult to understand. Being a nuclear power comes with its advantages, a permeant seat on the UN Security Council and echo of the days of glory. It also makes a good back drop to the Bond films but at heart of the argument is that the British people have bought into the idea of deterrence. There is room to argue that the cold war adverted a hot war and it may do so in the future but where does Britain's 'independent' nuclear deterrent fit into this? As improbable as it may seem Britain's decision to become a nuclear nation was to prevent the USA being the sole nuclear power but through NATO our nuclear interests have become indistinguishable from those of the US. There is even a question about the about the actual independence with missile system being supplied America. That aside it is almost inconceivable that the UK would launch any missiles outside the framework of NATO.

Away from the more general arguments of deterrence there is the equally important one regarding the opportunity to use them. I cannot think of any incident since the before fall of the Berlin Wall where there was serious consideration for their use let alone one where Britain would use them by themselves. The world would have to be in a very dire place before we had exhausted all the other options. So in all reality it is highly unlikely that any Prime Minister would have to contempt pressing the button. With there being little difference in consequences of having or not having them the argument then again comes down to principle and just like the question over the monarchy this should be another policy area where political pragmatism should be the order of the day

Just an afterthought, Ukraine is often sighted today as an example as the consequences of a country giving up nuclear weapons. But this is essentially a civil war and after the downing of the Malaysian Airlines would anyone feel safe if the these weapons were behind rebel lines. In fact if Ukraine still possessed their missiles I would imagine Russia would have been even more ready to invade as they did with their Black Sea naval base.

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